George Osborne thought his smokescreen was working. It looked for a while like the people of Britain were going to accept the biggest cuts to public spending seen in the Western world in a century. He had, it seemed, delivered a sleight of hand that would impress even the most slippery magician.
The trick he’s been using to great effect is, though, an old one. It works something like this: in a crisis, people panic. They accept something big has to happen to solve it. But massive crises are complex, and a global economic collapse is particularly hard to understand – we aren’t taught the basics of economic history at school, we learn that these are matters for clever men in suits who use long words.
And so what George Osborne spotted is what right wing politicians around the world have known for the last 40 years: a disaster is a great time to radically change a country. From the privatisation of New Orleans’ schools after Katrina, to the corporate plunder of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, this trick is nothing new. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine describes in detail how it has been used the world over.
There is a big problem. People understand this might require a big solution. And so they accept policies they would never normally countenance – policies not designed to solve the problem, but to radically change society in a way no one ever voted for.
And like this sleight of hand, Osborne’s “solutions” too are nothing new. The Conservative students I studied with at university – the generation who were born under Thatcher, and are now the researchers and aids to this government – were arguing for 30% spending cuts long before the recession. And their predecessors did too – in fact, in 1910, the Conservative Party brought down the Government rather than allow the people’s budget, the foundation of the welfare state, to pass. And they have used every opportunity since to rid this country of what they see as a dangerous socialist experiment.
And this “solution” is, of course, nothing of the sort. The idea that you solve a deficit caused by unemployment by cutting jobs is economically illiterate. Don’t take it from me – look at what is being said by the world’s leading economists, including most recent Nobel prize winners: Britain is embarking on a radical economic experiment which is not only un-necessary, but probably going to make the recession worse.
But because people have been taught that economics is too complex for us, many people seem to stop listening when you try and explain why the cuts are a bad idea. And I’ve tried lots of ways:
I’ve tried explaining that the Treasury’s debt really isn’t that big: it was bigger for most of the 20th century, and, compared to the size of our economy, is one of the lowest on earth.
I’ve tried to explain that most of the debt is owed to people in the UK: our pension funds buy government bonds. If, as the Tories predict, borrowing did get more expensive, that would just mean that Britain’s pension funds would get fatter – money the Treasury could tax back.
I’ve tried pointing out that the borrowing isn’t getting more expensive, but cheaper. And this is extra-ordinary. Before the election, the excuse that they gave for cutting public spending was that they believed we’d be punished by the bond markets if we didn’t: investors wouldn’t buy government bonds. They were wrong. What has actually happened is that investors have decided that they don’t want to risk buying shares in companies which might collapse, and so they have rushed to buy government bonds. As a result, borrowing is cheaper than it’s almost ever been. The reason they gave for cutting has evaporated. They were just plain and simple wrong.
And I’ve tried explaining the multiplier effect. The way out of a recession is to invest in jobs. Once you’ve created a job, that person buys stuff and pays taxes. The Tories like to compare the national economy to a household. But, when I buy stuff in the shop, I don’t get lots of the money back in tax. And I don’t get even more back in tax when the shopkeeper buys her stock or pays her staff. And again when the staff buy things, and so on. And so the way out of the recession is to look at the real problem – unemployment – and take advantage of record cheap borrowing, by investing. As Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz – former economist for both the World Bank and Bill Clinton – tells us, cutting now could well lead to higher long term debts.
I’ve pointed out that we tried this all before. Cutting spending to pay the debts of WW1 caused the great depression. Building the welfare state allowed us to build our way out of the debts left by WW2.
And I’ve reminded people that it wasn’t public spending which caused this crisis, but listening to crazy right wing ideologues like George Osborne who thought that we should shut down everything and hand our economy to the bankers.
And I’ve tried explaining that public services aren’t a cost to the economy but an investment in the civilisation which makes our economy possible. If we don’t invest in them now, we make our future economy less prosperous, and this will cost far more than our record cheap, very low debt.
And I’ve pointed out that the impending climate crisis means we urgently need to invest to create jobs building a new economy – this can’t wait, and the legacy we leave if we don’t will be unimaginable.
And I’ve tried many more arguments besides. And these arguments work – sometimes. A little discussion of why the great economists of our age think that George Osborne is either mad or bad or stupid often does leave people convinced.
