Thursday, November 11, 2010

Student protests: are you surprised?

The history of Tory governments is packed with social unrest. They just can't help it: antagonising entire categories of people is part of their philosophy.

Fifty thousand people took to the streets yesterday to protest against the Coalition's plans to treble university tuition fees to £9,000, by far the most expensive Higher Education system in Europe.

The rally was the biggest student demo in over a decade, double the size of even the most optimistic predictions, no wonder the police was caught unprepared.

Now, a lot can be said about how a violent minority stole the limelight as some demonstrators stormed into the Conservative Party's HQs. But that would be a convenient distraction, a textbook case of political red herrings conveniently thrown in. We'd be wasting time handing centre stage to a bunch of impulsive ejits with anger management issues (a tiny fraction of the protesters) while dodging a discussion over what really is at stake here.

Because the facts are clear. In line with history, whenever you get a government whose favourite pastime is to constantly antagonise entire categories of people (public sector workers, benefit recipients, the unemployed, students...and that's just the first five months of the ConDems in power), tension is bound to skyrocket.

We feared this was going to happen. The history of Conservative governments is packed with social unrest. From race riots to lenghty and bitter strikes, from the poll tax through sexual discrimination and prison protests: if a government is driven by rampant ideology and a sense of self-righteousness no matter the consequences, some people will inevitably lose their patience.

Which is why, like Sunny Hundal wrote on Liberal Conspiracy, many suspect yesterday's "student protests were only the beginning of a tidal wave". There's only as far as the Tories and their Libservative lapdogs can stretch it before tempers begin to flare.

In the case of the tuition fees protest, frustration is going through the roof as one of the Coalition partners actively campaigned to abolish tuition fees. Not to keep them the same. Not to raise them as little as possible. Certainly not to treble them and certainly not within a few months from the election. This is the crux of the matter.

The Tories may be to blame but at least they never promised to do otherwise. Unless you're a total wally, you should know where the Tories stand on social ruthlessness.

What grates the most is how Nick Clegg and what remains of his party managed to mangle every single bit of trust the electorate had placed upon them. The LibDems had signed public pledges. Their MPs were happily being photographed holding idiotic smiles and a scrap-tuition-fees placard while standing side by side with ordinary voters.

Already betrayed by Blair's New Labour, the LibDems were the only hope students had left. Yet they discarded their pledge quicker than a tissue at the height of hayfever season.

You could have asked anybody throughtout the last decade "Can you name at least two things the LibDems stand for?" and 99% would have pointed to scrapping tuition fees as one of their flagship policies.

You can only take people for a ride to a certain extent without triggering a pissed off response.

When people like Vince Cable go on TV mouthing off that "[with the new fees] 30 per cent of graduates would pay less from their lifetime earnings than they do now", how thick does he think people are? Surely he can do the basic maths and work out that -even if he was telling the truth- if 30 per cent pay less, 70 per cent would pay more, right?

When Ministers say that a new repayment threshold set at £21,000 is more progressive than the current one at £15,000, can they not see that that is scant consolation? The chunk that people will have to pay off now will be three times as much and millions of people will have their income automatically reduced for 30 years. And that's on top of paying tax. For the next generation, in many cases university will be more expensive than their parents' mortgages.

How's that for "capping aspiration", one of the right-wingers favourite set phrases?

Related posts: The cost of university: a comparative look.

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