Letters: Violent policing and the student protests

How student protest turned to violence

Monday 13 December 2010 01:00

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, claims that all “right-minded” protesters will want to condemn the violence that erupted on Thursday during protests against the House of Commons vote to raising university tuition fees.

As a group of university lecturers who were present in Parliament Square during the police’s “containment” of the demonstration, we would join with him in condemning this violence.

However, the violence that we wish to condemn is not that of young people being held captive outside the palace of Westminster, but that of the Metropolitan police themselves, whose aggressive and intimidatory tactics inflamed the situation.

We witnessed police on horseback charging into groups of young people, and teenagers being batoned and beaten. When young people asked politely to be allowed to leave Parliament Square, they were ignored and detained against their will for hours without access to food, water and toilet facilities.

Provocative and violent policing such as this is bound to invite violence in return. The only surprise should be that it was so limited and carefully targeted.

Dr Lucy Noakes

Professor Bob Brecher

Dr Anita Rupprecht

Dr Vicky Margree

Nicola Clewer

University of Brighton

Last Thursday was a remarkable day. Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, was attacked in his car while travelling to a charity event with his wife.

The attackers were not terrorists but youngsters from a group of 100 or so protesters who had been prevented (by the police) from joining the demonstration against increased tuition fees which was taking place in Parliament Square. Police had sealed off the square.

Under no circumstances can such an attack on innocent motorists be condoned. The Prince and his wife were clearly badly shaken by it, and so would we all be if we found ourselves in that position. However, this unplanned meeting between a Prince and some relative “paupers” perfectly illustrates why people are so angry |about the attitude of this Conservative (in all but name) government.

Here is a man, born into great wealth and privilege, who received his own university education free of charge, as did his siblings and his two sons. On a day when youngsters who have none of his advantages were taking to the streets in protest at the restriction of the access to university education to only the rich and privileged (or to the poor, with the accompanying monstrous debt to repay over 30 years) – here was the epitome of privilege and power (personified in Prince Charles) making a stately progress to the theatre in an absurdly grand 1970s Rolls-Royce.

A political cartoonist could not have done better if they had been asked to come up with a single image to illustrate the yawning chasm of understanding and life-experiences between the “haves” and the “have nots” in this once great country.

My own daughter was looking forward to getting her £30 a week Educational Maintenance Award to continue in education for the next few years. It has summarily been removed – no discussion, no explanation. Though £30 per week was vitally needed and appreciated by poor students and their families, to David Cameron and his like it represents no more than the cost of a couple of sandwiches.

Stuart Fretwell

Portland, Dorset

I am in full sympathy with Prince Charles and Camilla, who were subjected to a very frightening experience at Thursday’s demonstrations. I am pleased that the police managed to move in so quickly to protect them from further harm.

A short distance away, my student daughter was also being subjected to an intimidating and shocking ordeal. She was detained by police (aka “kettled”) in freezing temperatures, without access to food, water or toilets, for seven hours until 10.30 pm (thereby missing her coach back to Oxford).

A young, slight woman, peacefully demonstrating and offering no resistance, she was periodically charged and forced back by police lines and hit in the face Where was her protection?

Rosie Ray

Frome, Somerset

The student debt is not quantitative easing (letter, 10 December). It is an accounting fiddle, designed to lower the appearance but not the substance of government debt.

A loan that is repaid over 30 years does nothing to plug the funding gap now. Whatever funding is needed still must be paid up-front. What it does do is give the Treasury the chance to claim that it’s not really expenditure, but rather buying an asset (the debt) that will repay over time, and thus not count it towards government borrowing figures.

The increase in student fees does nothing to reduce the amount of money the Government has to pay now; it just makes the financial situation look better on paper.

Hanbury Hampden-Turner

London SW6

Brown reaches out to Africa

The juxtaposition in one edition of The Independent (10 December) of the articles by John Lanchester (“More, more, more...”) and by Gordon Brown (“A global chance for jobs and justice”) reinforced why I have bought your paper from the day it was first published.

The Brandt report, published in 1980, North South – A Programme for Survival, spelled out the reality of global interdependence. Many of us since then have seen the extraordinary benefits of partnerships at community level between schools, healthcare institutions and communities here in the UK with counterparts in Africa and Asia.

