I presume he had a hammer because he was planning on doing some manual work in London yesterday afternoon?
Keir watched events in London yesterday closely. From Trafalgar Square right down to Millbank Tower, with a few stop-offs and diversions in between, he cast his beady eye over the protest which started with so much potential and ended in utter disorganised chaos.
The nation seems to have graded the protest as a fail. Keir agrees.
The NUS has tried to distance itself from the unlawful acts of some of the protesters. Indeed, the speeches by UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt and NUS President Aaron Porter were very good and had a clear, non-violent, non-partisan message. These were, however, rare instances when the message was clear.
Keir was at Trafalgar Square at 11:30am and the crowd that had amassed the length of Whitehall by 12:30pm was impressive. A feeling of the seemingly boundless potential of this demo suddenly descended over this observer. That feeling was very quickly extinguished. The futility of tens of thousands of people, when poorly organised, became very apparent.
The message of this demo was to fight increases in tuition fees. It was only 1pm when I began hearing "Nick's a prick" chants as well as some particularly vulgar chants about Tories. Now, I despise both Clegg and the Conservatives, but on a march intended to halt tuition fee increases this sort of nasty partisan chanting is totally ineffectual; even counter-productive. Party politics was not the issue here. Students should have been trying to make the people in power hear them and listen to their argument. Calling them a "prick" probably isn't going to do that.
"Surely these people have been briefed?" Keir wondered. Turns out they hadn't. Sources close to Keir confirmed that the NUS had given no sort of briefing to University Union branches as to what the focus of this protest should have been. The NUS should have clearly briefed all Students' Union heads from every participating University that this march was about tuition fee increases and nothing else. Each of these people should have then gone back to their campuses and relayed this message to all of their attendees. With energy focused on one explicit issue the message would have been much clearer to the onlooking nation and would have also presented the students in an organised, powerful light. As it happened, "Fuck Off Tories" chants and placards suggesting Nick Clegg and David Cameron have engaged in penetrative homosexual activities with each other made even me, a student, think, "bloody students".
Keir then took a short-cut around the back end of Parliament Square, behind Westminster Abbey and around onto Millbank; thus getting ahead of the bulk of the crowd. Whilst on this route, it became apparent that Keir's lovely winter coat that his Nan had bought him last year was yet to be adorned by a Remembrance Day poppy. A quiet, reflective walk through the poppy vigil in the front garden of Westminster Abbey was a nice retreat from the loud protest and the £2 donation to the British Legion was worth not only the poppy, but also the lovely conversation with the fellow Welshman who was manning the poppy stand at the time. Then, whilst on my way out of the Abbey, some students decided to walk through the poppy vigil, waving their placards and singing their songs. After being given a negative impression of the protest so far already, this did nothing to help. I've lived on campus, but it's not that far removed from reality that you begin to lose all perception of what is acceptable behaviour in the eyes of anyone with an ounce of sanity and sensitivity. About 15 solemn mourners had their moments of remembrance disturbed by a few half-cut students. Utter disgrace. Although one person thinks there's a perfectly good reason why those protesters were doing nothing wrong. This particular person appears to be a former Officer at a Students' Union. I should add that these students marching through the vigil were clad in NUS gear, with UCU placards.
So how distant was the NUS from some of the more distasteful scenes?
Anyway, back to the events of the day. Keir arrived at Conservative Party HQ just after a small crowd had gathered. The very united chant of "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts" started to restore my faith that this protest could achieve something. That was until a colleague pointed out that David Cameron was in China. "Who's the target at CPHQ then?"
Said colleague just shrugged his shoulders. Indeed.
As we turned the corner into the courtyard of the targetless building that the protesters had gathered at, it then became clear that something else odd was happening. Fire.
Fine. "Could be fun. What are they burning? Effigies? Some sort of metaphor for the broken dreams of ordinary kids?"
Nope. They were burning their own placards. I became confused. Did this mean they were burning their message? One placard said "Not in my name". It was now burning. Did that mean the previous owner of that placard now wanted it all to be in his name? "Stop Education Cuts" placards were also being burned. Had the protesters performed a dramatic u-turn and decided their message was worthy only of being thrown into a fire; reduced to ash?
Nope. They just wanted to see some fire.
The window smashing, fire-extinguisher throwing, building-storming and roof-mounting that followed just rounded things off really. The message and the purpose had begun to descend into fragmented chaos from 1pm when the chants turned nasty and personal. Still, some people have even said that all of this was justified. A mystery person called Emmeline took part in a BBC 5Live debate to say that she felt this was the only thing that could force the government to make a change.
One protester, on a video at the Telegraph website earlier in the day, said of the destructive acts, "It's probably not the best way but it's the only way." So students have exhausted every route to a peaceful resolution in the month since the Browne Report have they? The irony is indescribable: I wonder how many of those people think we should have given Saddam more chances for peaceful resolution before we invaded Iraq?
The videos, apart from showing how many identityless morons we have in this country who just think that acting like Cook from Skins will give them meaning in life, are a damning indictment of the epic failure that was this protest. They also have UCU and NUS placards and banners all over them. I think it's time to accept that this was badly organised.
Every Labour MP asked to comment on what could have been a powerful protest will now have to begin their answer by condemning the violence. That immediately softens the blow of the anti-fees message.
Keir is 100% in support of the fight to stop this ugly coalition ending aspiration for poorer families with these fee increases. But there was so much wrong with yesterday's protest.
Even more than the things mentioned above.
Why attack Tories? Lib Dems should surely have been the targets.
Why attack a building? Does a building have a vote in parliament?
And if you really, really have to attack a building, surely go for the building where the power to make the change you want is represented?
I could go on for a lot longer. But I shall save you; dear, patient reader.
Needless to say, if it turns out to have been successful and the Coalition ends the fee increase because of this protest, Keir will happily eat his words.
UPDATE: Fresh from Guido, it seems that elected NUS Officials are condoning and associating themselves with the actions of those who occupied Millbank. Keir will ask again: how distant was the NUS from some of the more distasteful scenes?