I SUSPECT, even though many of the angry words from young lips are directed at colleagues, there are a few Lib Dems in Camden who will this morning have woken up with a secret respect for the rebellious sixth form students who spent last night camped in Camden School for Girls.
The overnight occupation of more than 70 pupils in defiance at government plans to raise tuition fees showed a new level of protest for demonstrators of this age. Their determination is almost frightening. We were playing football after school at their age – and not much else seemed to matter.
There was laughter and singing coming out of the common room campsite in Sandal Road throughout yesterday evening. There is an adventure to this protest that must have appealed to those who were locked inside, and at times a party atmosphere. But there is a steel to these teenagers too. See above, Sophie Burge, 17, left the barricades for this feisty performance on Channel 4 News.
Stick a camera in front of most people and they start burbling away, full of self-conscious doubt and flapping cliches. Sophie instead stayed focussed and articulate, not allowing Norman Lamb off the ropes as she lashed the ‘nasty party’ tag across his worried face. By the end, he seemed to be left begging for the onslaught to stop. The Lib Dem whip starts repeating ‘I am a progressive‘, almost to remind himself rather than reassure Miss Burge. There are only a few councillors at Camden Town Hall who you’d bet on winning a face-off with her on this evidence.
There will be people who afford themselves a little sneer at this point. Oh, Camden school for Girls, no wonder, that’s the sixth form for poshos from where Emma Thompson and Sarah Brown once graduated. St Trinian’s! No wonder they are so articulate. There are similar snorts whenever a dreamer from north London schools like CSG, Fortismere, William Ellis, or Henrietta Barnett pushes themselves into the national media.
Yet for a student as young as Sophie B to go on live TV and rap out a performance like this is impressive whatever the circumstances, whatever the background. In the end it was Jon Snow who reached for the inevitable ‘well, you’ve got the money for Trident’ insurance bet and not the sixth former. I’m sure some of the sleepy-eyed teachers who stayed on site in Camden Town last night, wondering how they had found themselves still at work beyond the witching hour, were deep down filled with some admiration too for the very kids threatening to give them the run-around. The school didn’t comment, but surely some of those teachers were privately thinking: Go get ’em kids.