Our ‘darling children’ are the new Suffragettes!
Students, could there be anything more embarrassing than the militant mummies cheering your protests on?
Pity the poor children. After years of being walked to the school gates by protective parents, eager to shield them from paedophiles and bullies, you would think that as young adults they would at least be able to riot in peace. But no: given the threat posed by all those big mean bully-boys in blue, their ‘Velcro parents’ simply can’t let go.
On spiked last year, Brendan O’Neill rightly observed that what really marked out the recent student protests in London was the pushy parents encouraging their children to go on to the streets, reliving their own youthful radical ambitions vicariously through their offspring. Far from these young student radicals rebelling against their parents’ generation, those dubbed patronisingly ‘the Harry Potter generation’ were being told to go out there like good little soldiers and make mummy proud.
Nowhere is this better documented than on Mumsnet, the online forum for mums across the UK, where parents discussed strategies for getting their kids out of school for the day and gushed about the pride they felt that their children were marching off and manning the barricades. ‘So proud of the students today’, said one. ‘Maybe the next generation will have the courage to fight for rights we’re too apathetic to fight for.’
On Mumsnet, there was a constant elevation of the active, enlightened youth over their passive predecessors: ‘I’m glad they’re protesting – I was at uni when the fees originally were coming in… and we couldn’t get anything other than apathy from anywhere because they were just too dense to see where things were going…’ This self-loathing seems commonplace amongst parents delighted to see ‘some gusto after decades of apathy’. Even those with a radical past bemoaned the fact that ‘it is decades since I had a really good protest. My lad is 16 (at sixth form). He is going. Kind of wish I could go too. Be proud.’
Good old-fashioned motherly boasting emerged, too. ‘Also very proud of the students’, said one, ‘especially my daughters who led two-thirds of their school out, gave interviews on the radio, and then went into Leeds University occupation to show solidarity – they are 16 and 12 years old and want to fight for the future of education.’ Another talked of her DC (a common Mumsnet abbreviation for ‘darling child’) giving interviews to the media: ‘It seems that a lot of the younger kids have not read anything in regards to the issue and are merely there to have a good time. At least DC knew what he was talking about.’
Their Darling Children are the new Suffragettes, willing to martyr themselves for the greater good. As one excitedly put it, ‘Emily Davies [sic] threw herself under a horse for you. These kids are doing it for all of us. They’re trying to protect our precious education system.’
In the eyes of the mummies, not only were their children fighting for their education rights – they were also undergoing a practical citizenship lesson to boot. Mums concerned about their kids bunking off were reassured by fellow parents that their protesting kids would learn ‘vital stuff about democracy and the right to protest’.
Pride turned to horror, however, when adoring mums received panicky texts and calls about their modern-day Suffragettes being ‘kettled’ by the police in London: ‘Had a phonecall at 3pm to tell me that the entire Physics class had joined the protest and that DS [darling son] stuck in Whitehall.’ Another talked of how the experience had damaged her shell-shocked son: ‘This is his first experience of biased reporting and police aggression at first hand. He is clearly quite upset and traumatised and today has been on the phone to me and needs to talk about it loads.’
Who was to blame for the violence? While all agreed there were a few bad apples among the protesters, the anger of the protesting DC’s parents was channelled towards the ‘thugs in blue’. As one bemoaned, ‘To keep young kids effectively imprisoned for hours in the bitter, freezing cold does not cast the police in a good light. It’s inhuman. Fine – lock up the ones causing trouble. But the peaceful majority have a right to go home for their tea.’
In the aftermath of the protests, parents began to compile tips on how their troops could be better prepared next time: ‘Tenacity is needed (but not violence) and a strong sense of pride for standing up for what he believes in. Plus the knowledge that a warm coat and lots of snacks are useful next time he goes on another protest!’ Or maybe ‘they should come prepared with blankets and potties!’.
How did the students respond to this patronising talk? Did they tell these mollycoddling mothers where to go? Far from it. Instead the parents were embraced. As students from the UCL Occupation wrote on Mumsnet: ‘We also hope to stand with you on any further peaceful protests. Parents and Students – let’s stand together!’
Sure enough, on the student demos last week, the militant mums were out in force. Calling themselves the Stop Kettling Our Kids collective, parents marched alongside the demo with pink kettles as a message to the police that their bullying would not be tolerated. A multitude of Facebook groups has been set up, notably Parents against the uni fee increases and removal of EMA, showering students with patronising advice such as: ‘To all students going out tomorrow, please wrap up warm, loads of layers, take food and drink just in case… have a great day, and if you see an obvious plant like a ne naw! (police vehicle) then please ignore it. Have a great day. x’
In heeding the calls of parents and teachers alike to engage in a practical citizenship class against The Man, these kids are actually far closer to being obedient little robots, internalising the ideas of their parents’ generation. Devoid of any serious radical ideas, or any real sense of how education could be transformed, these student protests aren’t going against the status quo – they are more like a reactive defence of it. Going on the protests is less about exhibiting agency and rising against the tide, and more about going with the flow. Parents and kids go out on the streets to direct their ‘strops’ against bully-boy policemen with their ‘nee naws’ and the dark ‘sinister forces’ of the government that – in the immortal words of Kevin the Teenager – is being ‘so unfair’.
These ‘darling children’ seem to have more in common with wide-eyed innocent youths being encouraged to fight for Queen and Country by patriotic parents rather than anything resembling Angry Young Men and Women. The death knell of student radicalism is being sounded: this hollow, thudding noise is – horribly – being made by a procession of protective parents banging bright pink kettles with wooden spoons.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.
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