The buzz of rebellion

On Location

THERE'S A joke I've been telling, that had almost gone out of date. It's that New Labour's rule that students must pay pounds 1,000 a year in tuition fees, comes from a government which said its three priorities were "education, education and education". It's as though the Tories had got Michael Heseltine to say "This government has three priorities: mining, mining and mining".

For 18 months the fees appeared to be meekly accepted, confirming that students are not the section of society most noted for their sense of urgency. They'll tell you they're in a real state right, 'cos like basically, they've got to get a 4,000 word essay written and, like, basically, actually handed in by tomorrow morning. You say "That's outrageous. When did they give it you to do?", and they answer "a year ago last April".

But suddenly, students are demonstrating and occupying buildings in protest against the fees. One of the most enthusiastic of these occupations is at Goldsmith's College in south-east London, where my partner, a mature student, last weekend joined in an occupation of a lecture theatre.

The issue which finally provoked the protest was a letter to eight students who were having difficulty paying the fees, informing them they were no longer allowed on the college premises. In the classic manner of bureaucratic letters which impart devastating decisions, it consisted of three and a half curt lines, followed by a huge blank space. The blank spaces on official letters are to let you know how unimportant you are, and that as the writer dictated it, they were thinking "I'll just be a moment wrecking someone's life and then I can go to lunch".

So 300 students took control of the psychology wing of the college, barricaded themselves in, renamed one room the "Stephen Lawrence Lecture Theatre", and renamed the toilet the "Ben Pimlott room" after the head of the college. And distressingly, they're far more organised than students are supposed to be. You might imagine that an occupation would consist of hundreds of dribbling, squinting forms, emerging from sleeping bags to meander across chickpea-stained plates and half-burned joss-sticks, to ask each other whether they've missed Teletubbies. But instead they're kept tidy by the cleaning committee, secure by the security committee, and educated by the academic committee.

But amidst the organisation and enthusiasm, the authorities have hit back. They shut off access to the occupied building, insisting that no- one could enter unless they were a "blood relative" of a college resident. So to visit I had to conduct an elaborate series of subterfuges, making me feel like an old Soviet dissident. By the time I arrived, I felt I should tell the committee I was to be known only as the oblong one, and that my message should be "the owl and the pussycat have gone to sea".

The college hierarchy also informed nearby residents to beware of the occupiers, because they believed (falsely) one of them was responsible for "the burglary of a bathroom". Maybe detectives should have been sent round to say to everyone "Alright sonny, have you got a receipt for this toothpaste"?

On Sunday evening a meeting of all the occupiers took place, filling the lecture hall with a frenetic sense of energy and anticipation, which physically jolted you as you entered the room, like an invisible forcefield on a dodgy planet in Star Trek.

Comedian Rob Newman and delegations of local teachers and council workers spoke in support and were cheered, as was anyone else who said anything at all. Everyone who spoke waved their arms, beamed with confidence, and got at least one big laugh. And immediately afterwards the corridors crackled with students eagerly filling out rotas, huddling into committees, chalking things on boards, saying "right, cool" and then walking off in an earnest hurry, and arranging deliveries of chocolate spread. "It's like a festival", said Kerrie, who'd been all night on security, attended a meeting at 8am, and was so excited she spoke for over five minutes without a single punctuation mark.

But the most striking part of this atmosphere is the sense of a release of bottled-up frustration. Possibly without realising it, the students are symbols of a widespread mood. They're against the tuition fees, but they were against them last week and the week before. The difference is that until the occupation, they felt betrayed by the New Labour whose victory they'd celebrated, but had no idea that anything could be done about it.

But no-one could be as exuberant as these students solely from staging a protest against fees. The occupation has provided an outlet for all the other disappointments with New Labour. One student I spoke to was livid about the bombing of Baghdad; another was astonished at the latest restrictions on asylum seekers. The priorities differ, but the overwhelming feeling is that this is magnificent, because at last we're doing something. "It's about everything that winds you up", said Andy, "whether it's the fees, or the Government or because you've split up from your girlfriend". Though I'm not sure how you incorporate that last one into the list of demands.

But imagine if it caught on, and offices, fire stations and supermarkets had sleeping bags scattered around the floor, while the workforce sat in a corner debating which was the best album by The Smiths.

And there's something brilliant about the occupied building being the psychology department. Because if anyone shouts that the college has been unfairly disrupted, the occupiers can put on their calmest voice and say "Hmm. Have you ever considered that this anger is a sign of your own insecurity?"

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?