Thursday, 16 December 2010

Month X.

For the Love of Democracy.

After a month of protest by students across the nation the proposals were rammed through Parliament thanks to just over 20 MPs. None of whom are worth naming, as they will no doubt die having accomplished nothing in life, now it's left to the Lords. The 30,000 that came out to demonstrate across London on December 9th were irrelevant and had no role to play in the decision. As are the thousands who demonstrated in the weeks leading up to the vote, that began with over 50,000 on November 10th and peaked at 130,000 on November 24th. For that reason the decision was obscenely undemocratic. If the Orange Book Liberals cared about democracy they would immediately resign and end this coalition government. This is not the defeat of a grass-roots movement, as it was only passed by the skin of it's bollocks thanks to the spontaneity and ingenuity of the protesters. It is a sign that the movement must go further and a solid block of resistance is needed to undermine the cuts agenda.

The most vulgar elements of the media have latched onto the more chaotic scenes in Parliament Square to demonise the protesters and the student movement as a whole. The coverage focused on David Gilmour's lad swinging from a Union Jack on the Cenotaph and the non-event of the Royal Rolls getting a new paint-job. Even though 44 protesters were injured, compared with 12 police officers (one of which fell off of his horse), the right-wing media prefers to focus on the "crimes" of the rabble and the need for greater police powers. Never mind Alfie Meadows who needed emergency brain-surgery after being beaten with a baton. Never mind Jody McIntyre who was assaulted and thrown from his wheelchair, more than once, before being dragged to the pavement. Never mind young girls being beaten in the streets by officers of the law. We're the animals, we're the feral mob, because one of us urinated on Churchill's statue and swung from the Cenotaph.

After these demonstrations the notion that the police are just civil servants and are working to protect citizens has been decimated. In the mayhem in Parliament Square the police were not civil servants to the public but armed tools of the state. Though a cynic would say that we all knew what the police were before, the kettling and beating of teenagers only affirmed it. At a deeper level the state apparatus of liberal democracy can be seen to be breaking down. The Conservatives have no real democratic mandate to rule as a majority government, which is effectively is going on because of the support of the Liberal Democrats. The government needed the police to suppress the demonstrations, thus dragging disabled bloggers through the street and charging on students is necessary for the sake of "order". So the government can refuse to listen to our demands and write off all opposition as unrealistic, "There is no alternative" is the mantra as it was under Margaret Thatcher.

The Impossible?

Even though public spending on higher education is 0.7% of GDP and government debt is 70% of GDP. If you are in favour of deficit reduction putting the burden on students for the sake of cutting the deficit by 0.7% is hardly worth it. Especially when it has the potential to deter students from pursuing higher education and the fulfilling life that might be led as a result of it. Though if you consider that debt was 260% of GDP just after World War II you might start to question whether or not any of these cuts are necessary. It was austere policies based on liberal economic theories which led to and exacerbated the Crash of 1929, which in turn led to the Great Depression. The debt is not a crisis but a problem that can be dealt with over time by boosting economic growth which will increase tax-revenues. It is taxes that are the key to the current predicament, as public spending became unsustainable due to a collapse in tax-revenues during the recession.
Cutting public spending will only lead to a negative multiplier effect and pull the rug from under the feet of all reliant on the state - except the very rich who benefit from a slack tax-system. For every job lost in the public sector one could easily be lost in the private sector, as the two are interdependent and the economy has been mixed for decades. The impact of these cuts on our society could be dire in the long-term. For instance the systematic erosion of the welfare state will create a coercive welfare-to-work system dominated by private interests and a decrepit training scheme. At the same time the growth of the private sector is meagre and the Coalition needs a serious policy to create jobs. Instead of a serious policy the Con-Dems are cutting national insurance to reward businesses for hiring the unemployed, but these subsidised jobs will be at the minimum wage and will most likely drive down wages across the workforce.

Of course, most people who go to university will earn far more than the minimum wage which begs the question "Why should a postman pay for your university education?" Because a greater access to education is beneficial to society, greater access to education leads to greater freedom for all. The UK spends less than the US and Poland on higher education, Sweden spends 1.4% of it's GDP on higher education and has far better results than our system. Science and maths have been prioritised in this country because there is high demand, in finance, for workers skilled in those areas. This is part of the financialisation of the economy, which is currently being intensified. There are no signs are serious regulations and taxes being levied on the banking sector anytime soon. There is not going to be a serious crackdown on tax-evasion and avoidance, let alone white-collar crime. At the same time the abandonment of capital investment, e.g. building and modernising schools and hospitals, could result in greater job losses in construction.


It has been said that the resurgence of student radicalism has surpassed the militancy of 1968 when enormous student demonstrations rushed across the West. Although the student movement in this country has not come close to the French movement of '68, that almost toppled the government, in terms of spontaneity the movement is greater. It took over many years for serious opposition to Vietnam and de Gaulle to emerge. It is a misconception that today people are less radical and activism is less common than it was in the 1960s. The 2003 invasion of Iraq faced tremendous opposition even before it was launched, the millions of people who demonstrated against the war in London is a testament to the progress made since Vietnam. Today demonstrations often pre-empt the opposed policy, that is true in the case of the Iraq war as well as the cuts to education and raising of tuition fees.

Students can be seen as a barometer for the pressures and tensions building up in society. This is the reason that the 1960s student movement had such a massive impact in France and across the West. Though the cultural revolution of the 60s led to calls for sexual and gender liberation, a shift towards greater freedoms and rights, some of which has since been assimilated into the dominant ideology in the form of cheap hedonism. The radicalism which emerged against the Coalition has not instigated a cultural revolution, it could be a sign of things to come and a revolutionary shake up of the establishment is well overdue in this country. But it's difficult to say what the legacy of this movement will be. It is only in retrospect that we can look back at the 60s as the source of the individualistic tendencies that would be seized upon by the Thatcherites in the 1980s. So it is possible that we are entering a new phase in British politics.

The student movement is quite varied and somewhat schismatic, you can find yourself marching alongside communists and liberals, there is no one leader and no solid ideology. This is appropriate as the student body consists of all classes and is in a liminal state of transition. Thus, the body is fluid and has volatile potential. In another sense the students are mostly devoid of political baggage, though the conditions in society have disposed many of us to cynicism and pessimism. It is difficult to say what will come of this movement. But what we can learn from the 1960s is that student movements cannot win alone. France was brought to the brink of revolution in 1968 before the movement was defused and the government made massive concessions. Those concessions would not have been made if it weren't for the invaluable role the general strike played, as students do not have access to economic power. A movement to defend the welfare state is needed.

No comments: