My alma mater London Metropolitan University has just announced it’s going to institute 70% cuts to its courses, ripping the heart out of the university in precisely the ‘market is everything’ manner the students themselves warned us about in their demonstrations against the ConDems’ higher education policies. From the Guardian:
from September 2012, it will reduce its 577 different course arrangements to around 160, shutting history, philosophy, Caribbean studies, theatre studies, trade union studies, dance, parts of multimedia and performing arts. Closures to modern languages are under discussion. It will also move away from semester length to year-long modules of 30 teaching weeks, with more core learning in the early years of an undergraduate programme.
Gillies says the idea is to replace the “smorgasboard” approach of students picking from a huge range of courses to something more focused. Employability will be key – “our strapline does have the words ‘building careers’” – and services such as learning support will be decentralised.
Students at North Campus have taken matters into their own hands:
I couldn’t support them more. London Met is holding a teach-in tomorrow, and the students are in need of your practical support. If you oppose the ConDems’ decimation of higher education in this country even partly as much as I do, give them a hand.
The film shows senior police officers assuring members of UK Uncut who had peacefully occupied Fortnum & Mason that they would not be confused with the rioters outside, and would be allowed to go home if they left the store. They did so, and were penned, handcuffed, thrown into vans, dumped in police cells and, in some cases, left there for 24 hours.
Isn’t all that supposed to have stopped? Haven’t we entered a new era of freedom in which the government, as it has long promised, now defends“the hard-won liberties that we in Britain hold so dear”? No.
In May 2010, after becoming deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg pledged that the government would “repeal all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit your freedom” and “remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest.” The Queen’s speech firmed up the commitment by promising “the restoration of rights to non-violent protest”. So how did this grand vision become the limp rag of a bill now before parliament?
Because a) Clegg is more interested in power than principle and b) Clegg presumed he had about as much influence as Tony Blair had over George W Bush. But there’s far more in play than just those issues. Clegg also wants to prove (apparently at any cost) that coalition politics can work in the UK, but he’s labouring under a massive misapprehension – coalitions are supposed to be based on red lines and principles, not a supine desperation for approval by the dominant party. The betrayal of UK Uncut and attack on the students in Trafalgar Square are reminiscent of the worst authoritarian excesses under New Labour, and Cameron, Clegg and Home Secretary Theresa May appear entirely comfortable with them, then again this isn’t surprising. They’ve always known their ‘savage’ cuts would cause severe social unrest – apparently free-market ‘Orange Bookers’ find that a price worth paying. If it’s a choice between liberty and the unfettered free market, we know what’s most important for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Monbiot goes on to say:
I don’t believe Clegg’s claim, which seems to have gulled the usually sceptical Observer journalist Henry Porter, that this act is the beginning, not the end, of the coalition’s reforms; and that, in Porter’s words, “there may even be a great repeal act down the road that would look at some of the laws not addressed in this bill”. Perhaps he is unaware that the original title of the current legislation was the freedom (great repeal) bill.
This legislation shows every sign of having been stopped and searched, fingerprinted and stripped of any content that might have rebalanced the relationship between people and power.
He’s right. Clegg’s early boasts mimic Obama’s promise to close down Guantanamo Bay – they promise change to get power, which when pushed turns out to be the objective they care about most. Neither Britain nor America has the slightest chance of change we can believe in – it’s no wonder young people are fighting back.
What’s new, I hear you cry? Well in the past they’ve normally been adept at covering up their excesses. Not so after the #march26 March for the Alternative protest when they mass arrested dozens of entirely peaceful UK Uncut protesters. Watch:
Appalling. And read Adam Ramsay’s account of his arrest:
When we were inside Fortnum & Mason, the police made it clear to us: if we left, we would not be arrested. At 6pm or so, we left, together. The police kettled us outside the shop. I was towards the back, and so could not see exactly what was going on, though I could see in front of me people who had left about an hour earlier, having been let out by the police.
It then became clear that they were, one after another, leading people away to be arrested. So, we shared notes on what this was likely to involve, and sang songs to keep people cheery.
