52,000 or so students descended on London on Wednesday from all over the country to protest against the government’s proposed tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 along with a cut to the overall higher education budget of 40%, with many departments facing much larger cuts.

The number of students at the demo exceeded NUS expectations, which had planned for just over half as many on the march. What unfolded during the course of the day was also to confound predictions as a day of direct action swept the capital, centering on the Conservative Party head quarters on Millibank.

The protest began as planned, although the NUS self imposed ‘no mega-phones’ rule was, unsurprisingly, largely ignored, with chants of;

“Nick Clegg, shame on you!

“We know what you said you’d do!”

Antipathy towards the Liberal Democrat betrayal of students was a consistent theme of the day. The demonstrators made one thing abundantly clear; The Lib Dems’ name is mud amongst the student movement, with a few ‘Lib Dems against fees’ activists hardly making up for the torrent of abuse Nick Clegg and his lackeys were subjected to. Placards along the lines of, “Nick Clegg sold out” were commonplace.

Many of those on the demo, including a large contingent from FE colleges, were new to activism, their involvement clearly brought about by the direct threat to particular courses and the government’s disregard for young peoples’ futures. Charlotte Binney, a dance student at Laban College commented;

“To cut practically all the arts council funding would pretty much shut us down and put so many talented people out of jobs as arts degrees are only as good as the teachers they employ. Considering that the people who want to cut funding have their degrees and well paid jobs it is ridiculous. We live in a Jeremy Kyle era as it is: no education, no job, and more benefits”.

Throughout the day there were indications that the march would not be the well mannered affair that the NUS had hoped for. At around 14:00 near parliament, activists from Kings’ College attempted to direct students towards the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Skills.

As a King’s classics student explained, “we wanted to lead people to Vince Cable’s department, the department responsible for higher education for a peaceful protest”. Unable to achieve this, the activists settled for a sit down protest on the route of the main march, outside Parliament which, according to the aforementioned student, “succeeded in slowing the march and directing students’ anger towards Parliament”.

One can imagine what such a tactic may have achieved on another day, but unbeknownst to the sit down protesters, a much more significant direct action was happening a few hundred metres along the route.

At the offices of 30 Millbank, amongst them the Conservative national head quarters, militant students had stormed past the seven police officers on guard and occupied the building.

By the time this reporter reached the scene, the courtyard of the offices thronged with students demonstrating in solidarity with the occupiers, some of whom tried to break through the now much strengthened police line to enter the building.

Angry students burned effigies of David Cameron and Nick Clegg while anti- Tory slogans rang out. Missiles were hurled against the police. Those nearest the building, along with some of those already inside, slowly but surely smashed the windows on the ground floor of the building, allowing more to enter.

The occupiers soon reached the roof of the building and waved to the assembled students below to huge applause. Accusations of violence are unsurprisingly being levelled against the students by the corporate press. Whilst there is clearly an element of truth in this, the atmosphere was one of a carnival, all be it one with a very distinct edge. One student who entered the building, who preferred not to be named, described the atmosphere inside as “like a party, with everyone dancing”.

So the situation remained for hours, until slowly but surely, as police numbers increased and students ebbed away. The police (who overall spurned heavy handed tactics) began to forcibly move the demonstrators away. By around 18:00 the police had contained the remnants contained, using the ‘kettling’ tactics that had proved so controversial during the G20 demos, slowly letting them out after searching and photographing.

By this point student activists had staged yet another occupation, this time of Parliament Square under the banner of ‘Education Village’ – a clear homage to the ‘Democracy Village’ that had fairly recently been cleared away – with the aim of staying the night there and running discussion workshops.

In a chaotic but brilliant day, a sociology student from Leeds University seemed to sum up the enthusiasm evident amongst students not to take the cuts lying down:

“I only heard about the march a week ago. When you hear about the biggest student march in a generation, you have to get involved; you know it’s going to be epic”.

Simon’s Blog: http://simonchilds.blogspot.com/