Peter Hoskin

The politics of the student protests

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The student protests really are throwing up some extraordinary images. Who'd have thought that they'd end up smashing their way in to the lobby of Tory HQ, setting fire to placards, hurling bricks and other objects – and all as news helicopters buzz insistently overhead? It's not Paris '68, but it's certainly not traditional British reserve either.

I'd be tempted to say that this is the fury of a generation which, as I've written before, has generally been excluded from the political conversation – if, like Iain Dale, I didn't suspect that this demonstration had been overtaken by a bunch of dubious fringe groups. So, instead, I'll refer CoffeeHousers to this argument made by the Guardian's Julian Glover a few months ago, and which I've highlighted before. His contention? That violent protest may actually end up helping the coalition's cause:

"UK politics is often characterised as a contest for the centre ground, but that misdescribes the nature of the quest. Centrism implies banality, but I don't think voters want their governments to be mundane. There is a willingness to endorse radical action if it is explained and if it looks practicable. It worked for the left under Attlee and Blair; it worked for the right under Thatcher; and it is working – so far – for this government.

That a large number of people oppose what you are doing, very strongly, can become a strength, so long as they are seen to be opposing something rooted in a kind of imperative. Eight years ago almost half a million people marched through London with the aim of blocking the hunting ban – and to their dismay, the public took the government's side. The miners' strike, the Iraq war – examples are legion. Half a million people and more will probably be marching against the budget cuts soon, and will feel just as strongly that their solidarity brings invincibility. They may be proved wrong."