Students kept from Clegg’s office

Kate Lloyd reports on anti-cuts demos in Sheffield

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Students in Nick Clegg’s constituency were restricted from protesting at his Sheffield office by police last Tuesday.

The protestors from local schools, colleges and universities planned to demonstrate outside the deputy prime minister’s constituency office in Fulwood but were told not to by South Yorkshire Police.

On the morning of the protest police said only 100 people would be permitted to demonstrate in an area
40 metres from the office for just two hours.

Peaceful protest

Around 250 students braved Tuesday’s snowy conditions to march the two miles from Sheffield University but the path to the office was blocked by around 30 officers. More police, carrying riot gear, were stationed in nearby streets and around university buildings.

Despite attempts by some demonstrators to break through the barriers, the protest was carried out peacefully. Some protesters called the large police presence “excessive” as all student demos in Sheffield have been free of violence free. They claimed that the police management of the protest restricted their right to free speech.

Politically mobile

Superintendent Martin Scothern, leading the police operation in Sheffield, said: “The planned protest site did not lend itself to large-scale assembly and immediately adjacent to the constituency offices are business premises and a children’s nursery.

“This gave grounds for fearing that the rights of those not involved in the protest would be disproportionately affected if South Yorkshire Police allowed the protest to go ahead as planned.

“We are not trying to restrict people’s right to protest.”

Sheffield University student George Wood said: “It is important that people are able to be politically mobile. People should be allowed to make a stand about opinions that they feel passionate about.”

Other demonstrations were held in London, Leeds, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol as part of a third day of action by student groups opposing government plans to stop the education maintenance allowance, uncap university tuition fees and make cuts to education budgets.

Broken promise

Some of the student demonstrators in Sheffield queued for hours on the day of the general election in May to vote for Clegg before being turned away unable to vote.

Sean Leary, protestor and student at King Edward VII Upper School, said: “I go to a school where many pupils come from homes in Clegg’s constituency. Our brothers and sisters voted for him because of the promises he made about education and abolishing tuition fees.

“He has broken his promise and they feel exploited.”

Low income family

Liz Maloney and her 11-year-old daughter Isabella also live in Clegg’s constituency and were protesting on Tuesday.

Liz said: “I am fortunate enough to have had an education but I’m a single parent and we are a low income family.
“If Isabella can’t get an EMA, I will not be able to afford to send her to college and she won’t get one.”

Isabella added: “I don’t think Nick Clegg has acted fairly. He came to our school and said he’d make education fairer for our older brothers and sisters and now they might not be able to afford it.”

In a letter to the NUS last week, Clegg claimed the new system was in line with his party’s fair, progressive values.

Photo: Marek Allen

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