A Riotous Cliché: the Minority Again Undermines

Wait a sec though, haven’t we seen this all before?

Now the dust has settled, Charlie Butler asks whether the acts of a few have undermined the hopes of a majority.

The day began gently with the weather favouring the marchers. The chants and banners bore profanities but were expressed in the light-hearted ways we often associate with students. Unsurprisingly, the capital’s universities were represented most voluminously but students had come from all over the country and an estimated 50,000 people thronged the streets of central London. Some had come for the experience while some of the more politically minded arrived with purpose, strongly believing their actions could change government minds.

Political groups sent representatives and lecturers could be spotted throughout the crowd. MPs, including John McDonnell, and even representatives of the National Pensioners Convention joined the students. NUS, TUC and UCU leaders spoke at the march’s end outside Tate Britain with the coalition government and its reneged upon promises the targets of abuse and anger.

All was going according to plan with plenty of passion and emotion on show. Everyone seemed intent on a good, productive day.

Then rioters lay siege to the Millbank Tower. Approximately 200 protestors broke away from the main crowd and surrounded the Conservative Party offices. They began smashing windows and rampaging through the building. More police had to be called while fires and tempers were ignited. News coverage was switched from the marchers to the mob.

Wait a sec though, haven’t we seen this all before?

It’s now become a platitude: ‘The unrepresentative minority undermines the cause.’ In this scenario two questions need to be asked. ‘Did the rioters really believe in the cause of the day?’ or ‘Were they just there for a laugh?’ Looking at footage from inside Millbank Tower I’d be inclined to concur with the latter but that doesn’t really matter now. Police, politicians and the media have the ammo they need to fire against the protest. They can now deflect attention from the uneasy issue of increased tuition fees and concentrate the public focus elsewhere.

I’m not trying to say that public violence against authority is always wrong. The Civil Rights Movement in America benefitted from it but in that case there seemed little alternative and the cause being fought for was far more important. Crucially, the people fighting against racial oppression in the USA truly believed in what they were fighting for. After years spent living as second class citizens, the protestors of the fifties and sixties were prepared for pain and death in order to get what all humans deserve.

The organisers of the march, the National Union of Students, condemned the violence as “shameful, dangerous and counterproductive” while the UCU lecturers’ union said the riots were “the actions of a mindless and totally unrepresentative minority”.

The disrupting pests of last week were there for a day of fun and not because of a lifetime of hardship. Now all they’ve done is undermine a worthwhile cause and let Cameron and Clegg deflect attention from the real matter at hand. Dan Hamilton, a mature student from Leicester, aptly summed it up: “Some twats have just decided to spoil it for the rest of us”.