Surrey Labour Students led a protest against the visit to the University of Surrey of Tory MP Sam Gyimah on Friday 23rd November. The then Universities Minister, who resigned a week later in protest against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, had been invited to discuss the state of higher education and how the sector would be affected by Brexit. Campus activists took it upon themselves to raise the banner for free education and the restoration of maintenance grants.
Lucy Mason, co-chair of the society, said: “This Tory government has trebled tuition fees, scrapped maintenance grants and caused a mental health crisis through under-funding. It’s time we take a stand and put forward Labour’s vision for a fully-funded national education service.”
In the lead up to the event, members discussed tactics and messaging for the protest. We reaffirmed our commitment to free speech and had no intention to prevent Mr Gyimah from speaking. However, when the platform for ideas is so weighted toward the university and the government, we felt compelled to get a hearing for our ideas. That is why we also prepared questions to ask to Mr Gyimah, which he naturally found very difficult to answer!
The protest definitely caused a stir on a campus not notorious for political activity. Furthermore, photos from the event went viral after being shared by Guardian journalist Owen Jones on social media. Our story was also featured in the Surrey Advertiser and the Guildford Dragon. The Surrey left has been gradually growing over the years and is now a serious force. It may not be long before socialists wield the power in the Students’ Union!