Eventually, it was my turn. I was placed in handcuffs, asked on camera for some basic details, then led down a side street by my arresting officers – one of whom later turned out to be a part time officer, full time German language student. I was told why I had been arrested (suspicion of trespass and criminal damage) and was asked a few basic questions & told we were in for a long night as they struggled to find enough places in stations to fit us all.
You have to ask yourself why the Metropolitan Police would lie like that – what’s in it for them? Then again they are an institution with a long history of deceit: blaming the crowd for Ian Tomlinson’s death at the G20 (they themselves caused it), blaming Jean Charles de Menezes for his own murder (they carried it out), to name just two recent high profile instances. Did a superior officer see a chance to get back at them for humbling them so often in recent instances of direct action? Was there political pressure to find easy scapegoats for the disorder which did occur (yet not at Fortnum & Mason)? Or (watching later scenes in the video) was there a darker motivation? Was this a blatant case of the police being used yet again as the violent means of enforcing the status quo? Did they simply change their minds to prosecute UK Uncut members for daring to challenge the political order?
Given the anger that this mass arrest caused, there’s no doubt it won’t end here and nor should it.
Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s London mayoral candidate for 2012 explains why she’s going:
I’m appalled at the damage being done to our society; the Government’s assault on our cultural life with the closure of libraries and cuts to art and film funding, and the way a whole generation of young people are having their ambitions squashed by a combination of cuts to EMA, a reduction in university places and rising tuition fees, is all quite terrifying and unfair.
Above all on the cuts agenda, I’m horrified at the perfect storm that the Government is about to unleash in London, with poorer Londoners suffering the consequences of housing shortages, a guillotine-like execution of housing benefit provision, and the drying up of funds to build social, rented housing for people earning below the average wage. This could result in the social cleansing of London, driving poorer residents out of their homes, away from their friends and relations, and into outer London boroughs that won’t want them.
I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t agree more with her further point:
I’m marching because I believe that the deficit is being used as an excuse for the coalition to do what Conservative governments always enjoy doing – creating small government by cutting and privatising public services.
There is money to bail out Ireland. There has been no action taken against the bankers who got us into this mess in the first place. There is a narrative being pushed that although they were responsible, they can’t under any circumstances be pressed into taking responsibility for it – the poor can and should. After all the Big Society will take care of them (except the funding needed for that is being forcibly removed too). As of yesterday small businesses can fire pregnant women or gay men and get away with it, and hey – like movies like ‘The King’s Speech’ or the excellent indie production ‘Submarine’? No more UK Film Council either – regulations and government agencies are all ‘wasteful’, as apparently is spending money on teaching in universities.
It’s time to start standing up against this assault on the economy and British public life – Jenny Jones is right when she says what the coalition is doing is ideological. Fight back, and enjoy this satirical take on just this point:
Portraying investment banks as a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, a new animation from The Great Transition campaign of nef (the new economics foundation) is launched today, Monday 6 December, aimed at increasing public pressure on government to take on the banks and not sweep the issue under the carpet.
The animation ask politicians if they have a plan to tame the banks, and if not, why not?
The one minute animation is backed by a wide range of influential pressure groups including: Compass, ResPublica, 38 Degrees, World Development Movement, Tax Research and the Post Bank campaign. The animation is part of the fast-growing counterweight to the power of the banks and is launched the day before the Eric Cantona-inspired run on the banks (bankrun2010), that has seen grassroots public campaigns spring-up in 15 nations.
Andrew Simms, Policy Director at nef said: “Who is afraid of the big, bonus-driven banks? The Coalition government it would seem. Why else, just two years after the biggest bail-out in history, are the unreformed banks still in trouble? Big investment banks were compared to giant vampire squids, wrapped around the face of humanity, feeding on anything that smells like money. Now massive spending cuts follow in their wake. The government lack a plan to tame them, and seem to wish the problem would just go away. That’s why we’ve brought the vampire squid compellingly to life to jog their memory, and ensure that no one can forget the need for urgent reform. We have a plan to take back our banks for the benefit of the public and the wider economy, where is theirs?”
Tony Greenham, head of nef’s Finance and Business programme added: “The bankers claim they earn their bonuses through creating wealth, but the reality is that modern banking is more about extracting wealth from the real economy than doing anything socially useful. We can’t go on like this; it’s time to take back the banks for the public good and not allow our politicians to be bought off with a few grudging concessions from the banking elite.”
