Voices of the Millbank riot: Two years on

 

It was the protest which brought the student movement’s fight against tuition fee increases to the public’s attention.

It may have been for the worst reasons but the disorder which erupted as protesters smashed up Conservative Party headquarters at Millbank would be the first battle in a war which would bring the government to within a whisker of a Commons defeat.

Some of the people on that march brought destruction and havoc to the office building after leaving the march route; one was even jailed for two years and eight months after throwing a fire extinguisher from its roof.

But the fight they began two years ago this weekend would rumble on for a month as protesters marched repeatedly through most of the country’s major cities and set up occupations in universities. It tore asunder a coalition government in its infancy and put unprecedented pressure on its junior partner Nick Clegg, who was accused of breaking his promises and betraying voters.

London, Cardiff and Cambridge were among the cities which would see students march through their streets. Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Belfast, Edinburgh, Sheffield and York – and yet more – can be added to that list.

In the end, it went right to the wire with the government winning in the Commons by only 21 votes. As the anniversary passes, The Independent has tracked down and spoken to some of the people involved on that day.

Chris Rawlinson, 25, from Southampton, organised the transport for 50 of his classmates to go to London and was there when Millbank was attacked. His school friend Edward Woollard would later be jailed after throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of Millbank.

He said: “We followed an effigy of Nick Clegg off the planned route of the march and into Millbank, they burned that then people pushed their way through the front doors of the building. People started smashing windows.

“The atmosphere on the march in general was great. I had been on demonstrations before but this was not the same, people thought they would really be able to make a difference and win MPs round, “There were trade unions, alongside pensioners and students. It was also quite and angry atmosphere, which I have not seen since. We felt people were on our side.

“That changed because the media narrative was that a small minority tried to smash the windows, which was pushed by the National Union of Students. That later changed to our being unruly and thugs.

“We have had demonstrations since which have had good turnouts but the sense of urgency doesn’t seem to be there any longer. The last demonstration I went on was a year ago, they are much more dull affairs now, I am not sure if people just think we are not achieving anything. Now, we are hearing people talking about only having marches in the run-up to elections.

“After the march, I took a year out then went to Oxford University to study History and Politics. I also worked at the Olympics but I got sacked for heckling David Cameron. He attended a staff event and said the Olympic Games were a metaphor for his Big Society, so I heckled him.

“There are still groups of students who are politically active and who want to organise actions but you come up against students who are more apathetic now and careerist now, especially in high positions in the NUS. They are not interested in the cause we are campaigning for but in finding the middle ground and not endangering their own careers.

“I am still involved with the Education Activist Network myself, which was instrumental in organising some of the protests. I will carry on with very visible demonstrations, I don’t agree that they are pointless and it is a shame that a lot of people do.”

Samuel Duckett, was part of the protest at Millbank. After a period of unemployment, he has since gone into a steady job as a web developer.

He said: “There were lots and lots of people and I was with all my friends, who had not been on demonstrations before. It was noisy and chaotic but it was jubilant. When I saw what happened with the fire extinguisher, that was a low point but the rest was brilliant.

“The rest of the day was pretty boring but people started to fight back. It changed lots for me and for my friends. It triggered unrest for months afterwards, marches and occupations started springing up. Now, the energy has disappeared. Apart from the TUC demonstration on 26 March 2011, we have not done the same sort of thing since. If it sparked up again, I would be involved, though.

“Now, I am in quite an involved job, which I have had since February. I was unemployed for nine months beforehand, so it has been up and down for me since the protest.”

Mark Clinton, 33, from Glasgow, protested against the tuition fee rises in 2010. He said that, while some people have become disheartened since then, he is determined to continue and is now carrying out a hunger strike against Atos.

He said: “What became apparent on that march was that it was a very friendly atmosphere, barring a few isolated incidents, no-one was breaking windows or anything like that. But then, it became obvious that the police were not there in numbers, especially around Millbank. It almost got to the point where there were five or six police officers and thousands of protesters.

“I sprayed ‘Tory Scum’ on the building, I borrowed a can of spray paint from someone to do it. I don’t really believe in that but it seemed right because it was ridiculous what was going on then. I voted Lib Dem on what Nick Clegg put across and it turned out to be all lies. Then he joined a right-wing party in coalition.

“I have grown up since then, although I plan to spray paint banks in Glasgow in protest, I will not do that in anger; only to raise awareness. I regret what I did two years ago but the government was doing much worse than I was.”

Ben Beach, 22, from London, left the planned route of the march with many others as Whitehall was blocked by a sit-down protest. He headed for Millbank with the crowds and soon found himself near the head of the violence.

He said: “There was not that much excitement in the activist community when we heard about an NUS march. But, when we saw how many people were there, we changed our minds. I was aware beforehand that there was talk of people going to Millbank.

“The police were there but they had neither the inclination nor the manpower to stop us. Everyone surged towards the building, there were around 140 people inside in the lobby. Some tried to get out, while others were trying to get in and the police were pushing people: it was an interesting dynamic. Neither side was particularly violent, just using their body weight.

“I remember turning to my friend and saying ‘the students have their anger back’. There was a lot of anger among the crowd and we knew it was the start of something greater than what was happening that day. I don’t regret my involvement oin actions I personally undertook which I thought were legitimate, although I do regret things like the fire extinguisher incident: that was stupid.

“I am now studying Architecture at University College London and am still heavily involved in political activism. I am in my final year and will have to get a job soon, but I don’t envisage much change once I start working, I will just have to take part in actions at different times of the day.”

Ibrahim Choudhury was outside when people started trying to break into Millbank. He said he did not go in because he did not realise the building’s significance. He has since been taken on to an apprenticeship.

He said: “I knew I was witnessing a crime, one that felt right and justified but one that I knew was morally wrong. I chose not to go in although my heart was telling me to conform to the situation. When I look back now, I'm not sure whether I regret the chance of breaking into the infamous building.

“We protested because we were being wronged. We were openly lied to by Nick Clegg. Many students felt that was only in power because he promised he wouldn't increase tuition fees.

“I was in my first year at university and it was my first time living by myself in the capital. I started the day experience the atmosphere and I ended the day with a revolutionary fighting spirit that has not left me to this day.

“I am now a child development apprentice. I help the children that society has given up, who have been expelled from numerous schools are now partly my responsibility. It is a rewarding role for which I am paid peanuts. However, the experience is invaluable.

“I have moved on because the fees fight is a lost cause. However, I still hope and I always will hope something can be done about it.”

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice