I have to admit to feeling just a little bit sorry for the Liberal Democrats.
Not THAT sorry of course, after all they have enabled the Tories to return as a governing party in British Politics, but they are perhaps mitigating some of the worst excesses that a Conservative party with an outright majority would have perpetrated. For instance the Tories wanted tuition fees with no upper limit, allowing colleges and universities to charge as much as they wanted. I said at the time of the last election that I would have been quite happy with a LabLib coalition, keeping the Tories from asset stripping Britain whilst reigning in some of Labour’s more fascistic tendencies, especially in terms of civil liberties, and I do still stand by that.
Nick Clegg is clearly damaged goods now, and as the weak point in the coalition I’m not going to stop anyone from giving him a good verbal kicking for doing a complete about face on a key election promise, just so long as people don’t think, come the next election, that it was those horrible Liberals who wanted to use a crisis in the banking system as an excuse to roll back decades of social progress, so let’s all vote Tory. A goodly number of Lib Dem MP’s actually voted against the coalition government on Thursday, reducing its majority from 84 to just 21 in the first reading of the tuition fees bill, and the bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords where Liberal peers also have many reservations about the plans. At any rate, the Lords can only delay the rise in fees from being approved, so tuition fees of up to nine thousand pounds per year are now a reality.
And lots of people are, quite understandably, very unhappy with this. Thousands of them took to the streets on Thursday (09/12/10) to voice their displeasure leading to predictable scenes of mounted police charging, stones being thrown and “kettles” full of angry students boiling over, to the equally predictable sound of hysterics from the news media. Headlines filled with howls of outrage at injured police officers and a royal Rolls Royce splattered with paint, confusing vandalism with violence, are only now being slightly tempered by reports of the cerebral palsy sufferer Jody McIntyre being dragged out of his wheelchair by police, and of student demonstrator Alfie Meadows who needed emergency brain surgery after being hit on the head by police whilst trying to leave a kettle.
The fact is that people do still have a right to protest, despite the best efforts of recent governments. To get around this annoying fact, the authorities use policing tactics that are calculated to create the scenes we have seen in recent weeks.
First you take a large crowd of angry people who believe they actually have a right to walk down the streets of their country and make their voices heard. The vast majority of these people are ordinary level headed people intent on a peaceful demonstration of their displeasure, with a minority of radicals amongst them of course. Then you surround them with hordes of armed, armoured and mounted police who inform them that while they do of course have the right to protest, they had better to do it right here, not there, not there, and definitely not over there, so settle down and don’t cause any fuss.
Then you turn up the heat.
As anyone who has been in police kettle will know, it is extremely frustrating to be told that you cannot go where you want to go, simply because a handful of other people may try and smash a few windows. People become angry, frustrated and bored, cold and hungry and ultimately disappointed at what little their so called right to protest actually amounts to, tempers become frayed, push meets shove and before you know it someone has thrown a rock, the police horses have charged and instead of a few nutters in amongst a crowd of peaceful protesters, you now have thousands of pissed off students requiring a vent for their collective spleen. Then you film it and present it as evidence of why the right to protest should be further curtailed, and why the police should not be restrained in their approach to dealing with these hooligans.
I believe the government has lately been taking advice on the use of water cannons from police in Northern Ireland, which will be nice, especially if we get a hot summer next year.
So it seems we need an alternative form of protest, one that will not lead to anyone getting their brains smashed in or trampled by a police horse, and does not get you unfairly labelled as a mindless yob. As we are also going to need a new way of helping young people afford to go to university, perhaps we should combine the two?
I call it the Big Society Student Grant, and it works like this: first you borrow as much money as you need to finance your education, whether that is a three year bachelor’s degree or seven years of medical training. Then you study really, really hard and graduate with the best education that money can buy.
Now, you will have to organise and communicate amongst yourselves to arrange this next bit, because no one is going to help you, but you are all in it together...that is what makes it the Big Society right? So you say to yourselves, we are young; we have no assets, no houses, no savings and no jobs. We have thirty, forty, maybe even fifty thousand pounds worth of debt each. What can we possibly do?
Well, you can declare yourselves bankrupt, tens of thousands of you, en-masse, and tell them to go screw for the money!
Student loans are underwritten by the government, so they pay off the fees for your tuition as they should have done in the first place; you get six years worth of bad credit but you wipe your debt out, you won’t be able to get a mortgage in that time, but as house prices mean you’re going to be living at home with mum and dad until you’re thirty anyway, big fucking deal!
Its a peaceful solution, and one I feel must be given real consideration if the government insist on pricing all but the richest students out of higher education.