The town of Marlborough with its 30-year partnership with the Muslim community of Gunjur in The Gambia, involving the exchange of 1,400 people, has seen a measured empowerment of women, a reduction in malaria, pre-school education for over 2,000 children and access to clean water, while bringing a vital global dimension to children in schools throughout Wiltshire.

Some 3,800 primary and secondary schools, 110 hospitals and 450 towns and villages in the UK now have partners for mutual benefit in Africa and Asia. Both Gordon Brown’s government and the Coalition Government have supported these partnerships through funding. Not only can they help to meet the health and education Millennium Development Goals and support the knowledge-based global economy that Gordon Brown refers to, but they bring benefits to the UK in terms of professional development and the reflection on our over-consumption that John Lanchester calls for.

Dr Nick Maurice

Director, Build

Manton, Wiltshire

Christina Patterson is right (11 December). Gordon Brown has talents which were largely wasted as Prime Minister.

His role in the G20 negotiations was considered by his peers in finance as masterly. Apart from that, he appreciates the need to protect by tariffs, if necessary, the infant economies of the less developed countries from dumping from the developed world, such as from the EU and the USA with its subsidies for primary products such as cotton.

Of all our politicians, Gordon Brown alone has the grasp of international economics.

William Robert Haines


Insurance veto on snow tyres

One contributory factor towards the problems experienced on the roads in the recent bad weather appears to be the non-use of winter tyres. These are in common use in mainland Europe.

I have been considering buying a set and having them fitted to a spare set of wheels so that changing them would be quick and easy. However, a friend advised me that I should speak to my insurance company first as he had heard that there had been problems. Accordingly, I spoke to one of their advisers.

Apparently, if I replace the existing tyres on the car with the equivalent winter grade (same size, loading, speed rating, etc.), all well and good, so long as the original wheels are used. However if I replace the existing wheels, even with identical manufacturer’s wheels, there will be a substantial increase in my premium. The logic of this escapes me. I did check that the adviser meant what I thought she meant and she confirmed it: OK to change the tyres but not the wheels.

I conclude that our insurance companies are not interested in promoting safety on the roads, only screwing more money out of their customers. To add insult to injury, while waiting to speak to the adviser, I was warned by the inevitable pre-recorded message that the recent severe weather had increased the number of calls, which might lead to a delay in answering. Small wonder!

John Quick

Crowborough, East Sussex,

Antony Clayton (letter, 7 December) advises us to “drive like the Canadians” in snow. As a Canadian born in Northern Ontario, where 5ft snowbanks are fairly normal piled up against roadways, I can assure you a similar solution would be difficult for the UK.

Visiting Wales, one of the first things I’ve noticed is how well kept, albeit narrow, the roads are. There’s not enough room – or snow – to make ploughing (the number one method of snow removal in Canada) feasible. Adding snow chains to the tyres for such little snow will do nothing more than ruin the roads by pulling up the asphalt. In the decades I’ve lived in the Great White North, I’ve never seen anyone with snow chains.

The best solution for the amount and regularity of snow you get is brining the roads pre-snowfall, using a saltwater solution, and using a good pair of all-season tyres..

Megan Miller

Kenfig Hill, Bridgend

A coalition for radical reform

There is an alternative view of the Lib Dems’ decision to go into Coalition than that suggested by Steve Richards (“The Lib Dem tragedy”, 30 November). That is that the policies that they have in common with the Conservatives are radical and progressive, that they saw the opportunity to form a great reforming government and took it, and that the electoral consequences of their decision will work themselves out in due course.

In almost every area of policy, the Coalition is innovating by joint agreement in a manner beyond the understanding of Labour: localisation of power and responsibility to local government, schools, hospitals, and surgeries; restoration of standards and dignity to education; reform of benefits to encourage self-reliance; reform of business taxes to encourage innovation; restoration of sound public finances; prioritisation of defence commitments; privatisation of Royal Mail; effective control of immigration; local accountability of the police. Every few weeks brings out a new reforming agenda.

The Lib Dems support this programme because they believe in it, not because they were dragged into it by the Coalition agreement. It is an agenda of empowerment and facilitation, a revolution in public policy.

The alternative Labour agenda, of centralised State control and direction, was useful in its time but is now finished. It failed entirely to make public services efficient or accountable and wasted public money to a disastrous extent.

