Francis Beckett

Watching the student march against fees of up to £9,000 ought to have made a politically active member of the baby boomer generation ashamed of our legacy.  “Grandad stood up for peace and love – will you stand up for education?” said one of the placards, but it was unnecessarily kind. Grandad didn't stand up for anything - that was Grandad's problem.


Student demonstrations have come a long way since Grandad’s day.  Students don’t take themselves or their causes with the same deadly seriousness. They are anarchic and witty about their protests.  “I wanted an education and all I got was this lousy placard” read one sign.  Another, handwritten, read: “We can’t even afford proper placards.”

In student marches of the early seventies, people divided into their tribes – the Communists, the various Trotskyist groups, and those who had to confess to voting Labour but insisted they were on its left, like Charles Clarke and Jack Straw.  Confessing to voting Liberal would have been social death, but yesterday everyone I talked to had voted Liberal Democrat. 

Where was the impossibilism of old? It took a while, but at last I found the Socialist Workers Party, whose banner said: “TUC, call a general strike.”  I have seen the same banner on student marches of the seventies, picket lines of the eighties – a constant thread through the last forty years.  The spirit of the baby boomers lives on, weary, introspective, but unbowed.