Young, bright and pretty: The day girl students went to war over tuition fees... and the pupils who just wanted a photo for Facebook
Rioting girls became the disturbing new face of violent protest yesterday.
Another faction simply came along for the excitement. They were remarkably young, and, in many cases, frighteningly naive. This was the Facebook and iPhone generation who posed for souvenir photographs against the backdrop of carnage for which they played truant or left school early to witness.
Thus, for the first time in a protest filled with confrontation and hatred, young girls took centre stage
They were mostly young, bright and pretty, the kind of girls who would ordinarily make their parents proud. One was going to study to become a lawyer, another a doctor.
This could be your daughter! Prettiness and righteous anger are just wrong together. Only ugly poor people get angry. But don't worry - it's all a fashion, like Facebook. This is what's known in the trade as a 'moral panic', and it's what the Mail does best.
But among the thousands of people who brought chaos to Westminster yesterday, a remarkable turn-out of well-dressed, well-spoken teenage girls swelled the ranks.
In a corner near the Treasury building in Whitehall, I found the front line girls. It was a group of 17 and 18-year-olds and they were doing each other’s make-up. Not with mascara or eye-liner, but cat’s whiskers and painted slogans.
Now for action. If you had seen them in their short skirts and trendy scarves, you might have thought that a few chants and a bit of banner-waving would be the limit.
But almost as soon as some mindless thugs began trashing a police van abandoned in the middle of Whitehall, the girls went into battle. Elsewhere a group of female friends, maybe aged 16 or 17, put themselves within inches of the police line and began to scream abuse. It wasn’t quite Cheltenham Ladies College, but several of these girls, it emerged, were from respectable schools and decent homes.
Even more dishonestly, the photo of some fruity teens posing like the traditional A-level results day is captioned 'A New Facebook Photo?' as though this was selfish larks - despite the photograph bearing the copyright notice of a professional journalist. All the photographs are credited to photographers and news agencies, which makes me think that they were asking these kids to pose, knowing they'd be bought by rags like the Mail.
If it was your daughter - brilliant. There wasn't much violence - the cops left a van in the middle of the crowd (not, as the Mail lied, 'fled the van') and some hotheads trashed it, but that's the lot. Why shouldn't young women - even middle-class ones with good nails and delicate accents - be angry and vocal? This is the Guardian's version (and unlike the Mail, it didn't find a 'war' - the headline is 'Student Protest Largely Peaceful'):
It was just after 1pm that police van 313C, parked on Parliament Street in cental London, became the sudden, angry focus of youthful opposition to the government's plans to charge students significantly more for their education. The vehicle, unoccupied and stranded amid a sea of mainly teenage protesters, was set upon.
I'm really proud of everyone who demonstrated (and some occupations are still ongoing). French schoolchildren have a long tradition of participating, and the late 60s/early 70s in Britain saw a surge of youth protest - hence the infamous OZ Schoolkids' Issue.
However, much respect to Megan Thomas, aged 16. She knows exactly what the Daily Mail's news agenda is - not that it stopped them.
Megan Thomas, 16, stood in front of the police van in a bid to stop people vandalising it. Dressed in her school uniform with her tie around her head, the Year 11 pupil from Dunraven School in Streatham, South London, shouted at people to stop, claiming: ‘It’s a set up. They wanted it to get smashed up. All it is doing is giving the impression we are violent youth.’
If she wants to come to The Hegemon, I'll reserve her a place.
Predictably, I'm complaining to the PCC about the van claim under Clause 1 of the Code of Practice. Do the same.
Sorry about the advert at the start of this. Middle-class ladies: take heed!