The Lib Dems are currently low in the polls because the electorate sees no reason at this stage to distinguish them from their Coalition partners. Their differentiation will come when the two parties start to think about their agendas after 2015. Meanwhile, the present reform programme has a long way to run.

Anthony C Pick

Newbury, Berkshire

You reported the following events on 10 December. MPs voted to triple student tuition fees to compensate universities for the Government cutting their grant by 80 per cent. Bank shares soared after the Government caved in on the bank levy. The Government announced changes in pension annuity rules which would allow the very richest pensioners to hand on their pensions pots to their heirs tax-free.

Just another day in the life of a Tory government propped up by Liberal Party right-wingers.

Christopher Clayton

Waverton, Cheshire

Bring on the Mozart

Count me in when it comes to defending the most civilised Radio 3, under attack from your correspondents for its plan to broadcast nothing but Mozart for the first 12 days of January. I’m no effete dilettante from wherever your prejudices dictate those of us who appreciate a bit of culture are meant to hail; I’m from Wigan, and I like very much the likes of the Radio 3 presenters Rob Cowan, Sean Rafferty and Katie Derham. With unforced admiration and cheerful introduction of their subject, they are able to tap, in someone like me, a once quite unmined love for most things classical.

In the last three years or so I have moved from Handel to Richard Strauss. An appreciation of Mozart will come: bring it on.

Jonathan Cadman


Further to that ill-humoured dig at the “matiness” of Radio 3 presenters, (letter, 10 December,) what’s wrong with being matey?

Jacqueline du Pré, the outstanding cellist of the 20th century, often resorted to gleeful, St Trinian’s-style pranks as a wind-down from demanding performances; the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham could bring a touch of Dad’s Army humour to rehearsals; and blimey, there’s no one more matey than that foot-stamping genius on the fiddle, sorry violin, Nigel Kennedy.

Donald Zec

London W14

Any other name

For most of my formative years I sought to hide my first name with various short versions, as it did not fit well with my footballing, beer-swilling image. I tried Jez, Jerry and, oh horror, Jed but finally, after Paxman and Kyle made Jeremy more OK I felt able to use my full name. Now I find a slip of James Naughtie’s tongue has enabled Matthew Norman (8 December) use my name as a euphemism for an anatomical Anglo-Saxon word.

Back to the drawing board for me.

Jezza Axten

Addlestone, Surrey

Lost in the Web

You report (9 December) how Google has helped millions of Britons to find Chatroulette (web address: chatroulette.com), Facebook (facebook.com), YouTube (youtube.com), and the BBC (bbc.com). One wonders how they got to google.com in the first place.

Richard Fairhurst

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Perspectives on British ethnic food

There’s more to it than quince jelly

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s essay on the promotion of local, seasonal food as inward-looking and xenophobic (7 December) is a sweeping dismissal of a complex issue. Her metropolitan sniffiness would be amusing were it not so glib.

To reduce the hard work of local producers to “personally made quince jelly in the Christmas market, in that cute market town with those beautiful thatched cottages” denigrates those who work long and hard hours in rural areas.

Scotland is remarkable, not simply for the renaissance of its local, traditional food but for the innovative way in which local food is now being infused with elements from a variety of international cuisines. As an immigrant to Scotland, I relish the growth in locally grown and sourced ingredients, and the rise and promotion of fair-trade imported food. I can also grow south-east Asian ingredients sustainably thanks to the increased availability of seeds for all sorts of herbs and vegetables.

As to “lying in a perfumed bath, listening to Radio 4”, I wish! We are snowed in, the power was off for 15 hours yesterday, the hens are not laying, and many producers are braving treacherous conditions to feed and water their animals.

Geraldine Perriam

The Wholesome Food Association, Baldernock

East Dunbartonshire

Why does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown consider it commendable for some people to want to continue to enjoy their traditional foods (even if it involves selling gold to buy a few strands of saffron) while others are “engaged in fervent revivalism” for rediscovering that locally sourced meat, fish and fresh vegetables can taste good?

In the same article she states: “Before being re-educated by enterprising and imaginative black and Asian individuals ordinary British people gorged on junk.” who are these ordinary British people that Ms Alibhai-Brown knows so much about? They recur in article after article, usually doing something she regards as reprehensible. Earlier last week they were slumped in front of the TV, oblivious that this country is descending into chaos.

J Beatty

Twickenham, Middlesex

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