But many turn off at the wiff of a discussion of economic theory. And you don’t get the chance to have that little conversation with everyone in Britain.
However, there is one more argument: one I haven’t yet mentioned, which doesn’t require so much explanation – an argument which convinces almost all who hear it. A fact so compelling that once shouted, it will echo throughout the country:
If the mega-rich who caused this crisis paid the same level of tax as you and me, we wouldn’t have a deficit.
And of course, all of these arguments are what the Labour Party would be explaining, if they were brave enough to challenge Britain’s entrenched corporate power. But they aren’t. And so, with the noble exception of our one Green MP, and a few on the Labour left, it it falls to us, the people, to make this case.
But that’s ok. It’s ok, because this is nothing new. Public services were won by social movements who shouted, and screamed, and withdrew their labour, and occupied, and built new political parties, and, yes, smashed windows. And it’s ok because the fact that they don’t teach economic history in school doesn’t mean that we don’t remember this lesson. It was our grandparents and our great grandparents who won a state pension, who invented the NHS and who built affordable council houses. That was their legacy to us.
And it’s ok because our thanks to them will be to use the technology that our parents with their state funded education invented for us, to organise a resistance to the Tories so strong that our children will never forget. Because the history of Britain is a history of ordinary people fighting the Tories to win a fair share of our country’s wealth and power.
And as UK Uncut have shown, it is not a history that our generation will soon forget. Because people are realising that George Osborne’s smoke screen stinks. And as we blow it away, we will have a chance to learn the lesson Osborne teaches us, and take the chance to work out, together, what kind of country we want to build from the ashes, and leave for our grandchildren. And, if nothing else, that’s worth fighting for.
Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), a for profit organisation, has warned that the police should not be seen as the means by which the ConDems’ will is enforced:
Asked if there was a danger to the police’s reputation by repeated clashes at demonstrations, Orde told the Guardian: “Yes, if it is allowed to be played as the cops acting as an arm of the state, delivering the elected government’s will, rather than protecting the rights of the citizen.
“We need to be clear we are doing it as operationally independent, and not subject to influence by anyone as to how we do it.
“As long as that is maintained we can rebut any allegations that we are doing what we are told by our political masters to advance a political agenda. The police are not against anybody.”
Far too little and far too late. It’s become plainly clear even to children that the opposite is true – they are the state’s enforcers. Rebel against it and face pre-emptive civil liberties restrictions and unprovoked violence. Want some proof?
Tahmeena Bax, a third-year history student at Queen Mary University in east London, said she was hit directly over the head at least three times by a riot officer when police charged a group of kettled protesters on the evening of 30 November.
The incident took place at the north east end of Trafalgar square, close to the National Gallery at around 6pm, as protesters some distance from Bax lifted barriers protecting the police line. The police charged the crowd. “The police suddenly rushed forward and I couldn’t escape. I was hit at least three times, mainly on the right side of my head,” she told the Guardian.
Bax, 20, who had become separated from her fellow protesters from Queen Mary’s, staggered 10m away from the police and collapsed unconscious on the ground.
A witness, Katia Ganfield, said: “I saw her curled up in a ball. There was no response from her. We were all in shock as we didn’t think a young girl would be hit to the ground like that.”
Mr [Jody] McIntyre described what happened: “I was in Parliament Sq with my brother and we saw everyone running to one of the corners so we ran and made our way to the front.
“One policeman hit me with his baton in the shoulder then suddenly four or five of them picked me up, and dragged me from my chair. They carried me quite violently and against my will and put me on the pavement.
“Eventually after about 5 minutes, my brother was let through.
“What was even more shocking though, later on I had moved to the other side of Parliament Sq and I was sitting in my wheelchair in space in the middle of the road. A policeman recognised me from the earlier incident and came running over, pushed me out of my chair and dragged me across the road. This was completely unprovoked.”
Mr. McIntyre has not yet decided whether he will make a complaint against police, but was eager to make the point that this is not an isolated incident. “I’ve been to a lot of these protests and people are always violent with me” he said.
“Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I like to think we’re all equal human beings. There was plenty of violence towards students yesterday, and even though I’ve had media attention, all of this violence is equally disgraceful. But this is standard police behaviour.”
