Tuition fee changes are problematic in so many ways

Irony was not lost on me reading a recent article in Standpoint magazine by Jonathan Bate, on the “costly idea of a new university”. Jeremy Bentham – whose name has been used by the room I’m sitting in, while it is occupied by UCL students – was used as an example of someone with a fine mind, but whose impact “was minimal”. The point being that out of this great mind, the world has seen relatively small returns, if you were to consider that on the back of book sales. This was not an original point, nor was it meant to be. John Stuart Mill had been the one to observe this, yet whether he made this a way of justifying further marketising further education, like Bate seemed to be attempting to do, is anyone’s guess – though I’m not going to bank on it.

The article advances the view that not everyone is entitled to higher education. For Bate, unlike junior and senior levels of education or other provisions such as healthcare, it is not cost-effective to have it as a free for all. Not only do we need plumbers – who seem to be exemplified as a low skilled, uneducated worker in Bate’s article – but the amount of money, in the form of public taxation, going into the further education system will not be nearly as beneficial as some would want to make out.

Bate notes that the proportion of young people in higher education has risen, as if this fact were a direct correlation on the drop in manual labourers. He kindly allows for the public understanding that society benefits from degree educated professionals such as doctors – but generally the article misses the entire point. Top-up fees for Bate, as well as for both the Labour and Tory parties (at least), represents the proportion of money the government should not have to pay, on account that better considered degrees – such as in medicine – are worth far more, in addition to the amount universities can’t/won’t afford to pay, since caps have been put on all higher education study – which is made up for in larger classes and less one-on-one time.

One of the perverse effects of the rise in tuition fees, according to Birkbeck Professsor Claire Callender, is that the more financial aid a university has to fork out for an individual student – accounting for the decreasing amount government has to put in – the less attractive the student is for a university. The issue of free higher education for all who want it is of course very important, but moreover, in a system where the amount of top up fees a prospective student can pay decides on whether that person is financially solvent for the university is extremely problematic. For Callender, this represents the current model of US higher education.

The initial problematic remains; the marketisation of university will mean prospective students choose subjects on a utilitarian basis – what will be the most enticing for employers, or rather, what prospective students imagine will be most enticing for employers – rather than universities being institutions of knowledge. Taking grant cuts into consideration, humanities and art subjects will become fewer, this will start to impact upon research in this area, and Britain’s importance on an international scale will become stagnant. But furthermore students will feel less inclined to get themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt in universities that aren’t in the upper deciles, institutions will merge, the less lucky ones will fold. This is in addition to how much debt an individual student can expect to be in after their course, which will crush any chance of a future savings culture of any worth – lest I mention the scrapped child trust fund.

This move, supported by most Ministers in the government, has many implications and consequences. Tonight student movements around the country will be making final adjustments to their work before Parliament goes to vote tomorrow. This work will include ringing the parliamentary offices of noted MPs, writing letters to newspapers, pressuring universities’ management to condemn the cuts agenda, and the war the government is waging on higher education institutions in general. Tomorrow is of course a day of action – it is the determination of this movement – composed of many who will not be directly affected by the changes to fees – which proves the urgency to take a stand against proposed changes.

Assange debate has nothing to do with feminist men selling out – it’s a different compulsion

I’ve read just about everything you could want on Julian Assange now – and I’ve reached my own conclusion. But first we should break down other opinions on the blogosphere. On 21 August of this year Dave Allen Green on his Jack of Kent blog cleared up one or two things when he said “we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that it must be a smear.” Of course for the unthinking conspiratorial minded among us, this has to be a smear. Assange, after all, is undercutting US hegemony, utilising internet tools and creating bottom up power. Politicians talk about civic empowerment, and deliberative/participatory democracy, but when it actually happens they get nervous – was Assange simply on the receiving end of this?

As Andy Newman at Socialist Unity blog has said perhaps Assange has been caught up in a CIA honeytrap – which has got under the skin of Louise, who rightly points out that “We don’t know the full story. Wait for the full story, wait to see the evidence tested in court.” This brings us back to Green’s point; due process dictates this: one is innocent until proven guilty. Newman’s honeytrap represents precisely the compulsion to seek perfect narratives where such narratives are absent. But perhaps this is not his fault; after all it looks dodgy – but I’m on the side of Louise and Green, lets leave the theories at home, and await results from the trial.

