A bit of historical perspective on today’s student demonstration…

I was in Paris on business today so missed the student demonstration, but I didn’t miss the one in 1984. I even kept some press cuttings of it.  Here’s the report of the Cambridge Evening News on Friday November 30th, 1984:

Students join protest rally

NINE coaches of Cambridge students joined a rally in London in protest at Government proposals to cut student grants.

Students from both the university and the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology joined the rally outside Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, which was organised by the National Union of Students.

They were protesting against the new proposals which would include the abolition of a minimum grant, a lower than inflation annual increase in grants generally, and the introduction of payment by families of students’ tuition fees.

Martin Tod, deputy president of the Cambridge Students Union, said he believed the protest might make the Government rethink the proposal to make families pay students’ tuition fees.


“This is as bad as asking parents to pay for their kids to go to school, and we hope to show the Government how badly it has been received,” he said.

The rally came after news that the university’s governing body, the Council of Senate, had added its voice to the condemnation of the cuts.

As well as agreeing to write to Sir Keith Joseph expressing protest, the Council of Senate agreed to refund £73 to the Cambridge Students Union spent on hiring halls for last week’s student protest.

And here’s the report from Stop Press – the Cambridge student newspaper at the time:

London rally attracts thousands


Student protestors brought areas of the city of London to a standstill on Wednesday as they marched towards Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster. The march followed a rally organised by NUS to protest against projected grant cuts by the Government, and the introduction of means tested tuition fees.

According to NUS 30,000 students assembled on the South Bank for rallies taking place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and nearby Jubilee Gardens. Police estimates put the number at 8000.

The meeting was addressed by Phil Woolas, NUS President; Frances Morrell, Leader of the Inner London Education Authority; Fred Jarvis, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers; and by Clifford Giles, pensioner and parent.

In a torchlight procession the demonstrators attempted to cross Westminster Bridge where most of the day’s 180 arrests took place, after clashes with the police. After letting small groups on to the Bridge, the police stepped in to prevent further access. Other students found alternative routes across the The mes, although Waterloo and Lambeth Bridges were also sealed off, causing massive traffic congestion.

The day’s action culminated in a sit-down protest in Whitehall of about 600 students as they tried to deliver 28,000 protest letters to the Prime Minister. After half an hour, the crowd was moved on to Trafalgar Square by police.

The much publicised violence of the demonstration has been attributed both to inadequate organisation on the part of NUS and the heavy police presence. NUS clearly underestimated national support for the day’s action from all sections of higher education. The rally’s organisers had anticipated a turnout of 3,000, yet Leeds University alone filled 38 coaches with demonstrators. Frustration built up as many students felt that the march would not begin before dark, and many of those in Jubilee Gardens moved off before NUS President, Phil Woolas, began to speak.

Martin Tod, Deputy President of CSU, whilst agreeing that organisation was “sloppy”, added that “the trouble that occurred was due solely to police over-reaction”. Police had obstructed many routes with crash-barriers and vans, creating bottlenecks and fuelling rising anger. the police presence, including 30 horses and an estimated 1,000 policemen, had to contend with missiles as well as some pushing and shoving.

Reports suggested that five Cambridge students were arrested; but on Thursday morning CSU had heard from only two, who had both been released without charge. Of the total 23 held, most were charged with obstruction and assault of the police. Those students who marched towards the Palace of Westminster were acting illegally, by breaking the ban on demonstrations whilst Parliament was in session. By displaying its banner at the sit-down outside Downing Street, CSU was effective breaking the law.

Whilst the ITN News at Ten and Thursday’s Times and Telegraph emphasised that those marching were from wealthy families, speeches at the rallies concentrated on principles rather than on the social background of those affected, arguing that the right to free education was at stake through the introduction of the £500 contribution to fees. As Martin Tod maintained, “All students should receive a grant regardless of parental wealth … it’s the principle that matters.”

Wednesday’s action was the largest protest by students since 1969, and CSU intends to keep up the pressure with a National telephone blockade of the Conservative Party’s Central office on December 5th, and with the lobbying of MPs.

35 arrests today. 180 arrests in 1984.

Oh, and before students feel too down about the coverage of today’s demonstration, despite similar coverage in 1984, we won.

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8 Responses to A bit of historical perspective on today’s student demonstration…

  1. Mike Simpson says:

    So where do you stand Martin regarding the betrayal by Clegg of one of our key election pledges and how do you think we can force a radical re-think by the Party’s leadership before any more damage is done to the image and integrity of the Lib Dems?

    • Martin says:

      I’ve been fighting tuition fees since 1984 – and I’m not going to stop now. If I’d been elected, I’d have kept to the pledge.

      Ironically, I was in Paris yesterday because I made a promise to someone that I would present at their conference before I knew I was going to be working for Shelter.

      It cost me a significant amount more to go mid-week. It cost me a day of a holiday. It was a major hassle (albeit an enjoyable one). But it was a promise, so I kept it.

      Don’t know if there’s a lesson there somewhere… 🙂

      As far as the leadership is concerned, I don’t have any immediate answers. Will think about it and get back to you.

  2. Pingback: Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #195

  3. Rick says:

    I was there too.

    Well done for keeping the press cuttings.

    I kept the Daily Mail report for years but eventually chucked it out. It had the caption “Animals!” (or something like that), above a photo of the fun and games on Westminster Bridge.

    Happy days, eh?

  4. Pingback: A march against tuition fees – in 1984 | Flip Chart Fairy Tales

  5. Tim says:

    I was there as well. Actually I was more than there, I can tell you how the day unfolded to a point.

    The NUS expected a couple of thousand students to show up for the rally on Jubilee Gardens. In actual fact several times that showed up.

    The NUS panicked, they had no idea how to cope with that volume of students. They eventually told everyone to go home.

    Of course thousands of students were not of a mind to do that. So five of us, two including myself from North East London Poly and Three from Middlesex Polytechnic decided to lead a march on Westminster. What ensued was chaos. NUS pulled all their stewards so the vast bulk of the student march was unstewarded and therefore uncontrolled.

    Attempts to cross Westminster Bridge were stopped by a line of police horses, SPG Vans and Riot police. So we tried Lambeth Bridge and halfway accross this too became blocked by Riot Police.

    We moved on to Victoria Bridge, This was busy traffic bridge (it was now rush hour) a Mercedes Limo attempted to drive through the students at speed. A leather gloved student put his fist through the windscreen to stop that manouvre.

    Having got accross the bridge we turned back towards Parliament along Milbank. When we reached Horseferry road the police pounced. Since My colleage and I were at the front of the demo trying to confer some kind of order, we were clearly the ringleaders. So a snatch squad went for us, we both legged it down Horseferry road and they chased us all the way to Victoria. That is where my day ended, I melted into the crowds.

    Meanwhile the demo reached Parliament square and Whitehall and undoubtedly the Met (who were well versed in overreaction after the Miners Strike battles) started the violence.

    I would love to see that horrific Daily Mail front page and article. it alluded to the ringleaders (I was clearly one) and we looked into pursuing legal action, but it would have been way too costly.

    I hope that adds to this story.

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