It made for beautiful television. The sight of dozens of enraged students venting their frustrations - at rising tuition fees and at harsh education cuts - on the fixtures and fittings at Conservative Campaign Headquarters had both a practical and a symbolic resonance. But it was a stupid action, and one that fundamentally undermined the point at stake.
On the face of it, the protests of 10 November were a shining example of student unity. Fifty thousand people marching through the UK’s political epicentre to make their opposition to brutal education cuts known was an inspiring sight, but the actions of a certain rogue element - tied spuriously in the press to a shadowy ‘anarchist’ bloc - have ruined public sympathy for the student cause and left a handful of protesters facing prosecution and potential expulsion from their universities.
The stereotype of the petulant, idealistic, naive student is hard enough to escape at the best of times, but rebuffing that crude characterisation is made exponentially more difficult when we see our contemporaries on television throwing fire extinguishers from the roof of an office block. Just as the Paris riots of May 1968, much alluded to in recent weeks, gave de Gaulle an increased majority in the June elections despite their anti-Gaullist character, so too do we now risk inadvertently shoring up public support for this government and its policies.
Our resistance to these cuts cannot manifest itself in the form of violence; if anything, as students we must be even more careful to stay within the bounds of the law when protesting, else we risk placing the very education we’re fighting for in jeopardy. We have a point to make, and it is undoubtedly a valid one. We must not give the government space to discard our views by backing them up with criminal acts.
To those students determined to break the law in the name of our cause, we say this: if you want to express yourself through vandalism, feel free to do so. But don’t do so under the banner of the national representative body for students. Show your faces, own your actions and accept the consequences. It will not be in our names. Smashing windows and throwing debris from the roof of a building may be a great visual image, but it’s a terrible way to make a political point.