Adam Ramsay offers a fantastic argument against education cuts (cross-posted from falseeconomy.org.uk):
Two days ago, I stood outside Oxford’s Cheney School as almost the entire sixth-form walked out of their classes. Their younger school-mates too had turned up that morning with placards and with marching shoes and with pre-prepared chants. But their teachers had threatened severe punishments if they joined the march.
The students complained that, as a result, there were “only” 200 of them. They marched into the city centre, and joined with 300 more school students from across Oxford before going on to occupy the county hall, shut down every bank in the city centre, and secure all of Oxfordshire’s front pages. And, of course, similar things happened across the country.
Today’s teenagers were written off as “the X box generation”. Day X has smashed that stereotype. What can have caused this? Well, it’s pretty simple. Chloe, one of the organisers from Cheney School, put it best: “Most people here come from ordinary backgrounds. We won’t be able to afford to go to university if they introduce these fees. I want to be able to go to university.”
The same, simple sentiment was expressed by those I saw kettled into Whitehall on Wednesday: “They’re taking our EMA away. How am I going to be able to finish my A-levels?”
And it was shared by the students I spoke to at the occupations of UCL, SOAS, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Oxford Universities. They use longer words, like “marketisation” and “neo-liberalism” but they mean the same thing – these cuts and fees and students debts will shut people out of their hopes and their dreams.
But there is also a basic economic problem with the massive cuts we are seeing to education. Because money spent on teaching doesn’t go into a black hole. Margaret Thatcher was famous for asset stripping – for “selling the family silver”. At the time, this meant selling physical assets – buildings, factories, whole industries.
But if the new economy is – as we are so often told – a knowledge economy, then these cuts are just a new kind of asset stripping: stripping a generation of the skills they will need to build new wealth, and a new society, from the ashes of the recession. The failure to invest in tomorrow is a classic way to destroy a company or a country. It is a failure that the government seems to be blundering into.
But it seems this generation has woken up to its plight. And, with Lib Dem MPs wobbling on fees, they might just have a victory in their sights.
Adam Ramsay blogs at Bright Green.
It is sometimes suggested that there is little protest against the cuts, except from students and schoolchildren, because adults are too craven and apathetic to stand up and be counted. The truth is that they are too wise to waste their energy on something so silly. Protesting against the cuts is like protesting against water’s stubborn habit of flowing downwards. Pointless, unless you are a committed anarchist, in which case everything is worth protesting against.
Protesting education cuts and tuition fee rises is silly?! That commentary reminds me of BBC Question Time last night where noone but noone wanted to talk about the morality of subjecting university students with much higher levels of debt. Of course right wing talking head Nadine Dorries thought it was perfectly fine, indeed she believed her constituents were against funding higher education out of taxation, implying that students were lazy good-for-nothings who should be bullied into contributing more. What of the majority of students though who don’t fall into that convenient category? Should they just sit and take this attack on their futures, when the financial mess we’re in isn’t down to them, and there are so many other alternatives available? I think it’s bizarre to suggest that anyone fighting these cuts and others (Lewisham Town Hall was just the start) is an anarchist.
It is interesting how much the student protests have relied on exploiting the political weaknesses of the Coalition, rather than concentrating on promoting the sound intellectual arguments that can be mustered against the reform of higher education. A protest that started out insisting that it filled a vacuum left by the failure of politics has remained obsessed with the promises the Lib-Dems made in its manifesto for government, and the hypocrisy the party has shown in ditching them for coalition.
I think it’s a horribly flawed perspective on the demonstrations. True the students are angry at the unfairness of the Lib Dem betrayal, having pledged in public that they would not support rises in tuition fees. But their anger is clearly much greater than that. As Elgan John points out, this is fury at what Naomi Klein calls ‘Shock Doctrine’ or disaster capitalism being aimed at them in particular:
Today in the UK we are positioned between a Mary Louise Smith and a Rosa Parks; not of course in terms of civil rights but insomuch that the angry youth have put their bodies forward in disobedience, their skulls smashed by batons, their blood has speckled the snow. They have done this in protest against tuition fees that they would never pay. But more than that, it is far larger protest, one against this government of extremists and their shock doctrine. These students have readied the way for the dignified marched of those with impeccable character, the quiet and the well behaved, to truly shock those in power and to bring this illegitimate government crashing down.
