Behind a student kettle

Tabitha Troughton reports from the December 9 fees demonstration

December 14, 2010
4 min read

Six pm and all seems well, until half way down Victoria Street when the crowds vanish and the few shoppers left start heading one way: away. Then, you emerge into an almost empty side street, necklaced by a line of police. Beyond them, facing the other way, surrounding Parliament Square, rows upon rows of police, and behind them, all exits blocked, thousands of people, invisible over the massed police helmets. Periodically a plume of smoke rises, sometimes an almost inaudible chant: “Let us out”.

Students are being spat out of the kettle onto the pavement beside Westminster Abbey. “I’m guilty” says a young man with a large, bloody bandage around his head. “I’m guilty of holding my hands up in front of me”. He says that he was hit by a police baton; his eyes are dazed. “It’s not going to stop me, this”.

It looks, from reports, as though he may have been Alfie Meadows, the 20 year old who subsequently had to have a three hour operation for bleeding on the brain. And I let him walk away, because a young man sporting a bloody bandage was unremarkable in the circumstances. Being inside the kettle was obviously hell; being outside a kind of mesmerising, voyeuristic purgatory.

There were the cold-eyed white nationalists who’d turned up, jeering, and whose leader smashed a female student in the face in front of the police, and walked away in triumph. There was a father, pacing, ashen-faced, trying to reach his 13 year old son. There were the mounted police preparing to charge. And over it all, the eerie silence from the trapped crowd a hundred metres, a million miles away; punctuated by screams you could do nothing about.

And the kettle kept slowly spitting them out. A Cambridge student, rigid with shock, who’d seen his girl friend crushed after the police horses had charged; she’d been taken to hospital. Girls, their eyes wide and blank; young men hunched, heads bent; a gesticulating boy whose great grandfather had fought in the Spanish Civil War.”I’m not going to let them beat me”.

I spent over four hours outside the kettle. I watched as the trapped crowd were charged and driven towards Westminster Bridge, already blocked by police at the other end. I stood in an empty Parliament Square, among fires and smoke and debris, after screaming, baton-wielding men had forced most remaining observers, including a man from the probation service, into the crowd. I, for the record, escaped over a wall.

Since then there has been talk of using water cannon and rubber bullets. It is a common political tactic to suggest something so  extreme that people accept the slightly less terrible reality. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has conceded that the violence was caused by small groups embedded in a peaceful protest. He has, presumably to general relief, ruled out water cannons. And in this way the events on Thursday go unquestioned. And black-clad, balaclava’d men in padded armour are, in modern Britain, empowered to cavalry charge and baton a trapped and helpless crowd.

It does not work. Police, under these inhuman orders, were hurt too. But to expect the students to stop the violence, while they themselves are being imprisoned and attacked, is ludicrous. And kettles are only a trap for the unwary. “They’ll never kettle me” said a so-called anarchist on the street that evening. The idea that he, or the roaming nationalists, were an excuse for kettling is equally mind-bending. “My neighbour wants to smash windows at Top Shop and some madmen want to attack people, so you’re going to imprison and terrorise me until they stop?”

10.30 pm, on Westminster Bridge. A row of police dogs are baying. Helicopters circle; police boats traverse the river. Behind the lines, thousands of people are still being held, crushed together, in the freezing cold. Student medics are tending to the wounded, the students’ tweets are full of words like support and solidarity and love.

Two young German tourists arrive, gaze around the bridge with diminishing enthusiasm, and leave. The fees vote, the point of this protest, has gone through. Back in Parliament Square, vans have arrived to clean and pick up the barriers, to erase all traces, to make it look as though nothing much had happened.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out


5