Chalk Talk: Watch out, goverment, Mrs Wheeler is angry

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The Independent Online

It was definitely a demonstration of two halves last week, when students took to the streets to protest about rises in tuition fees. Firstly, there were around 51,800 students demonstrating peacefully, if noisily.

There was an element of humour in the banners produced for the occasion, too. My favourite was: "What Do We Want? Procrastination! When Do We Want It? Errr." That was closely followed by "Mrs Wheeler opposes the rise in student fees". Mrs Wheeler turned out to be a sixth-form teacher from Maidstone, Kent, and it occurred to me that if the Coalition Government has got the Mrs Wheelers of this world stirred up enough to come to London to protest it must have done something horribly wrong.

Then there were the 200 or so rioters who stormed the Conservative party headquarters at Millbank, trashing the reception area and clambering on to the roof, from where missiles were thrown down upon the police below.

No-one in their right mind would condone such violence, but I can understand some of the reasoning that caused it. I lost count of the journalists covering the demonstration who reported their newsdesks telling them that they were not interested "until someone starts throwing rocks".

If we in the media cannot be grown-up enough to realise that 52,000 people cramming into Whitehall presents a massive photo-opportunity for every national newspaper, how can we expect the protesters to be grown-up about their behaviour?

On a personal note, after being grabbed by a steward at an earlier demonstration at the University of London, I ended up hors de combat turning my ankle over in last week's demo.

I was trying to get to the entrance of Millbank to see how much damage had been caused when I looked up to see hordes of students running towards me. Looking behind them, there were hordes of riot police with their shields, ready to bear down upon anyone who stood in their way. Best move on, I thought, and stepped aside, only to be showered by placards thrown by students on the other side of the Millbank courtyard, which didn't quite reach the police they were aimed at. I never thought education reporting would become such a scary business.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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