Tuition fees protest: The fallout continues

May is understood to be considering tougher protest measures
May is understood to be considering tougher protest measures

By Ian Dunt

The fallout from last week's tuition fees protest continued today, with police, student activists and the coalition itself under the spotlight.

The home secretary updated the Commons on the violence at last Thursday's demonstration. Meanwhile, prominent Tory MP David Davis said the vote revealed widespread discontent with the coalition among Tory MPs.

Arrests over the violence continued while the debate continued to rage over the police response to the protest.

Theresa May was thought to be considering authorising tougher crowd control strategies by the police after she told Sky News yesterday Scotland Yard was looking at measures "across the board".

That statement left the door open to the use of the water cannon - a traditional sight in continental protests. The Telegraph also carried reports suggesting she was on the verge of authorising their use.

Ms May stepped away from that eventuality today, saying policing by popular consent "must continue".

She added: "I don't think anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain. We have a different attitude towards the culture of policing here in the UK."

The discrepancy between her comments today and those trailed in the media over the weekend led to Ms May being attacked by MPs, including Chris Bryant, who had experienced the weapon while protesting in Chile.

"As someone who has experienced water cannons does she understand that they are entirely indiscriminate and they can cause serious injuries to people," he said.

"Will she rule out giving permission for their use?"

Ms May stepped back from ruling out their future use, however.

"I've made the positon absolutely clear that I don't think any of us want to see water cannons being used in the streets of England and Wales," she replied.

Later, Met commander Bob Broadhurst seemed to suggest that the use of the water cannon was being actively looked at.

"There are no current plans to use water cannons on the streets of the capital but we would be foolish if we did not take time to look at tactics such as this to see if it might be appropriate in the future," he said.

"I would emphasise we will not rush in to anything and we are not in the business of knee jerk reactions. Anything we do will be carefully and fully considered to ensure the best outcome for protesters, officers and all Londoners."

She thanked the police for their "bravery", saying it "allowed this House to engage unhindered in democratic debate" while the protest took place outside.

Ms May gave short shrift to those arguing that the police containment strategy known as 'kettling' worsened the violence.

"The idea that some have advanced that police tactics were to blame is as ridiculous as it is unfair," Ms May said.

There had been a good reaction to the photos of protestors distributed by police, the home secretary added, and more photos would soon be released.

Speaking specifically about the trouble around the car containing Prince Charles and Camilla, Ms May confirmed that there had been physical contact between Camilla and demonstrators.

An urgent review of the arrangements for last Thursday has already started and will report this Friday. For security reasons, most of its details are expected to remain internal.

"All of us on this side of the House understand and share the dismay of students at the hike in tuition fees," Ed Balls, shadow home secretary, said.

"All of us share too the home secretary's anger and outrage at the way last Thursday's legitimate day of action was hijacked by a small and significant minority bent on violence and criminal damage."

Complaints of police brutality have also been coming in since the protest ended, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) now set to investigate a fourth incident.

Around 50 complaints were received over the protests, which began in Millbank last month.

'Kettling' is facing special scrutiny. Many parents were horrified to discover that their children were trapped on Westminster Bridge late into the evening last Thursday.

Student protesters will attempt to 'kettle' Scotland Yard tomorrow in a positive action event against the tactic.

Speaking on John Pienaar's Politics on BBC 5 Live earlier today, former shadow home secretary Mr Davis highlighted the different way Lib Dem and Tory MPs had been treated during the vote, which was eventually won with a majority of just 21.

"What was surprising was the sheer degree of hostility really to the general coalition leadership in its widest sense from a lot of my colleagues," he said.

"Some of them mulling over whether they should vote in order to defeat the government, one or two of them, I think, not just to make a point."

Conservative officials were pleased to see most of the media attention during the run-up to the vote centre on the Lib Dems, given that there were considerable tensions among Tory MPs as well.

Asked about discontent on the Tory benches, Mr Davis described "a feeling that the Liberal Democrats are allowed to say what they like and do what they like".

He added: "All the Liberal Democrats are being cosseted while they decide whether to abstain or to vote against or vote for, while the Tories are being told, 'right, you don't vote for this, your career is over', or 'you vote for this, you have got to resign as a PPS [parliamentary private secretary]'.

"It seemed to be pretty widespread and it seemed to be really quite uncomfortable... it's everything from tuition fees at one end, through to things like expenses."

Two more people were arrested over the weekend, including the son of celebrated Pink Floyd member David Gilmour, Charlie, who was arrested over the action at the Cenotaph.


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