The nationwide wave of demonstrations against student fees is being led by a woman who applied to be a police officer before changing course and becoming a Marxist revolutionary.

From the Sunday Telegraph
Clare Solomon, a 37-year-old mature student, is at the forefront of a network of radical activists which has seized control of the protest movement.

She led the march last Wednesday which led to mayhem in Whitehall, where thousands of demonstrators as young as 13 smashed a police van and clashed with officers.

While the more moderate National Union of Students (NUS) called the first major march on Nov 10, which culminated in the attack on the Conservatives’ Millbank headquarters, it has distanced itself from subsequent protests and occupations of university buildings.

Miss Solomon has stepped into the gap, rapidly becoming both a public face of the new mass movement and instrumental behind the scenes in organising and encouraging the protests.

She is determined to raise the stakes further and has vowed to cause “maximum disruption” to the higher education system.

But what few of her followers know is that she is the daughter of a policeman who herself applied to join the City of London police and got as far as preparing for the fitness tests before having to drop out following an injury.

She told this newspaper last night: “As someone who had wanted to join the police I understand why some people do, because they want to help society.

“But I now see the majority of the work of the police as being that defending and protecting the rich and their property so I am glad of my lucky escape.”

On Sunday she will be among hundreds of activists gathering at Birkbeck College in central London to plan a further round of protests, starting with a nationwide ‘strike’ of students and school pupils on Tuesday.

With her colleagues in the Education Activists Network (EAN) and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts she is calling for students and schoolchildren to walk out of lecture theatres and classrooms to stage ‘city wide assemblies’ to show their opposition to the Government’s plans.

The movement is adept at using modern techniques, such as text-messaging and Twitter, alongside more traditional posters and banners, to galvanise supporters.

Already more than 20,000 people have signed a page on Facebook pledging to join Tuesday’s strike and numbers are growing by the hour.

Shortly before last week’s protests, The Sunday Telegraph infiltrated a meeting of activists at the University of London Union (ULU) headquarters in central London.

Here Miss Solomon urged around 150 students from across the country to plan occupations of their own.

Those attending were given practical tips. They were advised to obtain floor maps of university buildings, stock up on food for a long stay, and even ensure that they occupied a part of the building with access to lavatories.

The meeting was also attended by Suresh Grover, a leading civil rights lawyer, who urged students to draw up a “legal strategy” while planning an occupation and advised them on how to tread the fine line between staging a lawful protest and getting arrested.

Reacting to claims that last week’s vandalism in Whitehall had undermined the students’ cause, Miss Solomon told this newspaper: “The police on Wednesday were out for revenge for what happened at Millbank on the previous demonstration. They wanted to reassert their power.

“I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot when the police ‘kettled’ the students. Young people are constantly vilified by society and for once they felt empowered and able to express their opinions.”

Whilst her public image has been as a protester driven by concern over student fees and education cuts, her agenda goes much wider: to bring down capitalism and replace it with a socialist society where the ruling class is expropriated and wealth is spread equally.

Yet there is nothing in Miss Solomon’s immediate family history to suggest that she would go on to adopt the battle-cries of the far-left.

She was born Clare Michelle Jane Graham in Winchester, Hampshire, to what she would later describe as a “military family”.

Her father Michael Graham served in the Royal Military Police and was steeped in the discipline and tradition of the British armed forces.

He later became a police officer, before migrating with his wife Noreen and their four children, including Clare, to New Zealand, where he also joined the police force.

Miss Solomon, who had been raised as a Mormon by her parents, dropped out of school at 14 and later found work in a restaurant.

Shortly before turning 17 she became pregnant and returned to England, where she gave birth at Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital to a baby boy.

At this stage she adopted the surname Solomon, after the boy’s father, Rewai Solomon, a chef from New Zealand who now runs his own catering company in London.

Miss Solomon moved with her son to London where, using the surname Graham, she married Mohammed Bazlur Rahman. The couple lived together in Camden, north London, for a spell, with Miss Solomon working in temporary jobs.

At 22 she set up a caf√© called the Char Bar, near Kings Cross station, with the help of funding from the Prince’s Trust – even speaking at Buckingham Palace about her experience of running a business.

As with so many it was Tony Blair’s decision to back the invasion of Iraq that led to her profound radicalisation.

In early 2003 the Char Bar became the meeting place of a local Stop The War branch and Miss Solomon was rapidly captivated by the commitment and enthusiasm of those who took part.

In her blog she wrote: “Coming from a military family background, meeting these people and seeing their desire to fight back against the impending war on Iraq was certainly a life changing experience.”

Indeed her mother, Noreen, was also drawn to the anti-war movement and is now involved in the group Military Families Against The War.

At the age of 31 Miss Solomon resumed her education, beginning a degree course in the study of religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a college of the University of London. It was here that her career in student politics began.

Over the past six years she has held a number of positions within the student union hierarchy, including delegate to the NUS conference and member of its Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender national steering committee.

Miss Solomon spent two years working full time as finance and communications officer for the SOAS student union, before being elected as president of ULU – one of the most radical student unions in the country, to which all University of London colleges are affiliated.

Politically she moved increasingly leftward, joining the hard-left Socialist Workers Party (SWP) at its “Marxism 2005” summer conference and being elected to the national council of George Galloway’s Respect party.

She was, however, expelled by the SWP in November last year, following an internal dispute.

Miss Solomons is now aligned to Counterfire, which describes itself as “a network of activists who are Marxist, anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-cuts while campaigning for equality and workers’ rights”.

In the long tradition of schism within the British far left, it grew from a split within the SWP.

She recently stated: “I think it is absolutely imperative that our students now mount maximum disruption and resistance.

“I expect students to take over their universities and show the Government we will not stand for them trashing our education system. I would like to see all universities occupied.”

The wave of protests has placed the NUS in a difficult position. Aaron Porter, its president, has accused some activists of “naively and opportunistically” aligning themselves with anarchists, “careful to distance themselves from human violence only when pushed, but revealing an appetite for other forms of violence when invited to”.

Mr Porter, also the son of a policeman, has disowned both last Wednesday’s protests and current sit-ins, stating: “Every day spent in occupation in a university boardroom is a day not exposing the Lib Dems’ broken promises in the local press.”

In a delicate balancing act, he says the NUS does nevertheless support non-violent occupations when they are backed by a majority of students and are part of a wider campaign of lobbying.

The commitment and determination which have made Miss Solomon a powerful figurehead for the new protest movement were evident at the meeting attended by this newspaper.

Here she claimed that “recent events” had inspired thousands of young people to confront the Government.

Seeking to draw in maximum numbers into the fray, she urged students to “get young people” to join the demonstrations.

Ironically it was that desire to widen the movement that led to a telling moment during last Wednesday’s protests.

As she led the march in the direction of Whitehall some of the more excited schoolchildren behind her began sprinting towards Parliament, leaving Miss Solomon trailing in their wake.

The woman who has left the NUS struggling to control the protests had momentarily found herself outflanked by some of the very people she seeks to lead.

Tagged under: