This silent protest, which is to be held on Tuesday 27th Janurary, the day on which MPs will vote on the Higher Education Bill presented by Charles Clarke earlier this month, has been a subject of much contention. It is illegal to march on Parliament whilst it is in session but it is not illegal to stand quietly outside, what a silent protest would effectively constitute. However, it is clear that careful management of the attendant crowds at such a demonstration is necessary if it is to remain legal. In the past, this sort of event has attracted trouble sometimes resulting even in violence.
Fears that it would get out of control led the National Union of Students to decide not to organise a protest outside Parliament on this day. The University of London Union however decided to organise a silent protest anyway but then following a meeting all the ULU Presidents where an NUS representative argued forcefully against the idea, ULU decided to withdraw their support from the demonstration. Chris Piper, ULU President explained that "Given the type of event considered, it would be important to clarify issues such as the legality, health and safety and our ability to deliver on this. These are issues that are extremely serious and ones that cannot be dealt with quickly".
This decision, however, appears to be in direct conflict with the wishes of ULU?s constituent College Unions. All of the College Union Presidents unanimously agreed to go ahead with the protest regardless. The argument they put forward for continuing is that a large number of people already know about the event and will be turning up regardless and if they?re not given something constructive to do via means of an organised protest then the likelihood of trouble is increased.
In furtherance to this decision, the constituent College Unions plan to mandate ULU to support the event. ICU President, Mustafa Arif, argued that "ULU is there to serve the College Unions and co-ordinate activity" and he has called an emergency meeting of the ICU Exec to be held this (Monday 18th Jan) lunchtime to discuss the situation in preparation for ULU Council this evening. It is even rumoured that publicity for the demonstration featuring the ULU logo has been produced by one of the Colleges. Chris Piper however commented that "no publicity had been sent out and the whole event had only been on the discussion board for less than a week" thus implying that only a minority of people know about the protest. The protest has nonetheless, been advertised on the ICU no2fees website.
Regardless of whether there is an open protest, there will be a student presence in Parliament on the day of the vote, in the form of mass lobbying of individual MPs.