A radical student protest was held on Saturday January 14th when Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the main campus for a Labour party policy forum.There were dramatic scenes as several hundred students and local Nottingham residents besieged the East Midlands Conference Centre for several hours while Mr. Blair, who was last month dubbed a ‘modern-day Sheriff of Nottingham’, delivered his talk to Labour Party members.
Mr. Blair’s visit was intended to be a secret event, attended solely by Labour Party members and the press. However, details leaked out to students after members of the University Labour Society were invited to attend. Consequently, within less than 24 hours a mass protest was organised via the internet.
The protesters, who were campaigning against the Iraq War and the government’s plans to upgrade the nation’s nuclear power capabilities, were made up of a mixture of University of Nottingham students, Nottingham Trent students and local residents. Their protest began with a march through the campus, before blockading the entrance and car park to the conference centre by sitting in the road. When the Prime Minister arrived shortly afterwards, he was forced to enter via the back entrance.
However, there was widespread anger amongst protesters as large numbers of police surrounded them and refused to allow anyone to leave the area until nearly three hours later – after Blair had left. The tension rose after one student was arrested for handing out leaflets to conference delegates. Police invoked anti-terrorism legislation in their actions, although many protesters believe they were detained illegally. Among those trapped in the police cordon were children, elderly women and several non-protesting journalists. Police also took photographs of every protester. Other students in the area were searched by police, and a group of between 50-100 late arrivals had to conduct their protest from the Downs, as police refused them access to the other protesters.
Control within the conference centre was even tighter, with all media representatives being asked to leave during the Prime Minister’s question and answer session for fears of heckling. According to insider sources the President of the Labour society had allegedly been warned by the Labour party that his political future would be "in doubt" if there was any trouble at the event. Security officials had been on campus all week preparing for the visit.
Despite the Prime Minister avoiding the mass of protesters outside the venue, some did manage to confront him as he left (again) by the back entrance, shouting at him as he got into his car.