Britain’s new youth movement has evolved. The white-hot energy that exploded at Millbank three weeks ago has cooled into a hard-edged organising tool, making links with Trade Unions and anti-cuts groups up and down the country. What started as a riot has become a movement. At UCL, one of the movement’s strategic hubs, serious-faced teenagers take detailed notes and man the phones to liaise with the media whilst others are already at their laptops, getting the word out via Twitter and Facebook about what’s happening on the streets. These young people have been underestimated – by their parents, by their teachers and lecturers, and by successive neoliberal administrations -and that underestimation may yet shake this government to its core.
I only see informed, intellectual objections to the ConDem’s higher education reforms underpinning the ongoing student rebellion. And the fact is the protests have brought this issue up to the very top of the political agenda, and are already causing deep ruptures in the coalition. The students realise that, for reasons I’ve repeatedly cited, the attack on them is ideological and that the social values being put forward by the government for these reforms do not and will not lead to the social good. I too can’t agree that saddling the next generation with unbelievable levels of debt and letting the bankers get off scott free is just or necessary, when we have more than enough money to fight pointless wars and to contribute to bailing out whole countries. As other commentators have said, Atlee built the NHS at a time when he too had no money to hand because it was the right thing to do. Having dismissed students for too long as unable to critically evaluate the world, we should be championing them now for pointing us in the right direction this time.
Priceless footage from yesterday’s #dayx2 #demo2010 student demonstration against the ConDem coalition’s planned huge rise in tuition fees and university budget cuts. Late in the day the Met swore blind they had no intention of kettling the student demonstrators on Whitehall (despite bountiful evidence and testimonies to the contrary), but the students themselves knew otherwise and the #catandmouse chase, as you can see, made fools of the cops.
The Met however remained determined to infringe the students’ right to protest peacefully, as you can see:
The territorial support group (TSG) riot officers even returned to their old tactic of covering up their identifying shoulder numbers. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Guardian reporter Paul Lewis discusses the Met’s pre-emptive kettling attempt earlier today, and how it may itself not be legal (twitpic by Jonathan Warren):
In terms of the letter of the law, there is a chance that Scotland Yard overstepped the mark today. I’ve just been in touch with Louise Christian, the human rights lawyer who is bringing a test case against the Met’s policy of “kettling” to the European Court of Human Rights. The Law Lords previously ruled in the Met’s favour in the Lois Austin case , hence the force’s repeated claims that the tactics has been deemed “lawful”. But it is not as simple as that, as senior officers need to prove that containing people was “proportionate” to the threat posed by a crowd. The notorious kettling of climate camp activists at last year’s G20 protest is currently before a Judicial Review at the High Court over exactly this point. The stakes are high as the Met could lose money – and a lot of it – if it is shown to have arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of people.
If today’s reports are true, and the Met tried to kettle students before their march had properly even begun, the commissioner could find himself in the dock yet again. There i evidence to support those reports – lines of police and pre-prepared barriers suggest there was a pen in Whitehall, into which police planned to funnel students. A kettle needs to be a response to evidence of disorder, rather than an entirely preemptive tactic that suppresses protest before it has begun. “I think what has happened runs contrary to the Law Lords ruling in the Austin case,” Christian said. “It makes clear that they need to have an evidence-based approach. If they decide in advance that they are going to do it, then I suggest that would be unlawful.”
Legality aside, there is also the question of whether the apparent plot worked. It is clear that when the march saw the kettle awaiting them, they sprinted off in various directions. The Met is currently dealing with a public order nightmare; separated groups of protesters marching their way around the London, on an ad-hoc route. Tweet reports of “feeder” marches in the Oxford Street, the Strand, Victoria, Embankment and Tottenham Court Road. My colleague Matt Taylor said there were “shambolic” scenes. How do you deal with that?
And this is the public order nightmare they created, selected from a small number of tweets:
@OwenJones84 What an indictment of British democracy that demonstrators have to think outside the box to try and exercise democratic right to protest
@copwatcher Seems to be no violent incidents on today’s student protests. That’ll be because the police are unable to orchestrate them.
Speaking of orchestration, here are the Met Lies of the Day:
The Met police worked with organisers in advance to agree a suitable route from Trafalgar Square down to Parliament Square for a peaceful protest.
