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Two weeks ago, I sat in this same warm office, looking out at the cold world outside. And this is what I saw. I saw Laurie Penny’s Spider Jerusalem-esque piece for the New Statesman, covering the student riots, and I saw Wikileaks preparing to dump 250,000 classified US Embassy cables on the world. It all felt like a sudden rush towards the horrid, glorious dystopia that as a British citizen I am required to fetishise. (c.f. H.G. Wells, George Orwell, John Wyndham et al.)
One of those retains the ability to stir up more trouble. The other, I fear, is now a lost cause.
Being approximately a socialist, and having voted for the Liberal Democrats as I felt they were the only almost-credible party of the Left, I was almost warmed by the scale of the protests – not only were the Lib Dems’s broken election promises not being taken lightly, but only six months in to a government of the centre-Right, we were already seeing the people up in arms.
The violence involved in some of those protests, of which I of course do not approve, was referred to in the media at the time as being the actions of a “hard core” of protesters intent on stirring up trouble. The reaction of the protesters to that was often along the lines of “no, we all feel that strongly!”.
I wonder if they’ll be saying that this morning.
Last night, as it became apparent that the protests were ineffective at convincing more than half of the Lib Dems to vote against the proposal, some protesters attacked a car carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Naturally, this made the front page of every newspaper in the country (Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Mail, Sun, Mirror, nice paywall there, Times).
The Twitter hashtag #solidarity has been used by the protesters and their supporters for a while now – I do hope some of that solidarity remains. But aside from amongst students, schoolkids and twenty-somethings who still fondly remember their university days, I suspect that solidarity just took a massive hit.
The tabloid press was never going to be kind to student protests, but if they were quietly depriving them of column space before, by god they are not any more. The attack on Prince Charles’ car last night was one of the most impressive acts of shooting oneself in the foot I have ever seen.
My greatest fear over the whole matter, though, is the effect it has had on the young – the people whose education was at stake. What have they learned over the last few weeks?
That breaking into Millbank Tower, that lighting fires and putting bricks through windows, that spraypainting walls and breaking down doors, that being kettled by riot police and attacking the Royal Family, isn’t enough. It’s not changed the minds of more than a dozen people inside the House of Commons, maybe none at all.
So what’s left to do? Give up hope and abandon what meagre trust remains in our politicians, hoping that by the time the protesters reach middle age they’re electable and their opinions haven’t changed? Or protest harder, get kettled more viciously, dreaming of glorious revolution while all around the country turns against them?
Dystopia is a great thing to experience for two hours of a film or two hundred pages of a book. But when you have to live in it, two weeks is about the point at which it stops being fun.