Academic staff fills ranks to march on eve of Commons vote
The march was “very peaceful”, protestors said. The protest was the fourth march against cuts to higher education and the rise in tuition fees. A notable number of lecturers and PhD students joined the demonstration. Around 250 academics and PhD students from the University of Manchester have signed a public statement declaring their opposition to the higher education proposals.
Staff and academics from the Faculty of Humanities say the reforms threaten teaching and the value of higher education and research. The statement issued by the department argues that students from poorer backgrounds will be worst affected: “We strongly believe higher education should receive strong public funding and support, and that higher education is of value to UK society as a whole,” read the statement.
The academics were joined outside Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) All Saints building by university and college students as a small group of speakers roused the crowd for the day ahead. The students were surrounded by a considerable police presence, which one speaker described as “excessive”.
The protestors set off for Piccadilly Gardens at 12.30 pm with police to join the city centre protests. A sea of brightly coloured homemade banners and posters were distributed by activists from the Respect Party. At the time of the march, dozens of Lib Dems were threatening a rebellion against party leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg after the pre-election pledge to oppose an increase.
On arriving in Piccadilly Gardens, the protestors held a rally, with a diverse range of speakers addressing the crowd. Those addressing the crowd included Mo Saqib, the University of Manchester Students’ Union (UMSU) Humanities Officer, President of Manchester Metropolitan University Islamic Society, Ali Yousef, and Jamie Woodcock, a representative of the Roscoe Building occupation.
There were also speeches from trade unionists, community workers and interventions made by speakers from the Aim Higher programme and the Education Activists Network. UMSU General Secretary Sarah Wakefield told The Mancunion: “It was nice to see a strong protest, with people making their point in a peaceful and constructive way. The high number of lecturers and academics demonstrates the academic voice against higher education cuts is coming through.”
Following the rally, which finished at 2pm, a group of activists allegedly spread a false rumour that a group of MPs were meeting at Manchester Town Hall, according to one eyewitness. This led some of the protesters to disband and head to the Town Hall. Those who took part in the day’s protest were keen to emphasise its non-violent and incident-free nature.
So how did they vote?
After much agonising we now know how each Liberal Democrat MP cast their deciding vote during last Thursday’s crucial debate. As expected, every Lib Dem at the centre of government, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable voted for the rise. Here is how some of the others voted:
Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats – Abstained. Since being elected, Hughes has been seen by many as the inner conscience of the party whilst in government. His abstention comes after publicly stating his unease at the government’s tuition fee proposals. The coalition agreement drawn out in May gave any Lib Dem MP the right to abstain on this issue.
John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington – Voted against the rise. This local backbencher has always stressed his ardent opposition to tuition fees. Representing an area with such high student numbers, it is likely that Leech will be spared the anger of so many of his constituents by sticking to his pre-election pledge to vote against a rise in fees.
David Laws – Voted for the rise. Laws famously lasted just under three weeks as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after an expenses scandal. He is known as someone on the right of the party and therefore more likely to vote with the government. Indeed, the Conservatives liked him so much that the Chancellor, George Osbourne, asked him to join the party before May’s election.
Michael Crockart – Voted against the rise. It emerged shortly after last week’s vote that this Edinburgh MP took the step of resigning from his ministerial job so that he could vote with his conscience and oppose the fee rise. While this was not enough to swing the vote the other way he is likely to be thought of positively by many students for his actions.
Here’s how some other key Lib Dems voted last Thursday:
Menzies Campbell (former party leader) – voted against rise
Charles Kennedy (former party leader) – voted against rise
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) – voted for rise
Gordon Birtwistle (MP for Burnley) – voted for rise
Steve Webb – voted for rise
Tim Farron (Party President) – voted against rise