However, today’s march set off at an earlier time than agreed. This meant that the march began without a police escort. The police escort was essential due to gas main works on one side of Whitehall.
As a result, a line of police officers formed a cordon across Whitehall. This line of police officers intended to steer the march to one side of the road and the agreed route. There was never any intention to contain the protesters.
The march then broke into small groups, travelling in different directions.
The march continues peacefully, however, it is causing some disruption for Londoners in the West End, in what are already difficult conditions due to the weather.
And yet the Met are kettling people, suggesting there’s not a single shred of truth to this press release. Even if the comment about ‘steering’ was true, how does it explain the picture above, or the many accounts of attempted kettles? If they acknowledge the march is continuing peacefully, it doesn’t square with their acknowledgement they were planning to do just what they say they weren’t, nor with their behaviour on the ground. As one protester said:
Protest under the ConDem coalition, as under New Labour, is tolerated on the one condition that it doesn’t threaten or embarrass the state. Take a look at the photo above of the police’s response to today’s third student protest. Then read this:
So we have evidence that a decision was taken to kettle children and young people marching, without any evidence of violent intent, before the march even took place. We now appear to have evidence of high numbers of Met riot police offers, armed to enforce the will of the state. Resist the ideological attack on your futures? Get beaten, pepper sprayed, and charged at by horses.
And given no reports of any violence by demonstrators, even with the agreed route completely blocked by TSG officers, a new #baitvan appears to have been strategically placed:
Having upset protesters through their entirely unnecessary intimidatory behaviour, they will of course now want to generate justification for the intimidation. Just like last week. And just like last week (as Barnaby Raine quite rightly pointed out in his speech I blogged yesterday), the media are letting them get away with it:
Olly Zanetti argues of the student protests:
justifying education cuts by claiming the state can’t afford it is an illusion too. State finances aren’t great, but recent government actions show it’s hardly scrabbling for pennies in the gutter; the government wants to cut bank taxes by £1.4bn; they’ve let Vodafone off around £6bn of tax; and were quick to rustle up €3.8bn to go directly to Ireland’s failed banks.
Higher education is a good thing and it must be available (and feel accessible) to everyone who’ll benefit, not just those who can afford it. Time at university is about opening eyes to different ways of thinking; it’s about learning how to deal with complex ideas and to persevere when they get difficult; and it’s about education simply for the joy of it. All this costs money, but it’s a worthy investment and one a civilised society should be happy to prioritise, even in the tough times. Applying market economics to such a thing and seeing it as a commodity that simply enables its buyer to tick the box marked ‘educated to degree level’ when applying for a job, is an insult to both lecturers’ and students’ time and skills.
The ideological battle continues.
I’ve seen what I’ve found to be a surprising amount of support for the police’s tactics in dealing with last week’s student demonstration against the proposed massive hike in tuition fees and university budget cuts. Today, before the third demonstration has even started, we have learned this from the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor:
In Trafalgar Square there is a handful of soggy protesters and a few journalists. The plan today is that students will arrive here from 11am and then at about 12noon march down to Parliament Square – where there will be speeches and an “open mike”.
They had agreed with police that the demonstration would finish at 3pm but interestingly some of the shopkeepers around Parliament Square say they have been told by the police that the students will be “held” there until 6pm.
Students who are setting up in Parliament Square are furious: “The police already seem to have decided to kettle the protest despite what happened last time and despite agreeing with us this week that the demo should finish at 3pm,” said Maham Hashmi, from Soas (School of Oriental and African Studies).
Let me repeat: this is a tactic which has been decided before anyone has even arrived. It’s not based on any other factor such as the age of the participants, the behaviour of the protesters or any other criteria. It’s sheer bloody intimidation for its own sake. What on earth do the Met think will be the response to this?
Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:
Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.
Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:
@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.
Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:
Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:
During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van. I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.
At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.
[But] there is something really interesting about this van.
- It has no number plates
- It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
- It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:
Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.
The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.
So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.
In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.
Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:
And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:
@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?
But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.
Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.
As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.
Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:
Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:
@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.
@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned
For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:
“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.
So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:
Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.
Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:
But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.
“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.
But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.
Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.
Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:
He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.
and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:
Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.
Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.