In the mean time another debate has taken place between Cath Elliot and Sunny Hundal relating to a rubbish article written by John Band (Cath actually has a full account of her debate with Sunny on twitter, which I have now read, and immediately agreed with the last statement: “Now can we all please move on.”). This seems to relate to the terms of the debate of rape. Elliot worries that men on the left – so-called feminists – are too quick jumping at the conclusion that women are wrong when it comes to calling on rape. This is perhaps a simplified way to summarise the debate, but in any case it misses one, aforementioned, point; the left wing, feminist men are probably consumed by the timing of the allegation, with prior knowledge of CIA attempts to try and silence critics and dissenters, rather than trying to downplay the serious allegations made against Assange.

No male feminist I have ever met has ever tried to question what counts as rape in a way unpalatable – but the cynic in me thinks the problem here is men trying to define rape at all, which sticks in the throat of some feminists. Perhaps this is justified, but I fail to see how. Some of the comments on a blog entry by Dawn Foster, for the F for Philistine blog, call into question use of the word rape (this is what stung Andy Newman and John Band). See for example this comment by Soeren Passer:

Well described post and content.

But I disagree with you wholeheartedly – how can you justify that having sex willingly with someone, going on record that it was consensual and then still charge him with rape because you regretted your own actions? Sexual misconduct if you must press the issue of unprotected sex – consensual unprotected sex – and now that is being considered rape?

If a woman has the right to change her mind AFTER sex, then the man should have the option of deciding whether an accidental pregnancy should be aborted without input from the woman…. ponder that for a second.

I know that is an extreme and completely irrational example but so is being able to charge someone with rape because the woman regretted having consensual sex days after it happened. Remember that both women are on official police record stating that all the sex was consensual.

The reason people are so busy acquitting him for rape is because THERE WAS NO RAPE. To state otherwise is basically admitting stupidity.

Also one of the women has a blog and on this blog she posted a guide who to use the Swedish laws to charge someone with fake rape. That is just facts and from the “horse’s own mouth” so to say.

Let me be clear – I think real rape is unforgiving and I cannot imagine the horrors rape victims go through – but to call what happened between Julian Assange and the two women rape is belittling the real victims of rape.

This is the point at which leftist men might “sell out”. While trying to say this is a smear from the US, they feel almost obliged to call into question the rape allegations, in order to fit the narrative. Not necessarily in a way that questions “female accounts” – we’re not in a Saudi court here – but in a way that wonders whether there has been US intimidation involved, or something similar.

My own conclusion is as follows: it is bad timing, all true, but due process is so very important. Perhaps it’s not below the US to do something like this, perhaps the women filing an allegation are telling porkies or have changed their mind, perhaps Swedish law has some homework to do. Perhaps. We simply do not know. Making these facile little narratives add up to each other is a task not worth falling out with each other about. For reasons I have mentioned, I don’t think feminist men eventually sell out women in the end, this could be geared towards other compulsions we have, and not just feminist men, everyone, and that is desiring a narrative that fits. Lets all keep our hair on, and not fall out about this. Really.

How to define Phillip Blond politically

Yesterday has proved to be the day when Conservative Party managers, including Steve Hilton, turned their back on the Red Tory Phillip Blond for what they call his “progressive nonsense” (something Guido the un-chido is delighted about [h/t Richard].

On twitter this has kickstarted the conversation on where to place Blond on the political map – a task most people will agree is very difficult (unless of course you are Paul Sagar).

On 1 July this year I had the good fortune to interview Mr Blond, with my then colleague Katy, for an in-house magazine I was working on. The subject matter was how to revise the social care system now that the public sector was undergoing a fiscal tightening, and in particular whether Blond felt there was a case for public spending as a means of investing for the future. We did get sidetracked a number of times, but mainly we stayed on task.

