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The Browne Report

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Please check back periodically – this piece will be regularly updated as long as the issue continues.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; the lengthy production process (hindered this time by the SU deciding to act out) makes fools of us all. This was supposed to be web content dissecting the social repercussions of Browne’s recommendations – the effect of forcing a ‘free market’* when one wasn’t asked for, or even honestly debated.

Yet a piece written before the Browne Report came out still holds.  The government insists that education cuts are inevitable, while the NUS huffs, puffs and – according to the anticuts groups and students I’ve talked to – blew its credibility.  Instead, groups like Counterfire and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have taken its place and that’s when students simply don’t organise themselves through social media.

NUS President Aaron Porter has reneged on promises to support occupiers with legal advice and the NUS NEC has voted against supporting today’s protests

What did surprise was the reaction to the plans.

The NUS chose to target the Lib Dems.  Yes they are the most obvious target, having told students they would fight against fee increases while secretly deciding the opposite, but the NUS is close to Labour – a New Labour which introduced, then increased tuition fees.  New Labour also set off the Browne review, which has brought us to this point.

In some ways the Conservatives have been the most honest because they didn’t make any promises and many people clearly didn’t have high expectation of competency, or the Conservatives would have scored a decent majority.

 

*Why the scare quotes?  Because, just as proponents tend to claim about socialism, it’s a very conceptual idea that breaks down when it meets reality.
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[Editorial] Trust in the Occupying Forces

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Government cuts have energised students like nothing since the 1960s.  But while they want to work within the structures, it looks like their structures don’t so much want to work with them.

London Met is now under occupation!

Students at London Met have been occupying part of North Campus since Thursday evening, to protest against the government’s education cuts.  The action mirrors occupations across the country, including such well-known universities as Cambridge, UCL and the London School of Economics.  Given London Met’s size, the disproportionate effects the cuts will have (nearly 60% of LMU students come from working-class backgrounds and have it much harder than more middle-class universities) it’s a little surprising it took this long to happen.

But the wait has been worth it, with a very civilised (yet determined) bunch of people looking to fight for their future.  And heaven help anyone in their way.

Their demands include functional autonomy for the Students Union (SU), management support for students’ actions and to condemn the government’s plans for Higher Education.  Peter Croft, one of the activists, explained that they were keeping realistic about their goals.  They didn’t expect to achieve everything but in aiming high, were looking for enough concessions to make their action worthwhile.

Interestingly, their main conflict hasn’t been with the university (although extra security has prevented anyone getting in over the weekend), but with the local Student Union and the National Union of Students (NUS).Communications Officer Claire Locke led the charge to support student action with her usual vigour, calling on the SU to get behind those they claim to represent.

In a meeting with City Vice-President Muhammad Sadi and Participation Officer Tarequl Khan, she argued for the Executives to pledge support for the students, pointing out that “all of the SUs are supporting their students when they go into occupation. If we don’t do that, we’re doing a disservice to our students”.

Although Sadi said that the students were “doing right thing in occupying”, he also asked students to “go through the process please”, referring to the Student Council.  He also showed concern that students were picking the wrong target, saying “if it is against the government, to my understanding is that we need to be fighting government. Why are we occupying the university?’

Participation Officer, Tarequl Khan, adding “it is a good thing”, but also urged students to work with the SU, saying  “if the Student Council agree with you, the university can’t do anything”.

But working with the Council and its lengthy processes was a strong sticking point.  Marco, who talked for the activists at the meeting, said “this is the problem I think, of representation.  If [the activists] haven’t informed the student council or the student union, it’s because they don’t trust the students union.  This is a problem, a very big problem”.

As he acknowledged, the SU is having to start all over again and so it’s understandable that they still don’t yet have a working relationship with the students body, but surely this is a serious opportunity to gain Brownie Points with the student body1.  “This is a very good occasion to tell them ‘we are on your side’” he said, a view this blog supports.  Claire agreed with his assessment, pointing out that students were “waiting for the SU to do something and the SU has done nothing”

Clearly the SU will need to start moving faster from now on.  Much like the NUS it has been caught on the back foot,  unaware of the many students are already out there and expecting them to use the democratic powers invested in them to make a stand.