The police watchdog launched an independent investigation today after a 20-year-old student was left unconscious with bleeding on the brain after being hit on the head with a police truncheon.
Alfie Meadows, a philosophy student at Middlesex University, was struck as he tried to leave the area outside Westminster Abbey during last night’s tuition fee protests, his mother said.
After falling unconscious on the way to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Mr Meadows underwent a three-hour operation for bleeding on the brain.
His mother Susan, 55, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said: “He was hit on the head by a police truncheon.
“He said it was the hugest blow he ever felt in his life.
“The surface wound wasn’t very big but, three hours after the blow, he suffered bleeding to the brain.
“He survived the operation and he’s in the recovery room.”
I accept that some graduates will take up jobs which do not command handsome salaries. Individuals may pursue admirable work for which there is no great monetary reward, in the Church, the arts or public service. In these cases there is a strong case for the taxpayer bearing the cost of their degree. But why should the vast majority, who go on to benefit financially from their degree, be subsidised by me?
Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money. We could guarantee far superior healthcare and schooling for our families if only the Government gave us back the money which it confiscates from us in taxes and then spends on the schools and hospitals which it runs so badly. But of all the money wasted by the State there is perhaps no greater scandal than its mismanagement of the funds it takes to spend on higher education. The system it has built to disburse our money is inimical to equity, liberty and excellence.
Higher education is now a nationalised industry, with universities utterly dependent on state support for their survival. Like all the nationalised industries which taxpayers had to subsidise in the past, from British Coal to British Leyland, UK Universities suffer from grotesque inefficiencies, low motivation, ministerial second-guessing, poor salaries, and a stifling excess of bureaucracy.
The Secretary of State for Education wrote this in opposition in 2003, which puts an end to the lie that the ConDems’ higher education policies are about anything other than ideology. Fortunately the university students and school pupils demonstrating against him don’t agree – the marketisation of knowledge in a knowledge-based economy will only be to the detriment of us all. I wish them every success in #dayx3 today.
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.
The Metropolitan Police are making it abundantly clear that, as ever, the state’s will will be enforced by force. The violence at the entirely peaceful climate camp protest at the G20 demonstration last year was not an aberration, and they’re now no longer afraid of admitting it: rebel against the state and there’ll be a price to pay. Check out the police’s response to today’s peaceful #ukuncut protest against Top Shop’s Sir Philip Green:
Suzanne Moore criticises the media’s narrative about the student protests:
It is fantastic that these young people, who we have been told have been blinded by celebrity culture and are mainly Facebook narcissists, soon made contact with other causes. Students at UCL also campaigned for a living wage for their cleaning staff. When I was there union leaders were talking solidarity with them. These kids, unlike their elders, are not scared of the word “class”. Into this hub of activity come other, younger students wanting to see how its done: polite, well-spoken boys who want to stage occupations in their sixth forms about the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
The media of course has banged on about tuition fees as the children of media people go to university. Little has been said about EMA, a means-tested benefit, possibly because those who live on less than £20,000 a year are not in the middle-class bubble. To remove this in effect prohibits a whole sector of society even getting the qualifications they need to get university.
It baffles me when I’m told that the students don’t understand what they’re protesting about, equally so when students from middle class backgrounds, less likely to be adversely affected by the huge hike in tuition fees and (the dreaded word) the debt arising from them, are criticised for protesting on behalf of those less well off than them. Is it somehow a betrayal of their class to want the world to be less polarised and divided by wealth than it already is? And why is there not a national explosion of rebellion in response to the state’s treatment of these kids? The answer is clear: it’s not just an ideological battle which is being waged, but a generational one. We complain that children and young people are supine, uncritical and apathetic, yet the moment that’s proven wrong we respond with violence. We don’t want young people to actually take action against tax avoiders who, if they paid their fair share, could contribute to lowering the severity of key cuts in public services.
Laurie Penny elaborates on the students’ position, well, more than she already has:
What has been taken from them to make them so angry? Hope, that’s what. Hope, and the fragile bubble of social aspiration that sustained us through decades of mounting inequality; hope and the belief that if we worked hard and did as we were told and bought the right things, some of us at least would get the good jobs and safe places to live that we’d been promised.
