I am sitting here at my desk on the 11th floor of Millbank Tower where I work each day – except yesterday when, in my absence, my workplace became the subject of headline news.
I refer of course to yesterday's riots following the student demonstration against tuition fees in the Millbank concourse where there are two main buildings. One is Millbank Tower, which is 32 floors high. Next door is 30 Millbank which is six or seven floors and is where the students got on the roof. This building suffered the most damage.
Although not at work, I managed to keep in touch with my colleagues. There is an emergency evacuation procedure for fires and bombs but we don’t have one for riots! It was all a scary experience apparently, especially for the reception staff on the ground floor, and took a while for the office to be closed down and everyone to be evacuated down the stairs at the back of the building.
There were continuous alarms and regular security alerts and, when you halfway up the building, you can’t see too clearly what is happening on the ground floor. People were phoning home to ask people to watch on BBC News or getting news by contacting friends on Facebook.
While everyone is cleaning up downstairs, a few thoughts occurred to me.
Firstly I had kept in touch with the organisation of the demo as I was intending to participate. (In the end, illness prevented me from going anywhere).
But, during the preparations, never once did it say the march would go near Millbank Tower, which is ten minutes walk along the Thames from Parliament. The focus was to be Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. So did someone, as some stage, say, come on chaps let’s go down the road to storm Millbank Tower, and everyone went along on a whim?
We all knew that the demonstration was scheduled, but up the road in Westminster, not outside our front door. The shock of my work colleagues, and those in other offices, testifies that this was a completely unexpected turn of events. It is difficult for us to blame the police who must have been as surprised as anyone.
Secondly, the anger of the students is directed at the Liberal Democrats – in my view, understandably. So why then attack the HQ of the Conservative party? Is it because no-one knew how to get Cowley Street?
Tories are no friends of students, less still of those on lower incomes. They are there to protect the rich and a pure Tory government would have put fees up higher and higher to keep the poor kids out and make it easier for rich kids to get in. As the Tories were behaving entirely in character, why attack them?
Thirdly, the riots took the attention away from the main event – a well organised, largely attended, mostly peaceful demonstration. All the TV pictures were of the Millbank area.
One could argue that had the demo been entirely peaceful, it would have been ignored by the media and politicians – at least this way it gets noticed. But on the other hand it does the cause far more harm than good. But I was pleased to see Aaron Porter of the NUS condemn the trouble so quickly.
I am informed that it was a spontaneous riot when demonstrators, walking on their way home, suddenly realised that they were walking past the Tory headquarters. Another possibility is that the demonstration was hijacked by those with other motives – to discredit the students and the intentions of the protest.
As a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, I signed the pledge to oppose tuition fees – and I intend to continue to campaign against tuition fees. I think we have let the students down and should admit to it (see my earlier entry). This could be a setback but we must continue and lobby all our MPs to vote against any fees increase.
For now, though, it’s back to work. We are open for business as usual. Life goes on.