Student protests: in pictures

Despite some clashes with police, it does not look like there will be a repeat of 10 November's riot

Students across the country have taken action today in a second wave of student protests. As yet, it does not seem that there will be a repeat of the violence seen on 10 November when Tory HQ was occupied.

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Following the police admission that they underestimated the level of disorder that developed on 10 November, they are taking no risks today. Paul Lewis of the Guardian reports: "I'm reliably informed there are 800 officers deployed in London today -- three times more than were on the streets for the far larger march on 10 November."

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Above, demonstrators clash with police. While this second wave of protests is more dispersed, with more than 25,000 students taking part in marches, walkouts, occupations, and direct action across the UK, the media spotlight is inevitably on London.

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While there have not been any scenes akin to those at Millbank, protesters are angry. Above, a mob of students breaks into a police van.

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By 3.15pm, the BBC reported that three students have been arrested on suspicion of violent disorder and theft. One policeman has been injured with a broken arm. Reports of "kettling" protesters mean that the debate on this method of crowd control is likely to reopen.

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Above, protesters throw a firework at police.

Organised via social-networking sites, this demonstration is not officially affiliated with the National Union of Students, though its cause is the same: the planned rise in university fees and scrapping of educational maintenance allowance.

Many libraries have been occupied, including Oxford's Bodleian Library. There have been marches and other direct actions in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

But while the action is spread across the UK today, the media spotlight -- and police attention -- is inevitably on London. It's worth noting that the coalition has utilised a provision in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to ban protest within one kilometre from any point on Parliament Square, despite its promise to prioritise civil liberties.

 

Photo: Getty
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What the debate over troops on the streets is missing

Security decisions are taken by professionals not politicians. But that doesn't mean there isn't a political context. 

First things first: the recommendation to raise Britain’s threat level was taken by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), an organisation comprised of representatives from 16 government departments and agencies. It was not a decision driven through by Theresa May or by anyone whose job is at stake in the election on 8 June.

The resulting deployment of troops on British streets – Operation Temperer – is, likewise, an operational decision. They will do the work usually done by armed specialists in the police force protecting major cultural institutions and attractions, and government buildings including the Palace of Westminster. That will free up specialists in the police to work on counter-terror operations while the threat level remains at critical. It, again, is not a decision taken in order to bolster the Conservatives’ chances on 8 June. (Though intuitively, it seems likely to boost the electoral performance of the party that is most trusted on security issues, currently the Conservatives if the polls are to be believed.)

There’s a planet-sized “but” coming, though, and it’s this one: just because a decision was taken in an operational, not a political manner, doesn’t remove it from a wider political context. And in this case, there’s a big one: the reduction in the number of armed police specialists from 6979 when Labour left office to 5,639 today. That’s a cut of more than ten per cent in the number of armed specialists in the regular police – which is why Operation Temperer was drawn up under David Cameron in the first place.  There are 1340 fewer armed specialists in the police than there were seven years ago – a number that is more significant in the light of another: 900, the number of soldiers that will be deployed on British streets under Op Temperer. (I should add: the initial raft of police cuts were signed off by Labour in their last days in office.)

So while it’s disingenuous to claim that national security decisions are being taken to bolster May, we also shouldn’t claim that operational decisions aren’t coloured by spending decisions made by the government.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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