Oxford police clashed with student demonstrators on Tuesday afternoon, during a protest against a talk given by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Around 30 students from the Oxford Activist Network attended a protest march from the Taylor Institution to St Antony’s College, where the Liberal Democrat leader was scheduled to speak about Britain’s place in the EU.
Student grievances focused primarily on Clegg’s decision to agree to raising university tuition fees to £9,000 per-year in 2010.
The activists were heard chanting “Nick Clegg, shame on you for turning blue” and “education is a right, not a privilege”, while holding banners reading “Clegg off Campus”.
Outside St Antony’s College much of the crowd’s anger was directed toward the Thames Valley Police officers blocking the college entrance.
A number of activists chanted “You killed Mark Duggan” and “Cops off Campus” at the officers. When Mr Clegg was driven into and out of the college car park, some protesters were restrained by police.
At one point, an officer appeared to violently shove Wadham fresher Barnaby Raine.
Raine, a prominent figure in the Oxford Activist Network, later commented that police violence toward peaceful protestors was a disappointingly “common occurrence”, emphasising that he was “not in any way violent” toward the officer concerned.
He went on to say: “The police are meant to facilitate democratic peaceful protest.”
LPA Commander for Oxford, Superintendent Christian Bunt, said in response to the event: “A small number of officers were deployed to facilitate peaceful protest and the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister to Oxford. We fully respect the rights of the protesters and the policing response was in no way contrary to this.
“Officers needed to move protesters from blocking the gates and highway access to St Anthony’s college, so officers created a small sterile area for the Deputy Prime Minister’s vehicles to enter the College.
“The protesters were asked to move due to the fact they were blocking the highway. A small number of protesters surged forward towards Mr Clegg’s vehicle on his arrival. Officers held people back so that they did not come into contact with the convoy of vehicles.
“We have received no complaints from any protesters or members of the public.”
Clegg’s visit came two days ahead of Thursday’s European elections, when the Liberal Democrats are expected to perform poorly. Protestor Sam Carter, a student at St John’s College, explained that he was protesting Clegg’s visit because he had “campaigned on a promise” (to oppose a tuition fee increase) which he later broke.
Wadham student Angie Normandale, who appeared to lead much of the protest, said: “The Oxford Activist Network has not forgotten that Clegg has betrayed us and his party.”
Normandale also referred to the recent controversy over Campsfield House detention centre when asked why she was protesting. She replied: “It’s not just about tuition fees.”
Student opinion was varied regarding criticism that the Activist Network were attempting to “no-platform” Clegg, a tactic often used for more extreme politicians.
Oriel second-year Kate Bradley described this criticism as a “misrepresentation”. She said: “Activists were simply making a stand against Clegg and his policies.”
Luke Dukenfield, a Chemistry student who travelled from Warwick for the protest, took a different view, commenting: “It was right to no-platform politicians from a university campus if they ignore the views of students.”
St Antony’s student Joe Haynes also criticised Clegg, stating: “He reaped the benefits of student support at the 2010 general election, but had abandoned students as soon as he was offered the chance of power.”
Andrew McKay, Chair of the Oxford University Liberal Democrat Society, criticised the protest, saying: “While the Oxford Activist Network are of course welcome to protest whoever they want, the targeting of a politician who has very moderate views deeply worries me.”
“With more applications to university this year, and an increase in those from disadvantaged backgrounds, there seems to be a gap between Oxford Activist Network rhetoric and reality.”
The Liberal Democrat press office refused to comment specifically on the student-organised protest, instead providing a general comment: “Nick Clegg is the only party leader standing up for Britain’s place in Europe.”
The European and local council elections will be held on Thursday 22nd May, with many Oxford students expected to take part.