Police struggled to control the civil disobedience that gripped Whitehall and other parts of London, as demonstrators smashed the windows of the Treasury before attempting to storm the building.
Earlier, the coalition forced the controversial reforms through the House of Commons, but was left bruised by the biggest Liberal Democrat rebellion in the party’s history.
Twenty-one Liberal Democrats voted against the plans to raise the upper limit on tuition fees to £9,000, while five abstained and three were absent. That means over half of the party’s MPs failed to back the policy, which was authored by Vince Cable, the business secretary and one of the most senior Lib Dems in government. Two Liberal Democrat parliamentary aides resigned to vote against the government, as did a Tory aide. And a handful of Tory backbenchers, including David Davis, joined the rebellion.
In total 323 MPs voted for the reforms while 302 voted against, meaning the coalition’s Commons majority was slashed by almost three quarters from 80 or so to 21.
As news of the vote reached demonstrators, the initially peaceful protests descended into violent riots. As well as the attacks on the Royal couple and the Treasury, some protesters attacked the National Gallery and the Supreme Court, and attempted to set fire to the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.
David Cameron said the violence was “totally unacceptable” and that the “minority of protesters determined to provoke violence” would “face the full force of the law”. Last night, the Metropolitan Police said 12 police officers had been injured, six seriously. Forty-three protesters were taken to hospital, while 26 were arrested.
A spokesperson for the Met said: “This has nothing to do with peaceful protest. Students are involved in wanton vandalism, including smashing windows in Oxford and Regent Streets.”
Despite pushing the vote through the Commons, there were signs of tension within the coalition last night – even at the highest levels. An aide to Nick Clegg told City A.M. the Conservatives had hindered the Liberal Democrats’ attempts to sell the policy to voters and MPs.
“The policy is actually as close to a graduate tax as it’s possible to get, but some Conservatives thought talk of a ‘tax’ would alienate middle England. It was a spectacular misjudgement.”