This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Third Leaders Debate: Live from Campus 5

Phew! What a day! What a debate? Well, I'm not sure, but this is not the place for a discussion on the quality of the arguments put forward. But as the media and parties whip themselves up into a frenzy in the 'Media Centre' (a temporary setup in the Avon Room, a room where I have had many lectures and exams) and as Question Time begins in the Great Hall (where I graduated), I thought I'd finish off my day of sporadic observations and desperate attempts to find stories from the wrong side of the security fence.

As we were waiting for the leaders to arrive just before 8pm, I was surrounded by a large group of students and two men, in costume, with a megaphone. One - the leader - was wearing a Batman costume; the other a Spiderman costume. They were Fathers4Justice, a group that has courted controversy many times over the last few years.

Somehow, quietly and subtly, Alastair Campbell (apparently) slipped past, but he did not escape the notice of Batman. He hassled the Labour man, criticising him for what he considered to be an unjust discrepancy in family law. Mr Campbell got away promptly.

Batman never stopped talking. When not making a political point he would continue to talk to himself through the megaphone; it is unclear who to.

"We're not against mothers. We like mothers. But the rights of the father are being ignored. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and the highest rate of teenage mental illnesses, but none of this would happen if there were fathers around. I am a father. You students are young - you lucky things - and won't yet have children but...," and then he interrupted himself, "yes you are young. I'm a bit older than all of you. I'm 42. I was last a student when I was 22. Oh, that was a long time ago. I never thought I'd have children. But I did! Goodness me! We were in Bristol last week. Manchester before that. Birmingham now. Here we are, oh yes. Anyway, the highest rate of teenage pregnancy!" It was hard to know who he was targeting or what he was trying to achieve. As rousing speeches go, this wasn't one of them.

His attempts to rally the crowd were rather muted. One girl next to me took great pleasure in shouting at him to shut up. "We don't have children! We're students! Go away!" she yelled.

Things heated up when the English Defence League - who were assembled by the fence opposite us on the other side of the entrance driveway, and who conformed to every stereotype you might imagine of them - started to shout out their own protest rants. I couldn't hear what they were saying, which is just as well, as I wouldn't be prepared to repeat it here. This seemed to nark Fathers4Justice, prompting a thug versus Batman face-off. Meanwhile, the three leaders drove by, hearing none of the protest slogans.

With the leaders inside and rain falling nicely, I decided to call it a day and head home for the debate. A large gathering were in the student bar with Nick Owen from the BBC, but I couldn't get there, and I fancied a cup of tea. It has been a good day, but tomorrow I shall have to catch up on some work.

I HAVE just returned from campus. My plan had been to go to the BBC Big Screen, so my friend Paul and I went to get some food and a drink to kill time until then - but it is raining, and instead of a rugby pitch-full of rowdy students, keen on debate and a change (or not) in the political landscape, there were no more than ten soggy and forlorn students and BBC personnel, wishing they were somewhere else. Instead of going home, however, I went first towards the Guild. I could only go so far, as security fences barred my way.

Many students were assembled, waiting for the leaders' arrival - Nick Clegg went past first, then David Cameron (or "Cammers" as a rugby-shirted male student guffawed) and finally Gordon Brown - and so too were the English Defence League and Fathers4Justice.

I'll explain what happened after the debate, which is about to begin...

***Update: during the debate itself it is reported that 1,100 students were at the BBC Big Screen***

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