Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Yellow Tory.

Conservative in All but Name.

There was a massive demonstration by students from across the UK on Wednesday. 52,000 people turned out to express their opposition to the education cuts and the trebling of tuition fees. A great deal of rage was aimed at Nick Clegg, the man who has led the Liberal Democrats since 2007. The reason being that the smorgasbord of progressive policies presented to the public by Nick Clegg turned out to be a buffet of lies constructed for cynical ends. The Liberals' facade of a progressive alternative to the old Lab-Con establishment finally slipped when the Liberals found themselves in bed with the Conservatives. Students are particularly enraged as it was the promise of abolishing tuition fees that marked the Lib Dems out for students as the Party to vote for, whilst the Labourites and the Tories had little to offer. But the treachery of Clegg has hit Lib Dem voters everywhere and it looks like the rightly reviled Liberals will be decimated in 2015.

This should not be a surprise really. The Lib Dems are dominated by the market liberals who penned the Orange Book and the Liberals, under many different guises, have been a centre-right political party since the 1970s. It was under Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg that the Party has been "escorted" away from Keynesian economics and towards neoliberalism. In the campaigns to the General Election, of this year, the Liberals were only slightly less right-wing than the Labour Party on economic policy. At best the Liberals favour a greater regulated variety of capitalism and not the utopian vision held by free-market fundamentalists in the Conservative Party. The speech Vince Cable gave in which he "attacked" capitalism was merely a critical whinge about the financialisation of the economy, the aggressive rhetoric was merely window-dressing. Similarly, the opposition to the Iraq war and the past opposition to tuition fees were token window-dressing for a shadow platform.

This shadow platform excluded scrapping tuition fees, as we now know from leaked documents that the Liberals dumped the idea in 2 months before the election. Clegg was well aware that the election could result in a hung Parliament, so he decided to not put all of his eggs in one basket. A secret team led by Danny Alexander was quickly formed to prepare proposals for a coalition deal with either of the two main parties. Alexander advised that the idea of abolishing fees should be dumped to avoid putting political capital at risk. On Alexander's advice the Party leadership were soon prepped to raise tuition fees if they were to be part of a coalition. Even after making these decisions the Liberals carried on with the pretence of opposing tuition fees. On election day the Party bled the student vote dry out of a cold self-interest. But that is the tip of the iceberg.

During negotiations with the Conservative Party no effort was made to defend the Liberal economic platform, the opposition to austerity measures as well as raising VAT. Instead the shadow platform, with planks of regressive taxes and savage cuts, was consolidated. To say that this platform became a saddle for Clegg to wear while David Cameron takes mount and rides him through the next 5 years would be too "soft". Though it should never be forgotten that the Orange Book leadership of the Lib Dems have not been led astray by the Tories. These people made calculated decisions for selfish goals and are responsible for the nature of the government as a result. The progressive image of the Lib Dems was a facade crafted by a leadership of "Yellow Tories", the cuts are being made for ideological reasons and not out of necessity. The government spends less than 1% of GDP on higher education and government debt as a proportion of GDP is almost 200% lower than it was after WW2.

In Defence of Violence.

The national demonstration against tuition fees and education cuts was a expression of the outrage of students in the face of such treacherous usury, the rage of the masses spilled over into the occupation of the Tory Party HQ and culminated in rooftop flag-waving. The atmosphere was uplifting as some students sang and many chanted slogans such as "You can stick your Browne review up your arse!" and placards that read "If it's Browne flush it down!" The media leaped on the violence of demonstrators to try and ignore the real issues and focus on injured police officers. A fire extinguisher was dropped from the rooftops giving the reactionary press just what it wanted and such irresponsibility is indefensible. However, the demonstration and the occupation of Tory Party HQ were based on the legitimate grievances of students. Students have not been fobbed off onto tabloid populism that targets immigrants and the unemployed for society's woes.
David Cameron has condemned the protests for the violence and has stated defiantly that the trebling of tuition fees will not be abandoned. Even though the kind of violence perpetrated against property and police officers is subjective; the economic programme which Cameron is implementing over Britain is violent in the objective sense. Subjective violence is the violence as experienced as an inexplicable act of destruction and chaos which disrupts life as we know it. Terrorism being a befitting example. Objective violence being the systemic violence which is invisible to the naked eye and acts as a precondition for subjective violence. In relation to terrorism it would be the sewer of poverty, oppression, injustice and disillusionment with politics that presuppose radicalisation. This is how some people experienced the demonstration: one minute you're reading a review of Decision Points; the next minute students are dropping fire extinguishers on coppers. The objective violence  of Con-Dem policy which presuppose such actions is ignored and left blameless.

The objective violence of slashing spending on education and raising tuition fees is not at first obvious. Systemic violence is not immediately visible and easily understood subjectively. But look at what students face closely and it is there underlying the events at Millbank Tower. The welfare state is withering away before our eyes, everything from benefits to health-care are being hit either by massive cuts or market reforms. Even if you believe the nonsense that these cuts are necessary, the end of the welfare state is no less unsettling. Especially as lobbyists from the fast-food industry are allowed to have a say in health-policy, there is talk of food stamps and welfare-to-work schemes. As unemployment is about to rise and students looking for work will face greater competition for jobs. It looks like a degree will not automatically equal a decent job and a better life for many students, nor even a comfortable life for those seeking education for it's own sake. The availability of housing in central London could be decreased by over 40%. These changes will affect generations to come.

The demonstration is a premonition of what we should expect to see under the Con-Dem Coalition. We might see riots just as bad, if not worse, than those seen in the 1980s which culminated in the 1990 Poll Tax riots that contributed to the collapse of the Thatcher ministry. It is a shame that a legitimate cause often has to engage in vandalism and even violence to get the establishment to listen. It is also a testament to the unscrupulous, bloodthirsty and generally parasitic qualities of the media. Though the vandalism that took place at Tory Party HQ is far less destructive than the economic vandalism that the Coalition is indulging in. We the people have to keep the government in line and the government ought to learn its place in our society. But as John Dewey once pointed out the government is the shadow of business cast over society. Thus, we need to alter the substance not just the shadow if we're serious about change.


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