The last time they gathered in the name of Nick Clegg in the centre of Sheffield it was to praise him. Then the hundreds who welcomed him home at the end of an extraordinary election campaign – many of them students – were shouting out "I agree with Nick." They believed the Liberal Democrat leader would be their champion in the next Parliament. Six months later, and the mood was one of betrayal.
Police had been on guard outside Mr Clegg's constituency office from first light after rumours had swept through Sheffield's student community that this was to be the focus of yesterday's protest against the imposition of tuition fees.
Shortly after midday, more than 1,000 noisy demonstrators made their way down from the city's two universities, joined by several hundred secondary school and college pupils who had skipped lessons to vent their feelings. Many of those who laid siege to Sheffield Town Hall under the watchful eye of a large police presence and a buzzing police helicopter, queued up to sign a petition demanding the MP's recall.
Joe Oliver, 22, a sabbatical officer with the University of Sheffield Union and a history graduate said 6,939 names were needed to force a new election in Sheffield Hallam. "I was here in May when he came back and there were a huge number of students. They voted for him and now they feel betrayed. I think the Liberal Democrats were shocked at the scale of the protest in London and it shows people how passionate we are, although the majority think that violence is ridiculous," he said.
Despite the Liberal Democrat leader's claim to be the voice of fairness within the coalition, the students could see little difference between him and the Prime Minister – exchanging the names of Clegg and Cameron with alacrity in the four-letter chants. Some of the protest placards were of the calibre of wit one might expect from a sought-after, Russell Group university – "Philosophers against Irrationality" and "We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Humanity". Others simply displayed a picture of Mr Clegg's face with the word "Twat" written across his forehead.
Many of the younger students were furious at the prospect of losing the education maintenance allowance – the small grant sixthformers receive that was scrapped in the Spending Review. Nina Fellows, 16, said up to 200 pupils had left her school – King Edward VII, in Broomhill – to join the protest. "We're going to university, hopefully, in the next couple of years and we're worried about our future," she said. Second-year chemistry student Lucy Noble, 19, said she too had been at the eve-of-election rally. "When he wanted our votes he was more than happy to talk to the student union, but now he won't."Reuse content