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Cardiff marches at NUS demo 2012

The march, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), was almost entirely peaceful, yet drew criticism from many of the students for both its lack of specific message, and the route that the march took.

The NUS optimistically predicted that 10,000 students would attend the march, but the miserable weather may have dented this figure.

Students from Cardiff University made up a very small proportion of this, with only 26 people on the bus that the University provided, at a cost of £690. The University held a referendum to decide whether the University would subsidise students to attend. With only 0.33 per cent of Cardiff students participating in the referendum, the vote went in favour of subsidising attendance at the demo with 86 votes for and 53 against. The lack of interest in the referendum was echoed in the disappointingly low number of students travelling to London.

The demonstration, the first national student protest since 2010, was largely peaceful – a welcome change from the violence and confrontations that dominated the coverage two years ago. The only reported incident was a brief stand off between a small section of protestors and police near Parliament Square.

Protesters assembled at Temple and marched on a route that worked its way alongside the Thames towards the Houses of Parliament, then passing over Westminster Bridge towards Kensington Park. The latter part of the route drew stinging criticism from participants as they marched through largely residential areas of London. At the end of the march, protesters voiced their anger at the NUS with chants such as “NUS, shame on you, where the f*ck have you brought us to?”

The march culminated with a rally at Kensington Park, but this was cut short after it was disrupted by a number of dissatisfied students. As the rally began, chants criticising the NUS prompted the NUS’s President Liam Burns to appear on stage to try to appease the hecklers. Booing continued as he returned to deliver a speech, with angry students throwing fruit and eggs at Burns, before around 20 protesters mounted the stage, which forced Burns to leave. The disgruntled students’ anger appeared to stem from the perceived failure to have a clear agenda for the march, the chosen route and the apparent tameness of the NUS when attacking the cuts.

Burns defended the route saying it was designed to avoid the Conservative headquarters at Millbank, which saw some of the worst violence during the 2010 protest.

Prior to the march, Burns emphasised his desire for a protest without violence, saying, “You want public sympathy on your side; violence is not going to engender public sympathy.”

As hoped, there was no violence reported. Whilst this may prove positive in the way the protests are framed in the media, it resulted in minimal media coverage, with it trending at a disappointing ninth place on the BBC News’ website at the end of the rally. The main focus, almost inevitably, was on the rather chaotic scenes  – the stage invasion and the dissent aimed at Burns and the NUS.