Being at a loose end, I decided to accompany some of my student friends on the march and show my support - and I am very glad that I did. The turn-out was most impressive, the atmosphere was jubilantly defiant, the protesters seemed well informed and I was proud to see that many young people, who are all too frequently dismissed as apathetic at best and hoodie wearing scum at worst, join together and stand up for a common cause.
The march proceeded from Holy Cross College, along Wellington Road, then up Market Street where it met the contingent from Bury College, round Peel Way to the Town Hall, which was locked down tighter than a maximum security prison. Council officials could be seen peeping sheepishly out of upper story windows, but sadly no one inside seemed willing to address the crowds concerns that they, their younger brothers and sisters, and ultimately their children were being denied the right to a university education, the same right that those now in power took for granted in their youth. After a rally in Knowlsley Street the crowd marched down Manchester Road, enthusiastically applauding all the drivers who beeped their horns in support.
Hardly unsurprising, but staggering nevertheless!
The "Fib Dems", as one placard wittily labeled them, made specific manifesto pledges to oppose increases in tuition fees, many students voted for them in May on that very basis and indeed the student vote makes up a significant percentage of their support. The protesters yesterday made it abundantly clear that they feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats.
And in my opinion, that is exactly the right place to apply pressure. The House of Commons (which seems a silly name with so many millionaires now sat on the front bench) will be voting on whether to allow universities to raise tuition fees before the end of the year. The Coalition government has a fairly slender majority as it is - but if enough Lib Dem MPs oppose the bill to make it fall, as many, including former leader Sir Menzies Campbell, have indicated they will, a motion of no confidence in the Government becomes a very real possibility. If that motion passes their options are quite limited, call a general election or resign!
I know the answer; it is because I do not wish to live in a society where only the privileged elites can afford education, such unequal societies are unstable and prone to violent collapse, they are also unsuited to the needs of a 21st century world economy. Great Britain does not have enormous natural resources, and we cannot compete against China and India in terms of manufacturing, but we have always been a nation full of clever, ingenious, inventive people. That is our one true resource and we should be investing in it above all else.
Education should be a universal right and tuition fees, particularly those set at such a high rate, represent an attack on the very principle that entitles every child to go to school. If we tolerate this Coalition Government's plans, in reality we are setting the stage for a hundred and fifty years of social progress to be rolled back.
Join the protest! Fight the cuts!