Thoughts from November

Just discovered this... I went off on a tangent and never finished it, but I suppose there are a few good points in there. This was originally written on 10 November 2010.

By now, you've probably read and heard a lot about the student rally/protest/riot that happened on Wednesday. In the midst of all the stereotypes regurgitated by the media there has been a lot of quality writing on the subject. This blog entry is an attempt to compile some of the best examples I've seen so far with my own observations of the event and its significance.

But first of all, why did I go in the first place? As a foreign student, I have to pay international fees and education cuts don't affect me directly. And I certainly wasn't the only foreigner to attend. I spent the day with a core group of seven people, including myself. We consisted of two Brits, two Italians, one German and two Americans. At times we were joined by a group of three or four more Germans.

So why should foreign students care about an issue that doesn't seem to directly affect them in a country that they aren't even from? Why is it that this was the first 'violent' (in the words of the media; Jamie Potter points out that this was vandalism, not violence) response we've seen to the Tory cuts? Well, maybe we're looking at it wrong. Maybe the construction of Wednesday's protest as a response to the rise in tuition fees is a gross simplification that overlooks many important factors.

My primary objection to the rise in tuition fees is that I am vehemently against the Tory cuts. The ruling party has taken advantage of the UK's financial distress to enforce a neoliberal ideology that is far more radical than anything seen in the Thatcher years. In stark contrast to the ferocity of the budget cuts, we see big handouts to big business in the form of tax cuts. At the end of the day, the purpose of the current government's economic policies is to enforce an economic system that was already unfair and unjust before they came into power. The difference now is that the austerity measures have magnified the many faults and injustices of the current economic/political system that most people would prefer to overlook. Even Boris Johnson, the conservative mayor of London, is getting a bit of indigestion from the cuts to housing benefits.

The lesson of the Bush years is that things can easily go from bad to worse - sometimes I wonder if Clinton would be remembered so fondly if his administration hadn't been followed by one of the most disastrous presidencies in US history. After all, Clinton did repeal the Glass-Steagall Act (which had previously kept the power of the big banks in check), allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise prescription drugs and sign NAFTA. I'd be lying if I said I was sorry to see Labour go, but it is hard to imagine the situation not getting worse in this country as a result of the cuts.

[EDIT: I went on to explain my main motivations for opposing the cuts here. Below are some observations about policing.]

Today, [some] students protesting against education cuts committed acts of vandalism and occupied the headquarters of the Tory Party. The press has described police coverage of this event as sparse and inadequate.

The police are also hit by the cuts, therefore...

a) They can't afford to provide as many officers on the ground to cover public protests [EDIT: This is somewhat true, but I wager the gov't will squeeze money from other areas of policing to cover this]
b) They can't afford to risk fines for mistreating demonstrators.

So, what can we expect in the future?
a) Low police presence at increasingly 'destructive' protests [EDIT: The first protests were used as an excuse to beef up police presence. Some say that the Met played dumb and stupid on purpose to get more money and political support, but I think they really are that dumb and stupid (tactically).]
b) New laws aimed at restricting the rights of individual protesters while granting a level of immunity to officers who injure these individuals or treat them unfairly.

If the coalition government is able to put the cuts through Parliament, then it is unlikely that any proposals for (b) are going to be rejected.


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