Are British student protests a harbinger of future violence over austerity measures?
Protests over austerity measures have swept France and Greece. A massive student protest Thursday in London questions whether continental-style rioting has crossed the English Channel.
As workers cleared debris from a violent student demonstration against hikes in tuition fees, Britons paused to wonder on Thursday morning: Is this the shape of things to come?Skip to next paragraph
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Dozens of arrests were made Wednesday after some participants in a larger student demonstration broke away and stormed a building in central London housing the headquarters Conservative Party, the senior partner in the ruling coalition.
But while mainstream student leaders accused groups of anarchists and far left splinter groups of hijacking the event, the media and others focused today on whether the clashes are a harbinger of further violence as public anger builds over Britain’s severe state spending cuts.
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"As next year goes on there will probably be more protests, and there is likely to be more occupations by students,” predicts Clive Bloom of New York University’s London campus, an expert on street demonstrations and the author of "Violent London: 2,000 Years of Riots, Rebels, and Revolts."
“The trade unions are also threatening action next spring, and some strikes have already taken place, but whether it builds to the level of France is another matter," says Professor Bloom.
Indeed, rumor in political circles had it that Britain’s ruling coalition, which came into power warning that near-unprecedented austerity was the only way of tackling the country’s deficit, had given itself six months to spell out the full scale of the cuts before Britons would begin to push back. The coalition’s sixth month anniversary was Thursday.
A gentleman doesn't riot
Many of those hoping that the United Kingdom will not experience continental-style unrest subscribe to the popular notion that Britons generally eschew street protest while the French riot at the drop of a hat. It’s not entirely without foundation, says Professor Bloom.