I mentioned a spending strategy to him known as spending to save, something popularised recently in a New Economics Foundation report entitled Backing the Future – where it is mentioned that more spending and investment in children and young people could potentially save the UK £486 billion in the future. Blond replied that “As a rule public expenditure is very hard to, as it were, use revenue expenditure in the way that has a capital effect, if you see what I mean, because this is in fact capital expenditure, but in a social framework”.

Blond continued: “We haven’t yet really, in terms of the state, found a way to capitalise, if you like, or put into the capital expenditure stream, money that come, that we have to fund in an income way, so there’s always a hill or a mountain that requires financing, and that’s what in essence tends to prevent these things happening.” In keeping with Blond’s vision, to recapitalise the poor so they can enjoy asset-wealth and a long term savings culture, it is his contention that the state and it’s expenditure has little chance of having an effect on capital creation, but worse than that, in essence money that comes into being through income seldom finds itself in the capital expenditure stream. It sounds as though this is inherent to public expenditure, and since that is in conflict with Blond’s overall project, it may be the case that the future of capitalism for him leaves the state in the shadows.

One of the things that gains Blond the label “progressive” is his insistence on spreading out, and decentralising capital, in order that whole communities don’t suffer generations of poverty. Really, Blond despises the fact that wealth stays at the top, and makes no bones about saying as much. On the subject he told me that “[i]f you look at manufacturing there is no lending to manufacturing in this country, inordinate percentages of our lending goes into private residential housing stock, rather than into creating the business infrastructure for private sector growth. So the key thing would be to stop the centralisation of capital, and the state insurance function, the state has helped to centralise capital by insuring investment banking activity, and by insuring investment banking activity, what they do is lose the risk for investment, but of course capital goes to where there is the highest return, the greatest degree of security, if the government insures your activity, your speculative activity, then you’re in a win-win situation, which is what they are doing.”

The problem of the state here, for Blond, is twofold; 1) the state helps the centralisation of capital; 2) it secures dodgy speculative activity. His solution: remove the state insurance function – it is no good for private sector growth and centralises capital, thus puts up barriers to the recapitalisation of the poor.

I asked Blond whether he felt the economy could afford a spending model based on the spend now save later? Blond firmly replied: “I mean no one in the world, anyone serious, thinks you can have an economy run by the public sector. Who thinks that? Not even Karl Marx thought that. And the reason you can’t, is that the public sector itself is not a generator of wealth. It’s a maintainer of wealth, but it is a good that needs other good to come with it, and the goods to come with it, all predicated on the back of private sector growth. Unless you can have private sector growth, you can’t generate the taxes, the tax base, you won’t reduce unemployment, you can’t do anything. But you can’t finance yourself into a deeper hole and think that will deliver.”

At this stage you get the feeling that Blond doesn’t simply think the state is currently doing a bad job at harnessing private sector growth, but that the state in itself frustrates the very mechanisms the private sector was created to operate. In response to a question on whether we will ever be able to promote a spend to save model, post-recession, Blond reminds us that he is “just very doubtful of the role of the state in this country. I just don’t think it is an effective vehicle for anything really, or for anything very much. Often the state is left picking up the pieces of the destruction of civil society. The key decisive move is to have civil society to answer these problems, because civil society is a self-correcting entity, as soon as you associate you’re much healthier and much better things happen; the key task is to allow civil society take over from the state. Where a period in society where civil society and the state works, but that’s a different thing. So if you are in Denmark or Scandinavia where the state is an expression of a strong civil society, they can work much better together in a symbiosis. But we’re not in that position in this country, where in a position where the state and the market have both annihilated society, so we actually, as a precondition of an effective state, and an effective market, we need to rebuild association.”

He is obviously very romantic with regards to the state, but one is left wondering whether this symbiosis between state and market, which he speaks of here, is well considered at all. If Blond cannot see the role of the state in this country as an effective vehicle for anything, as well as slavishly clearing up the mess of the destruction of civil society, what worth for him is there in keeping state functions at all?

The state, for Blond, will only work, as he reminds me, “ on the basis on the sort of society I’m arguing for” – which is where it plays as little part in society as is possible.

