Students provide lesson in the Big Society

11 December 2010

It’s quite something when the editor of The Spectator concedes that revolting students (if not
the rioting ones) have a point. Fraser makes a persuasive point that no government department should have been immune from cuts.

The political fallout from the decision to slash university budgets and hike tuition fees will continue long after the students withdraw from the streets.

The devastating hit on higher education makes the coalition look like just another crew of right-wing philistines.

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One of the curious aspects of this fiasco is Nick Clegg’s attempts to represent this as his Clause Four moment, when the Liberal Democrats finally became a grown-up party of government. The
reality is that he has done his coalition partners no favours in allowing them to go down this road. He would have saved the Tories from themselves if he has stuck to his pledge on tuition fees and
insisted on cuts elsewhere.

Instead, a genuine movement has grown up around Nick Clegg’s perceived act of treachery – he has become a classic mob hate figure.

In doing so he has spawned a more spontaneous illustration of the Big Society in action than his coalition partners could have dreamed of.

As a veteran of demonstrations (the giant CND march of 1981 was my first, at the age of 15), I have to take my hat off to the present generation (violence aside of course). As, many have pointed
out, these changes will not even affect those marching today. This is a stand of genuine principle. The old arguments about future earning potential do not hold in a time of economic crisis and
mass participation in higher education. These debts will be crippling to all but the most privileged.

These demonstrations took us all by surprise. I began my politics course at City University this year with the usual tirade against the apathy of UK students, which just goes to show the weakness
of my political antennae.

But no one can have been more surprised than Nick Clegg and David Cameron. Were they on the great grant demonstrations of 1984? Clegg was possibly too young and Cameron on a gap year. But I
don’t see either of them as having been comfortable on a student march. I was there, but then I was on a grant and I would not have been able to go to university without it.

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Show comments
  • Ridcully

    Fiona: Your friends/neighbours’ anger would be better directed at the previous government who’s disastrous financial mismanagement is partly (although admittedly not wholly) responsible for the current situation in which drastic measures need to be taken.
    I notice that the couple you refer to both work for the public sector. Although I understand and sympathise with their concern over theeir jobs, the public sector has been protected for far too long while the private sector has, until recently, borne the brunt of the pain.

  • Fiona

    Rhoda, read my post again. I’m not just talking about the poor. I’m talking about people who consider themselves middle class, like the family next door to me. They have never been poor, and always voted Tory.

    Both are professionals working in the public sector. Her in the local county constabulary, him in the NHS. Both fear for their jobs. They have three sons, the eldest is doing GCSEs.

    I can assure you, they’re mad as hell at what this Tory-led coalition is doing, and I find it hard to believe they’re the only Tories in the entire country who feel that way.

    It seems to me that the “Heir to Blair” has abandoned the class of voters Blair courted so assiduously, and so successfully.

    I think it’ll cost the coalition partners at the next election.

  • Alan Edwards

    Who is the FW writer, Frazer’s article was bullocks and this is more bullocks. Under Labour anybody who could write their own name and speak Engwish had a chance at being a student. This lead to the massive shortage in skilled blue collar jobs (100K plumbers etc). They basically fucked up the Labour market so that Mac donalds is now full of people with a degree in stupidity. I am surprised that the some of the writers on here have gotten on the wrong side of the arguement.

  • Stepney

    Given the car-crash of the economy bequeathed the youth of tomorrow by incompetent Labour mismanagement the poor s*ds will be paying 4,5,6 times as much back in extra taxes as they’ll ever have to pay back for their degrees. And that’s of course just the lucky ones who’ll benefit from a degree.

    If they wanted something to riot about it’s the fact that theirs will be the generation that pays for Labour’s financial disaster. Contributions to their degree will be chicken feed compared to paying for national debt, public sector pensions and PFI.

  • Barry

    “…these changes will not even affect those marching today. This is a stand of genuine principle.”

    No, it’s a stand of the nauseatingly self righteous and those who haven’t bothered to find out what the changes are.

  • The Bellman

    ‘Another crew of right wing philistines’ – as though the left has a monopoly on aesthetics…

    The best that can be said for your conduct in 1981 was that you were wrong, as young, impressionable men often are; and, although it did not seem that way at the time, that ultimately CND’s brand of tedious adolescent posturing had no real success thanks to the backbone of Reagan and Thatcher.

    But you were wrong then and you are wrong now, for the reasons Rhoda spells out. This isn’t political engagement, but the infantile tantrum typical when vested state-dependent interests are challenged.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Sorry, not jealous, envious.

    Fiona, poor kids who were bright enough have always gone to university, pretty much since universities were invented. Whether we should pay for poor kids who are not particularly bright to go to third-rate universties is the question. And they may still go, access is not denied. It is just that someday they may have to pay for it. That is, they have to make a value judgment, rather than just spending taxpayers’ money, where no value judgment is ever required.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    I remember Klapp minor moaning to me how his mates, who seemed to have everything we have, and live a similar lifestyle, could get thirty quid a week, and shouldn’t he have it too. That was the reality of EMA, spent on trainers and video games to make other kids jealous. Oh, and contributing to the benefits trap, too.

  • Fiona

    It isn’t just about the trebling of tuition fees which, whatever the right likes to think, will certainly deter poorer people from pursuing higher education.

    The cuts in the teaching budget will mean many courses and even some universities will close – admittedly not those the posh kids go to, but don’t expect this to go unnoticed amongst Tory voters.

    The end of the EMA will mean many school leavers will not be able to afford to extend their education to A levels, let alone get to university.