Hope was the emotional engine of a decade of dizzying economic growth. Now it’s gone. Thatcher and Reagan knew you couldn’t take away hope altogther, which is why they replaced the politics of collective bargaining with a cynical, but seductive, politics of aspiration and individualism. The coalition has forgotten that it’s not enough for millionaire politicians to preach the politics of austerity when all they have to offer is more austerity.
Back on Oxford Street, as the police vans scream into view, the children’s crusade stands firm. “They want to marketise our education,” says Ben, 21, his breath clouding in the bitter air. “So we’re going to educate their market.”
I don’t think it will, but this rebellion, and the state’s ruthlessness in trying to crush it, should bring down the ConDem coalition. Either way the student movement is only going to grow and grow, and we should all start supporting it. The next generation is taking the lead in aiming for the good society, not the Big Society – the media in turn should be celebrating their achievements.
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.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson this morning said:
“I think parents have a responsibility. I know what I would be telling my kids. My kids would not be going on a demonstration, because I do not think it is appropriate for 13 or 14 year children – not my children.
“That is for other parents to make their decision, but in coming to that decision, they’ve got to look at the events that have taken place. The vast majority of people who come have come wanting to peacefully demonstrate, but regrettably, there have been people who have turned it to violence.
“Do people really want their young children exposed to that? There’s a responsibility on me and there’s a responsibility on parents.”
Investigative journalist John Pilger said effectively the exact opposite:
Your action, and the action of your fellow students all over Britain, in standing up to a mendacious, undemocratic government is one of the most important and exciting developments in my recent lifetime. People often look back to the 1960s with nostalgia – but the point about the Sixties is that it took the establishment by surprise. And that’s what you have done. Your admirable, clever, courageous actions have shocked and frightened a corrupt political class – coalition and Labour – because they know you have the support of the majority of the British people. It is you, the students on the streets – not the Camerons, Cleggs and Milibands – who are the authentic representatives of the people. Keep going. We need you. All power to you.
Stephenson neglects to mention that the people who turned the last two protest to violence were the Met themselves. Silly him.
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?
Barnaby Raine is an example of what the government and Met certainly didn’t count on. A highly articulate and intelligent school student, angry enough about the ConDems’ pending hike of tuition fees and university budget cuts to actually join university students out on the streets.
I couldn’t agree with him more and couldn’t be more pleased to see young people standing up for their futures, rather than obsessing about the ‘X-Factor’.
They think that if they kettle us now we’re not going to come on a demonstration ever again. … They can’t stop us demonstrating. … Those are our streets. We are the generation at the heart of the fight back.
Wow. The police and media did themselves untold damage last week. Bob Broadhurst may be patting himself on the back, but direct action was given its biggest boost in a generation for the upcoming generation by his atrocious treatment of young people demonstrating peacefully for the future they want. Given that his opinions and ideas currently have no place whatsoever in current mainstream politics, watch protest and direct action grow out of all recognition in the four years to come.
I think David Mitchell has it pretty much right about university students, their demonstrations and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his pre-election lies:
Student “unrest” is embarrassing for the coalition because even its slavish supporters in the press can’t resist talking up a bit of pushing as if it heralds revolution. A few short clips of jerkily televised vandalism make the government look like it’s failing to govern. The fact that more damage gets done to public property every day by people turning round quickly while holding something hot is irrelevant. A photo of broken glass is a thousand times more politically threatening than a kid with an unwise haircut whining about his allowance.
Another reason to support the fisticuffs is that Nick Clegg doesn’t like it at all. Before last Wednesday’s demonstrations, he appealed for people to “examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout”. Sounds like a protesters’ green cross code.
One of the many problems with the proposals is that you need to examine them so carefully before you realise that they’re not quite as awful as they initially seem. The fact that the vast amount of debt that students will accrue will only be repayable when they earn more than £21,000 a year and will be written off after 30 years of failing to do so elevates the scheme from an utter disgrace to a huge disappointment. But this scant silver lining is barely noticeable. Kids, especially from poorer backgrounds, will just see the giant cloud of future debt and infer that higher education isn’t a welcome opportunity but a big financial gamble.
