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

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

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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Movember Man

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

For November I am going to grow an epic moustache.

It’s for a scheme called Movember and I will be looking for raise money for prostate cancer.  Many know about breast cancer in women – there’s even regular fundraising events for it – but prostate cancer is the silent killer of men.

Plus, the prostate is the male G-spot – and therefore very important to all pleasure-loving men.

Here’s a link to the Prostate Cancer Charity for more information.

Think you’re OK? (well, if you’re a woman you are, but otherwise…)  Go here for more stats.  It’s the most common male cancer in the UK, so be worried.

Here’s the deal: give me money and I will grow facial hair on an epic scale.  Feel free to make suggestions as to style and length; I’ll try anything twice.

I also have a Mo Space page here.

Please, spare some cash.  This is an important issue; I think it’s important that all men should know that cancer of their special place is not going to kill them.

Here’s a starting point; me after a couple of days’ growth.  Seriously, it won’t take long to have a nice bit of face fluff…

My first Movember pic of the month.

My First Movember Pic

Yes, that’s a BBC Good Food magazine calender in the background; very middle-class, I know…

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On a Highway to…Somewhere.

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, it looks like we’re on a path to greater sanity.

I’ve talked with the President and it went well.  We’ve still to talk details, but by and large it looks like a few people have caused a lot of problems.

One thing of note is a lack of communication; as I’ve said before, this could have been sorted with a quick talk; no motion needed.  We haven’t, for example, been continuing last years’ production meetings with the Comms Officer, because said officer simply hasn’t had time for us.

UPDATE 16/11/11: The Comms Officer assured me yesterday that this isn’t true.  She did not refuse to meet due to being excessively busy and has said that if we want weekly production meetings, we can have them.

The Editor assured me yesterday that she definitely did suggest having production meetings and was rebuffed by the officer, who did not have time for them.  She also accepted the offer regular meetings.

So that’s all cleared up then.

And it goes on.  While the President has been wonderfully receptive and good to talk to, I worry how much reaching out other officers will expect of us – and who will try reach us mid-way.

The SU as a whole clearly has little-to-no idea of what we do and what our work involves, so we’re talking about some form of seminar where we talk about our process and work ethics.

Now we get Issue 2 (2010) out and see what it takes to push Issue 3 out as well.  I certainly didn’t work an entire weekend to get my pieces junked!

All this AND I was at the radio meeting last night!  So much for a quiet year…

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