National Union of Students’ (NUS) President Liam Burns was pelted with eggs and thrown out of his own rally during the ‘Demo 2012’ demonstration in London on Wednesday.
At a rally held at the end of the march through the capital, Burns attempted to address the crowd. As soon as he began, hecklers interrupted shouting “NUS, shame on you” and “get off the stage”.
After a few sentences, a group of protesters jumped the fences and invaded the stage, throwing food, according to eyewitnesses. Burns was then bundled off the stage by his entourage, with security officers attempting to contain the angry crowds as violent scuffles ensued.
Speaking to Leeds Student immediately after being evacuated from the stage, Liam Burns, visibly shaken, dismissed the incident as “a bit of an irrelevance.”
“We have had a day where at least 10,000 students marched through London, sent a really clear message about why we are here – about the opportunities taken away. That’s what we were focused on.”
Asked what he would say to those who disrupted the rally, he said: “I don’t need to say anything to them because again we had tens of thousands of people who were there for the right reasons, did the right things and made the impact they needed to.”
Prior to the events at the rally, the march had taken place relatively peacefully. Beginning at Temple Underground station, an estimated 10,000 protestors from various universities and colleges walked down Victoria Embankment towards Westminster Bridge.
The body of protesters was flanked at all times by a large contingent of police officers, with a convoy of dozens of riot vans and four helicopters following the group as it marched towards Westminster.
Upon arriving at Parliament Square, the main body of protesters came to a halt, as a line of police officers blocked their way and attempted to funnel them over the bridge. A melee erupted between police guarding Parliament and protesters, as signs were thrown and the crowd pushed back.
In the wake of the demonstration, protesters have slammed the NUS’ handling of the march. Criticism was levelled at planners who chose to direct the march away from Westminster and Parliament Square (areas that were the focal points of the 2010 march), instead rallying in Kennington.
Antony Haddley, Leeds’ Union Affairs Officer, raised concerns over the organisation of the event. “It’s clear now that the concerns about the route not passing enough significant landmarks played out, and I think NUS could have pulled a lot more weight when negotiating the day. If the route wasn’t focused on residential London we would have seen even better morale on the day and perhaps even wider media coverage.”
Will Howlett, a protester from the University of Leeds, labelled the NUS “incompetent” for their handling of the march; criticising the route as “not just a ridiculous decision, but a disgraceful decision.”
He added: “By the time people got to the park, they were very angry. You could hear the disillusionment from people at the march, they were furious. That could have real implications for the movement. Why has Liam Burns so badly mismanaged something that had real potential? He has disgraced himself today. There should be calls for him to go.”
Words: James Greenhalgh, Max Bruges
Photo: Leo Garbutt and Becki Bateman