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Comment on Student Riots

I was left in shock today by David Cameron’s words following the demonstration yesterday that culminated in the ransacking of Tory HQ in Millbank. Over 50,000 turned out to protest peacefully about the plans to triple university tuition fees, scrap teaching grants to the arts, humanities and social sciences and the u-turn taken by the Liberal Democrats.who allowed these proposals to gain ground despite assurances made to students in their pre-election campaign that they would openly oppsoe this scheme – many of them signing a National Student Union pledge to vote down any rise in fees.

Cameron, speaking from Seoul, where he is attending the G20 summit, declared: “I believe the will of the public was expressed at the time of the election when they rejected debt and deficit.” Now I find flaw with this statement in two areas.

Firstly, I think the man has a nerve to declare the will of the public granted him a full mandate to make these cuts. When it is plainly obvious that here are at least 50,000 people who oppose these measures, people who had literally just marched from Embankment to Tate Britain in protest. Quite apart from the fact that the Conservatives took power with the narrowest margin in my lifetime, Aaron Porter, NUS president stated recently on hisblog that he estimates 50 per cent of students may have voted Lib Dem in light of their pledge to vote against any rise in university fees. In light of this frankly his statement verges on offensive.

Yes, by will of the people, Mr Cameron has been granted a mandate, but to totally reject the will of those people who didn’t vote for him is both arrogant and rude.

The second and almost more outrageous part of this claim is that Cameron says that the UK has rejected debt and deficit by voting Tory, when he and his government are actually going to increase student debt! I hope I’m not the only one who felt like they’d been slapped in the face after this comment.

With tuition fees in England set to treble this could potentially raise the debt that students go into on a three year degree from £9,000 to £27,000. Although the plan is to increase the threshold of payback to £21,000, it will still leave students beginning university after 2012 in a whole load more of debt than at any previous point in history. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr Cameron and his government didn’t have to pay for their degrees, and I highly doubt many would have even of had to go in to debt to do so. It verges on sheer hypocrisy.

I will admit that we are in a situation where some drastic measures are necessary to get our economy back on track. I am aware that raising fees is one of the few options left to universities with the imminent scrapping of teaching grants. I am actually less frustrated by the extent of the cuts than by our honourable minister’s reactions to them.

What really takes the biscuit is the way the rioters have been condemned as anarchists, youngsters, rebels, socialists, probably even communists, etc. Every political body is trying to play down the fact that at least some of the 200 or so people who broke through the “thin blue line” as Cameron called it, were students, university staff and ordinary people. Is this not evidence enough that our government wants people in our country to think that only extremists are angry? This is simply not the case.

It was the same with the protests over the Iraq war. I remember going down to Princes Street in Edinburgh and seeing it filled with more people than you usually get at Hogmany. By all accounts over 2 million people protested our previous government’s decision to pursue that course of action and it made not the barest hint of difference. It is the same again today.

I am not one to advocate violence. I am not a violent person. But I can feel the frustration boiling in me that led to the 200 hundred storming Tory HQ. For all Aaron Porter’s words, it is likely that his peaceful protest will not make the slightest impact on what cuts the government make.

What we have seen over the last decade in the UK is that peaceful protests haven’t moved our governments one inch. It has been mentioned in the Guardian, and by John Pilger in New Statesman, that a crisis like the one we are coming out off is a great time for governments to implement radical changes for their own benefit. Last week’s mid-term elections in the US sparked heated debates over the policies of President Obama, with some stating that he is held in check from any form of liberal reform by the multi-million dollar investments from corporations that funded his campaign. Is it the same in the UK? It seems that if people in our country are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet that 50,000 or 2 million people is too few to challenge political policy with simply a peaceful protest.

I can fully understand the frustration that caused people to storm Millbank. I can understand how students feel when the party that said it would reduce their debt triples it instead, and I can understand, no matter what sort of drastic proposals are required, how politicians being flippent about the strife of their constituents can really grind people’s gears.

I’d like to finsh with a quote if I may, and it would be amazing to hear it resounding round the streets of the UK. We have not gone mad in decades and maybe our politicians have forgotten we can. Anyway, it’s a famous line, you’ll know it’s from Network, so I’ll let Harry Beale speak for himself:

“I’m mad as hell! And I’m not going to take it anymore!”

 

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