Of course, not everyone agrees that fees are a bad thing.  While there are too many who take the attitude that a highly skilled generation, with strong organisational and social skills aren’t enough of a social good to pay for socially, some are students and still have a right to be heard.

And that’s why I’m organising a radio debate on the subject of fees and direct action to be recorded this week.  Email me at subeditor.vervezine@gmail.com for more details.

While the others wanted to delay any action until Tuesday’s full Student Council meeting, Claire reminded them of a need for urgency given Thursday’s parliamentary vote to increase the tuition fee cap.  “We need to move on this now […] If we start occupying on next Tuesday, it wouldn’t even be until Wednesday, or Thursday, yeah? It wouldn’t even be until after the vote”.

After the meeting, Claire said that it “will be very unfortunate if the SU exec does not support the students and their right for peaceful protests, and this is a very peaceful protest. It will be very unfortunate to say the least”.

She did say nice things about someone called John Pearce who helped out.  perhaps this is a sign of the NUS coming around?

The Executives did hold a vote and decided, 5-2 against supporting the students.  There’s nothing on the Agenda sheet for Tuesday, but hopefully a motion will appear in ’emergency matters’ or ‘any other business’.

I keep hearing assurances that any motion put before the Council would go straight through, but it tastes bitter in the mouth when many Executives have already made their views clear and when the SU’s own motion (apparently) asks the Governors (remember them?) to make noises of support.

While they may prefer going through the system (or even, being the system?), they still have to deal with the reality on the ground – and that reality is that people are showing up the embarrassing cosiness of this nation’s political institutions.  Not just the student ones, but also that of parliament and our political parties.

1: This is a serious opportunity and don’t call me Shirley.  RIP Leslie Nielson.
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[Review] SGU: Episode 9, ‘Visitation’

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Here is my SG:U review on the Holloway Express.

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Protesters V Police – An Embedded View

December 1, 2010 3 comments

Despite extreme cold and constant snow,  students as young as 13 continued their protest against tuition fee rises across London yesterday.   Whitehall was closed down and lined with a large contingent of police guarding parliament against protesters who never arrived.

According to Simon Hardy of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts,  the protests split up due to “some attempts at kettling.  Some people ran off in different directions”, tailed by the police officers in distinctive blue baseball caps and hi-vis jackets.

He blamed the police for the change in plans, saying that it was “going OK” before then.

One group moved up from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus, where they stopped traffic at the intersection.  Police charged the line, forcing a brief sit-down.  After the sit-down they moved on, losing their tails in London’s back streets.

Police chase down students in Oxford Circus.

The subsequent sit-down.

Once the protesters emerged at Trafalgar square the police moved in, blocking off all exits with vans and lines of officers.

Organisers try to move students away from police cordons

A firework was thrown at the police line and the culprit instantly rebuked by the crowd.  Students encouraged each other to “stay calm” and not to “encourage violence”, despite being hemmed in and bitterly cold.  They even managed a little crowd surfing and dancing.  As the temperature plunged after sundown, banners were sacrificed to keep people warm.  A hot drinks stand was set up under Napier’s statue.

Simon Hardy, of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts praised claimed the police had arrested someone “quite violently and now there’s been a sort of reaction by the crowd on the police”.

Bernard Goyder occupying the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London spoke to Vince Cable on Radio 5 Live “every single caller was against the policy, basically.  I think it hammered home just how wrong the government’s policy is”.

One group not in evidence was the National Union of Students.  Henry Parker-Smith of the group Counterfire criticised Porter as a “Trade Union bureaucrat”, saying that he had to be “pushed quite hard” to support direct action in the first place.

Simon Hardy said that the NUS needed to “turn their words into deeds, to actually get people organised” for Day X, when Parliament will vote on the fee increases.   Hardy promised not only a Winter of Discontent, but also a “Spring and a Summer and whatever else it takes to stop the government”.

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