The story inside Parliament


Arriving in Parliament, we entered a surreal lobbying process with MPs and students sitting in makeshift booths around the entrance to the House.

Meeting only Conservative MPs, our lobbying success was only ever going to be small. However, we were able to convince Eric Ollerenshaw (MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood) to ask some questions of other MPs on our behalf. Ben Wallace MP, who that evening broke the NUS and LUSU pledge to vote against an increase in fees, was nowhere to be seen.

With the police advising visitors not to leave the Parliament building and we spent most of the afternoon watching the debate whilst news drifted into us that the crowd outside had gotten angrier. Rumours of horse charges and thrown barriers were spreading fast and the MPs in the House below were getting more and more agitated as the debate raged on.

The debate lasted five hours and, interestingly, was mostly between backbench Labour and Lib Dem MPs. Only with about ten minutes to go did many Conservative MPs arrive and Cameron was notably absent during the entire procedure. Vince Cable did, to his credit, sit through the vast majority of comments.

With 30 minutes til the vote, it was announced that we had all been locked into Parliament due to fears of a student invasion. Everyone except for us and the MPs had been evacuated. The thought that we were now technically occupying the Public Gallery got a cheer from the onlookers.

On the announcement of the result, however, the mood turned to one of despondency. Turning to leave, I saw one man crying whilst another offered him a hanky and two girls sat as if paralysed, unable to comprehend what they had seen.

Emerging from a side exit of Parliament, we stepped immediately into the centre of the police base of operations. We were between three lines of 900 policemen dressed all in black, their faces covered, their numbers hidden and a baton and shield in either hand. Fireworks were being set off only five metres away and everybody was shouting and milling around. It was clear we were not supposed to be there but they did not know what to do with us.

Surrounded by guns, abandoned riot gear, journalists in helmets and armoured horses, and with the strangely non-reassuring presence of Big Ben framing the scene, it felt as though we had emerged into a dystopian police state and that the army had led a coup of Parliament. Despite the presence of so many police officers, we had never felt less safe. Being a student was to be branded and treated with suspicion. In order to leave the area, we had to advance of a line of police horses and pass through them.

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