As public services pay the price for massive private-sector failure, there is little sign that government is prepared to stand up to the banks that played such a central role in the crisis:
- Nearly £7 billion will be paid out in City bonuses this year.[i]
- £7 billion is more than the first wave of public spending cuts, and the amount the UK has committed to propping up failing Irish banks as part of the Irish bail-out package.
- Attempts to change bad bonus behaviour with a levy failed according to former Chancellor Alastair Darling, and there are already signs that the banks are preparing to return to business-as-usual on bonuses eschewing measures designed to diffuse public anger.
- We’re told that there’s no alternative to huge public spending cuts in the wake of the crisis-driven recession. Yet, add together all the taxes in the UK that go unpaid, evaded or avoided and you come to a figure of £120 billion.[ii] A vigorous effort to collect even a share of that would completely change the debate. Yet the banks, and the accountants and lawyers that win lucrative business from them, are busy finding ever more ingenious ways to help their clients pay their fair share of tax.
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.
Gary Younge is right when he says that the students won’t likely embody a deep rebellion against the government’s austerity cuts, but they sure could inspire one:
So while it’s true that others have it worse than students, it also entirely misses the point. Protesting against tuition fees is not a sectional interest. For most, student years mark a transition from youth to adulthood, which means the burden for these increases do not just fall on individuals but families – who will already be suffering from the crisis in others ways. Thatcher’s cuts blighted isolated communities, whether they were pit villages or northern cities. These attacks are not just deeper but broader. Clearly, how students’ resistance to these cuts pans out will have ramifications for successful opposition to the entire austerity programme. That is reason enough to deserve our support.
But while students can be the spark for the broader struggles ahead, history tells us that they are unlikely to be the flame itself. Students and the young might be the most likely to protest, but they are among the least likely to vote – if indeed they are even eligible to vote – and cannot withdraw their labour to any devastating effect. McCain’s stand gave courage to the sharecroppers and domestic workers; the French students in 1968 bolstered the confidence of factory workers. The threat British students pose – much like the financial crisis bringing them on to the streets – is of contagion. That their energy, enthusiasm, militancy, rage and raucousness might burn in us all.
As the video shows, the student rebellion is succeeding in drawing wider consciousness to the double standard the ConDem coalition doesn’t want you to know about. On the one hand they’re happy to more than triple the debt students are expected to carry merely to get themselves educated (whilst making it nigh impossible for much poorer students to do so at all), on the other they’re as indifferent as ever to tax avoidance by business magnates and corporations. If they can keep demonstrating how ideological the cuts agenda is across society – not just to their interests – Younge could turn out to be right.
These protests are labelled ‘fascist’ by some – a charge which makes no sense to me. Most of the country voted against this in May, and protest is an entirely legitimate (and protected) tactic available influence public opinion and government policy. Younge argues:
This is all too easy to dismiss and disparage as a toxic cocktail of naivety and privilege. Such sleights are flawed. First, in Britain at least, the notion of students as a wealthy strata on a three-year hiatus from real life is outdated. A third of students in higher education are from working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds, and work during term time to pay for basic needs and books and equipment. Just under one in five of those with jobs works more than 17 hours a week. One in five lives at home. Add further education and school students into the mix and you have a demographic that looks more like the characters in The Office than Brideshead Revisited.
Second, even if they were middle class, so what? Beating up on the middle-class does not help the working-class. Indeed, by eliminating the notion that education is a public good you eradicate the primary means by which working-class people can better themselves. They are not just an attack on finances, but on aspiration.
It can never be pointed out too often – if only because it is so frequently ignored – that this situation was not created by excessive public spending but by an international banking crisis brought about by an unregulated binge in the private sector. In a sordid redistribution of wealth from poor to rich, working-class kids will be denied the possibility of a university education because wealthy traders were in denial about economic reality.
I don’t think it’s just students who get this. Lib Dem ministers may toe the coalition line and refuse to talk about the bankers or debt, but the moment the equation gets embraced by the wider middle class (for it is they who determine election outcomes still) they have a serious problem. I do hope so.