Home > Uncategorized > [COMMENT] Student Demo…when did I get to Disneyland?

[COMMENT] Student Demo…when did I get to Disneyland?

This week, some 52,000 students and tutors demonstrated against what comes across as back-door privatisation of HE without due debate or public assent.

But that wasn’t the news.  Meanwhile, much of the media went nuts over the the actions of a small group who went even further, pushing into  Mordor Conservative HQ and occupying the building for four hours.  The Evening Standard covered Goldsmith College’s UCU President and Secretary writing a statement supporting the occupying group (the statement’s full text is here, the media only seems to be using partials).

Let’s unpack this.

The occupation of Millbank was absolutely a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, yet people line up to condemn the actions of a few.  Yet we don’t hear enough people questioning the decision to distort news by focusing on those few actions.  (For the sake of sanity, don’t read the Mail).  A protest of some 52,000 people saw very little aggression and violence compared to, say, the aftermath of a football match or the pre-Christmas Friday night in Carlisle – also known as ‘Black-Eye Friday’.

Watching the Police Minister’s statement on the protests yesterday was also an experience.  Tory ministers, positively quailing and quaking in their nice shoes, all stood up and talked like a horde of ravaging students were going to break in like a horde of raiders from Mad Max, to butcher the men and shrink from violating Anne Widdicombe.

Nadine Dorries got up to a good start by defaming NUS president Aaron Porter, calling him ‘the architect of a dangerous demonstration which could have resulted in the loss of life’.  As usual, she was lying for 70% of that; Porter had already vehemently and repeatedly distanced himself from those actions on Newsnight.

One MP praised  Baroness Warsi for ‘bravely’ continuing to work while the building was occupied.  Maybe some of the more statistically-minded students could have helped her find out which Labour constituencies had benefited from electoral fraud “predominantly within the Asian community” – she hasn’t managed to find proof for her claims.

Another MP, fear emanating from his trousers, compared the action in Millbank to book burnings in the 1930s.  Book burnings in the 1930s. I call Godwin!   And massive ignorance of history; Aaron Porter clearly doesn’t have the right kind of moustache, although he could maybe do it for Movember.

You could positively hear them wailing ‘it’s so unfair when people fight back!’  Downing Street said that “praising violence over peaceful protest is frankly irresponsible.”  Others carried the same theme; only peaceful protest is OK.

But what use is peaceful protest?

It doesn’t help that the media has made it clear on how to get noticed – you don’t protest peacefully, en masse, you don’t act sensibly – that just gets you shouted at for stopping traffic.  No, you break things up if you want to get noticed.

Not only that, but millions marched against the invasion of Iraq and were dismissed by the PM and media of the time.  People have been lining up to roundly condemn the (little) aggression that did take place, but they didn’t care about the protests in the first place.  So why should anyone care what they think?

In fact there seem to be similarities between the last big protest and this one;  the anti-invasion march saw many ordinary, non-protester types finally taking up the banner because what was supposed to be their government went too far.

This week we saw students, not known for their, political action, pulling themselves off their sofas and getting angry for the first time.  This blog is one that noticed the  change.

And it’s not surprising; students have been used and abused for some time now.  Back in 2001, Labour’s Manifesto made a clear promise:

We will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them.

No prizes for guessing what they introduced next…  Fees also then went up from about £1,000 to over £3,000 in 2004 – I’m not sure, but I think the introduction of fees originally came with a promise not to raise them.

Then Labour set up the Browne Report which, from the start, leaked an intent to pave the way for a ‘free market’ in higher education.  The public didn’t ask for it, but that’s what they’d get.

This year the Lib Dems swore up and down that they would oppose tuition fees to the very end – which arrived about four minutes after the election, when Clegg decided that he couldn’t be bothered, or something.

Point is, this has been a long time in coming.  I would personally rather see more direct action than just more protests, but I am going to cherish the sight of Tories freaking out because some people stood up to them, for some time.

I personally dream of a pledge from students, promising not to vote for any of the parties that brought in and enhanced tuition fees.  That probably means a vote for the Greens, but hey, they seem to do nice things in Germany.

UPDATE 1: And now the Guardian brings news that the Lib Dems had already decided to jettison their fees promise, while publicly going out and promising to fight for it.  As the Guardian says:

A month before Clegg pledged in April to scrap the “dead weight of debt”, a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years. In a document marked “confidential” and dated 16 March, the head of the secret pre-election coalition negotiating team, Danny Alexander, wrote: “On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.”

Running away from manifesto promises to do something the public didn’t vote for is one thing (and, sadly, a pretty common nowadays) but running on false promises in the first place…?

UPDATE 2: And from the BBC…news that the NUS will put out a pledge for students to sign.

The NUS wants people to sign a pledge not to vote for any MP who backs the proposals to allow universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year.

Someone read this blog perhaps?  Nah, I know I don’t have that reach.  I have to say that I like this approach from the NUS; we’ll have more testicular fortitude, please.

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