Very well put indeed. As he put it earlier, of course the demo wasn’t going to hit the newspapers without something controversial happening. I don’t imagine for a moment that the NUS’ strategy ever involved attacking the Tories’ Millbank HQ, but the fact is that event changed the entire tone of the stand-off to one which suddenly matters. The fact is too that his final line is especially poignant. Yes the Browne Report isn’t the total disaster on paper which many students and commentators are attacking, but what’s been noticeable from those arguing against the student demonstrators has been their dismissal of the massive increase in future debt, and how the now inevitable variation in tuition fees across the country will skew the entire higher education system.
Under Browne everything will be skewed on class grounds. When Oxbridge, the LSE and others surely start charging extortionate amounts, which in the future will be much harder to pay back unless you’re from a wealthy background, as Mitchell puts it, kids from poorer backgrounds, with a completely different experience of money and debt, will be more predisposed to going to universities which charge less (and which have lesser reputations – a crucial factor in the age where even this government wants 50% of young people to go to university) to avoid the crushing debt. We’ll end up with a two-tier education system. Didn’t Clegg want to abandon tuition fees to prevent this? Why is it ideologically correct for graduates to be saddled with ever greater debt?
I remain confused why so few commentators seem to grasp why the students are angry. I’ve seen them accused of stupidity, jumping on bandwagons, political naivety and ignorance, but that’s not my experience of the main body of them. Michael Chessum and Jonathan Moses put their case very effectively:
mobilise we must. The coalition’s proposals represent a nigh irreversible transformation of higher education, and the commodification of knowledge and learning. Dressed in the semantics of deficit reduction, it has been easy to play one sector off against another. Yet, as a recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute acknowledged, these measures will increase public expenditure through this parliament and into the next. It is ideology, not necessity, that ultimately informs the coalition’s agenda.
I’ve argued myself about the commodification of knowledge and learning, and how this will damage civil society. If an outcome of the Big Society is to increase the inequality of access to knowledge, how on earth can Clegg support that? It’s an argument unconnected with the education debate, which presupposes that everything has a market value – how can he possibly expect the main body of students to agree with that? Mitchell concludes:
National wealth comes and goes, we have good times and bad. A rarer commodity, one vital to effecting change, is political will. If there’s a will for a progressive reform, statesmen instinctively find a way. That’s why Clement Attlee persevered with setting up the welfare state in the late 1940s, even though the country had never been poorer. He sensed that, if he waited for better economic times, the political will would have gone. In this less statesmanlike era, when the political will existed to reform the banking system in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, the government bottled it and now the Tories are in and the will is gone.
The student protests just might be demonstrating a growing political will to reform our higher education system, to have it paid for out of income tax. I think that would be fairer. Maybe it’s unrealistic but it’s what happened until 12 years ago before the proliferation of courses. If, as a nation, we really cared about higher education, we’d find the money. If the Lib Dems cared half as much as they claimed, they’d welcome this movement.
And the Higher Education Policy Institute concludes of the proposed changes:
The reality is that we cannot safely extrapolate from the introduction of fees in 1998, and then their increase to current levels, to predict the effect of the new arrangements. It seems quite plausible that some potential students will be deterred from entering higher education, but we do not know how many. Their actual impact will depend to a large extent on perceptions. To the extent that loans are not distinguished from ordinary debt from banks, then fees will act as a deterrent. How the new arrangements are described and “sold” will be crucial.
And that’s the battle going on, which is being played out 0n a weekly basis on the streets. Nick Clegg was elected on a platform of being the one party leader who wouldn’t lie, yet look where we are now. The fury at his and his party’s betrayal is only likely to grow, the more he publicly embraces a political ideology alien to the majority of students, many of whom voted for him. Granted there are still calls of ‘Tory scum’, which as I said the other week are entirely misplaced (Browne was a Labour idea), but this appears to sit on top of a broad identification by most students that Browne (as Mitchell agrees) isn’t the only possible solution to the problem of university funding in the middle of the economic crisis. The Higher Education Policy Institute rightly points out that it’s impossible at this stage to determine the impact of the imposition of Browne, and which side in this increasingly angry debate eventually wins out will no doubt be determined by how eager the coalition is to repress rebellion – the evidence of the last weeks suggests it’ll just get uglier. Either way, if the coalition really doesn’t budge I can’t imagine how Clegg will manage to keep his job as Lib Dem leader for much longer.