    The whole point of the expansion of higher education provision was to offer ordinary families, neither high earners nor high flyers, the opportunity to further their education and a chance to improve their lot.

    Many are beginning to wake up to the fact that the plans they had for their kids have been shot to pieces by this coalition.

    By the time of the next election, the numbers going to university will have drastically reduced. I think we all know what effect this will have on Lib Dem support, but you’re kidding yourself if you think the Tory vote will be unaffected.

  • David Bouvier

    I am fed up with well informed people lying either deliberately or through negligent lack of concern for the truth.

    I what was does a income-related fee repayment with no money down make it harder you to have gone to university than a grant. You might have chosen not to – is that what you say.

    And you dare call the policy as making the government look like philistines. Have you not bothered to notice that the good universities themselves are desparate to have the policy in order to PRESERVE a high-quality UK university sector. But no, Joe Student’s beer and lefty politics is more important culturally than the views of the actual universities and academics.

    The pledge by the way, was to not increase tution fees and seek a fairer system. If they believe this arrangement is fairer than the existing system (definitely arguable) then that is consistent.

    Would you be happy if I called the payment above £21k a graduate tax, and the “debt” a “contribution cap”.

  • Cityboozer

    So your parents could afford school fees but not for you to attend university?

  • AJC

    “No win, no fee” for students!

    It seems that misinformation has characterised the tuition fee debate. Infact graduates will have to pay back money to the government only if they secure a job paying over £21,000. Evidence shows that those graduating from decent (and therefore the more expensive) courses will find these jobs and will be payed considerably more than non-graduates over their life time. Surely it is only fair then that they contribute towards their own education.

    Yet graduates who cant find good jobs will never have to pay back a penny for their education! And the government loans will NOT affect mortgages, or credit rating like commercial debts. So really it is “no win, no fee” for students!

  • Rhys

    The LibDems’ actions in going against their very specific manifesto pledge are not merely a PERCEIVED act of treachery : they are a real act of ‘trahison des clercs’ against the plebs who took them at their word.
    Ditto Tory ditching of their very specific pledges to get tough on crime ( see esp the pledge on knife carriers ).
    What these actions do is totally destroy any residual faith amongst the electorate ( and in the case of the student fees issue the young and upcoming electorate in particular ) that politicians’ commitments at election time mean anything.

    What can Tories or LibDems possibly say next time round which can possibly evoke any trust whatsoever ?

    Destruction of trust in the democratic process ( and following so quickly on all the mea culpas and promises to do better after the expenses scandals ) is a far more important issue than is the comparatively technical point about fees.

  • Ricky

    How certain are you that it is our students who are actually making a stand?

    Most marchers are filled with hatred – particularly for the “bankers” and “Tory scum” – despite the fact that most were small children when the Conservatives were last in power and it was Gordon (The Brown Stuff) who paid off the bankers and fuelled their huge bonuses. And it was Blair who introduced 70p pension increases, tax hardship on the poor, rising gaps between the rich and poor and the introduction of tuition fees. No protests then.

    This protest smacks of the self-interest of a future elite. It is noteworthy that most of those arrested for violent acts come from privilege, independent schools and elite universities.

    More sinister are the shadowy forces behind the useful idiots and donkeys and you do not allude to this, apart from a passing, somewhat naive reference to violence. The “students” were packed out by middle aged EuroLefties, assorted SWP, nasty Marxists, gulag guardianistas and masked jihadists. The same people who aligned as part of the Stop the War campaigned and high jacked the genuine anger of Middle England over Iraq. Many friends marched against violence at the time and were indignant at the We Are All Hezbollah Now posters everywhere.

    The Left romanticises violence but as the Reign of Terror proved, once the fires start – we are all consumed by the subsequent firestorm.

  • Edward McLaughlin

    The student protests we are presented with currently, are pallid confections – weak copies of what Mummy and Daddy got up to, or even the Gramps.

    These former street warriors went out in defiance of, and to oust, their elders. The people protesting now, bellow vicariously on behalf of those who have brought them up in a comfort which renders them incapable of any great movement.

    No, the real anger, untapped as yet, will come from an altogether different quarter.

  • andrew kerins

    Increasing tuition fees is an attempt to deal with a problem created by previous governments; how to pay for Higher Education, when about 50% of the population has access to it.
    Labour favours a graduate tax, the coalition favours increased fees.
    What do the demostrators favour ?
    It seems they want somebody else – bankers, the rich, anybody else – to pay.
    There is nothing admirable in this stance.

  • normanc

    ‘These debts will be crippling to all but the most privileged.’

    I don’t actually agree with this. You may think that the people who won’t be affected are those with parents who are millionaires and to whom £50k is chump change but what needs to happen is government needs to engender a spirit of saving amongst parents for their children’s further education, as well as a sense of responsibility. We can’t continue to rely on the state for everything, that’s what has got us into this parlous situation.

    I’m sure we’re all familiar with the American ‘College Fund’ that crops up frequently in movies. I have a three year old and since he was born I have putting £200 a month into a shares ISA for this exact eventuality. I’m not rich, and I wouldn’t class my offspring as being in the ‘most privileged’ (private school is most assuredly out of the question, for example) but I do take responsibility for my family and their well being so I’m willing to go without the latest tat from China now and invest a little hope in the future.

    That’s where Fraser missed the mark. It’s not a case of ‘We could cut a little more here to spend a little more there’, the attitude should be ‘We can cut a little more and cut a little more there too so that people keep more of their own money to spend on what they want’ and those without children, or whose children don’t go on to further education, will also benefit.

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