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Harry Mount

Harry Mount is the author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That: How to Become a Latin Lover and A Lust for Windowsills - a Guide to British Buildings from Portcullis to Pebbledash. A former leader writer for the Telegraph, he writes about politics, buildings and language for lots of British and American newspapers and magazines.

The students and police I saw today were utterly dignified

Millbank today (Photo: PA)

Millbank today (Photo: PA)

I have spent the day bicycling round London, often passing by the student protests, and I was struck by how dignified all the students I saw were. They have an utterly justifiable complaint – although I don’t see any way around increased tuition fees, it was completely understandable that they’re protesting against them.

Perhaps because their cause was justified, the students I saw had none of the swaggering, self-righteous manner of the student protester of legend. The police, too, were decent towards them, and avoided their form of swagger that often crops up when there’s trouble in the air.

I wasn’t at Millbank but, looking at the TV pictures, the criminals who smashed up the building were from  a completely different group than the thousands of students I saw earlier in the day. Not so much swaggering, as revelling in their violence, jittering with excitement at the pleasure in violence, that you’ll only find in the regularly violent. I’d be surprised if many of them were full-time students in the proper academic sense of the word. More likely, they are anarchists – perhaps with a student card, from a third-rate institution they never visit, that cloaks their criminal violence with the figleaf of principled protest.

By the way, it’s not just Millbank, the employees there, and the people who’ll have to clear up the rubbish, that are suffering. Bicycling back from work – coincidentally, I have been teaching today at a university, fully attended by hard-working, intelligent, curious and cash-starved students – I have never seen London traffic so jammed in 39 years living in the city. The criminals haven’t just ruined a decent, legitimate protest; they have also brought misery to hundreds of thousands of drivers, trying to get home from a hard day’s work – something, I guess, those criminals have never had to deal with.

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