Friday, 10 December 2010

The protests and the vote - why we have won

Yesterday, the House of Commons voted in favour of one of the Coalition government's most divisive and controversial policies - a rise in university tuition fees. It was a sad day: for democracy, for politics and worst of all, for education. Thanks to the measure, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  intimidated and worried by the thousands of pounds of debt they will find themselves in, will be discouraged from going on to higher education. As a direct result, universities will become even more elitist than they already are and society as a whole will suffer. This will be proven true in time. But for now we must focus on the present.

There are two hopeful things that we can take from yesterday's vote. Firstly, the Liberal Democrats are finished. Never before in the history of British politics has a party gone from such hysteric public support and popularity to such bitter hatred and disgust. During the election, many Lib Dems signed a pledge saying that they vowed to oppose any policy that tried to increase tuition fees. Nick Clegg and his party made a promise to students, the people to whom he should be thankful for his party's seats. He broke that promise. The Lib Dems may wish to argue that "that is how coalition politics works" and that they can't possibly get all of their policies passed. Tosh, utter tosh. It was students who put the Lib Dems in power it is therefore students whom the Lib Dems should be championing and supporting, not the Conservatives. Tuition fees was a key aspect of the Liberal Democrats' campaign and to simply cast that away to please the Tories, to place power before principles, is utterly disgusting and frankly unforgivable. I was one of the many who dared, yes dared, to dream, to believe and to hope that the Liberal Democrats were different - a party of the future, a party committed to a new type of politics. They have shown themselves to be opportunistic, spineless fools and I shall not make the mistake of supporting them ever again. Be assured that Clegg's party will pay for what it has done - at the next general election, they will be obliterated.

The second hopeful thing is the evident success of the protest movement. Thanks to the overwhelming public backlash against this unfair policy, the government's majority was reduced from 84 to just 21. This shows that action works. In the weeks leading up to the vote, students and members of the public took to the streets to voice their opposition to a rise in tuition fees, and also to cuts in general. Many said it would achieve nothing. They were wrong. Protest has made a clear and powerful impact, and it may not have stopped the motion, but it certainly weakened it and the iniquitous Coalition. And we mustn't stop here. As members of a free democracy, we must exercise our right to protest - a right some, a major policing figure among them, would like to take from us. You can be sure that tuition fees is not the only unfair policy the Coalition has up its sleeve, and as the true nature of this government reveals itself, we must do all we can to oppose and disrupt. The worst thing that could happen as a result of this vote is that we, the public, lose our tenacity. With determination, with intelligence and with a clear moral agenda, we will stop the government - indeed, the process has already begun.

But by protest, I mean peaceful protest. Violence is simply unacceptable and it is completely deleterious to the movement. It is, of course, only a small monitory who cause the violence we have seen at the protests, a minority, it is crucial to point out, intent on deliberately provoking vandalism and fighting. Students and citizens alike must condemn the immature, short-sighted boisterousness we have witnessed and always seek to rise above it - for it only results in harm and in no way benefits the cause. The attacks on the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, for instance, were deeply unacceptable and the purpurators should be dealt with accordingly. But please understand, I am in no way justifying some of the tactics used by police - a number of whom are more thuggish and savage than the anarchist rebels. Both the media and the police force need to seriously re-evaluate the way they deal with the protest movements, because at present their way of doing things is wrong. News stations, as they have done and are doing, should not provide a slanted, biased impression of the protests and the police should, at all times, only use violence as an absolute final resort. Presently, their methods are too brutal and often inhumane.

What we have witnessed over these past two months or so is democracy in action. Together and as a collective, we, the people, have opposed an inherently inequitable and unmerited policy; we have left our classrooms, our lecture halls, our places of work and taken to the streets; we have voiced our clear, unforgiving resistance to the rise in university tuition fees and cuts to public services. And we have won. Yes, we have won. The policy may have been passed, but we have won in a larger sense. Our actions have slashed the government majority and will continue to do so. But more than this, my generation has become politicised - something I have dreamed of and wished for for years, but never thought could happen. How wrong I was. My peers are joining and supporting me in my opposition to the government. People, for the first time in many years, are interested in politics. Everyone has an opinion. And as a society, we have mobilised and marched onward in the cause of justice and equality. There is work to do yet, but if that is not winning, I don't know what is.


Alex said...

I am by no means contradicting you in this, just so you know that.

I think that students have always been opinionated but, as a BBC columnist said, we're conditioned to be quite complacent and just stiffen our spines to what we wouldn't want to happen rather than taking up arms (not literally) and going to protest peacefully on the British Streets. Yet, you are so right it hurts when you say that this has generated interest in politics in students. I just believe that they all know and are interested in politics, it is just that something they know about affects them. Politics actually matters to the young and- a little ironically- to the future. Though many students won't go to University, the majority of them have some aspirations towards it. They like to think that even coming from the worst backgrounds, there is some small chance they can go. In the past, policy meant they could. The change in cost threatens that aspiration though, and suddenly they have to fight for their dreams and what it is they want.

Maxine Beneba Clarke said...

This sucks. Keep in mind though, that a peaceful protest can still be a disruptive protest - inconvenience people & they will HAVE to pay attention :)

Pat Tillett said...

Hey Sam! I'm happy to see that you are posting! There are a lot of changes in the wind. Not many of them to my liking.

Not that it matters, but I thought you might find it interesting that one of my relatives (back in the day) was one of the founders of your Labour Party.