Blond ends by saying “[t]he great agent of the creation of the poor is the state, and the market has been captured by oligarchs, or oligopolies and monopolies, which then follows rent-seeking behaviour, that essentially destroys the life chances of everyone else.” Blond uses unfamiliar rhetoric to many used to simple left/right divides, but essentially we can see where he is coming from; the state has been implicated in the concentration of wealth, just as much as markets have, which also favour vast riches within small elites.

The type of society Blond wants to see is one where capital is dispersed further – but in order to do this the state is a hindrance, not an example. It is no secret that Blond holds a social conservatism, in part related to his Christian world-view, in part as reaction to what he calls the social relativism of liberalism. Additionally, the state holds a romantic, symbolic place in society, but often frustrates the good society. For this reason there is an element to which he can be labelled a civic republican of sorts, but for me this doesn’t quite cut the mustard; I fear his dislike of the state’s functions goes a little further. Therefore in Blond I see a notable essence of paleolibertarianism – an amount which cannot be ignored.

Another important day for the student movement

It was quite clear from the start that students against cuts to higher education had many politicians to persuade, if not because those politicians were dyed in the wool cutters, but because there was a political game to be played. This is why Vince Cable said he would abstain from the vote. The fact that this game is failing may be why Cable will now see tuition fee reform through.

The game that John Hemmings, on the other hand, is playing is the one aptly named “silly beggars”. He wants to punish the students occupying his office by voting for tuition fees – perhaps irony fails him, but raising fees upwards of £9,000 a year, and slashing the teaching grant from higher education by 80% is punishing all students, as well as making sure some young people are put off higher education altogether.

The focus until now has been to persuade Liberal Democrat MPs on the vote. This excellent research piece by Tom Griffin, journalist and blogger on the Green Ribbon, shows the divide in voting intentions this Thursday, and proves just why student activists have put much of their attention towards them. On the other hand, against many of the odds, some Tory MPs are emerging from the woodwork to pledge their opposition to reform. As Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Starkey has said:

Whilst student anger has been focussed on Lib Dem MPs, it has been quietly forgotten that 4 Tory MPs also signed the pledge. By extraordinary co-incidence two of them were offered jobs as parliamentary private secretaries this week – Ben Wallace (Wye and Preston) – who had already U-turned on the issue – and Lee Scott (Ilford South). As recently as 13th November Lee said “I’ve never been one to sit on the fence…I’m not going to vote for a rise in tuition fees”. Will he stick to this now? Of the other two Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) seems to have gone back on his pledge and Bob Blackman (Harrow East) has gone very quiet on the subject.

Lee Scott MP received a lot of attention from opposition parties and student organisations when it appeared as if he’s waiver, but he told Redbridge Guardian that he “has never sat on the fence” and that he is “not going to be voting for a rise in tuition fees.” But the real excitement has come from David Davis MP tonight, who becomes the first senior Tory to say he will vote against changes. Sky News, who have just broke the story have said:

Davis “sent an email, which has been seen by Sky News, to a student which says: “I am going to vote against this proposal.”

The MP appears to tell the student to “save your time” and not bother lobbying him against the policy.

Laura Kuenssberg, the Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC News Channel, has asked whether “any of his colleagues join him?” The answer may well be yes. It is now incumbent upon the student movement to marry their lobbying of Lib Dems with similar work on Tories – once seen as a task not worth the energy. Furthermore, Jack Tindle, a second year Government and History student at the LSE, who said in a tweet that “A round of applause [greeted] the news that David Davis will vote against tuition fees” certainly gives the impression that students will not be short-sighted about who they choose to engage with – which is a different impression given by others who suggest anti-fee rise campaigners have been too picky with who they’ve sought support from.

Tonight will certainly be an important night for the student movement. Not only have art students from all over London began occupying the Tate (who now have support from Turner Prize winner Susan Phillips) but also the University College London Union – widely seen as the place to watch by activities on mobilisation and occupation – has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the occupation. Final results of which were: 252 in support; 59 against; 16 abstain.

It would be in bad taste to suggest that those 16 abstaining may be Lib Dems, so I’ll avoid that for now.

Update: The art students have now left the Tate, but not without a song! Plus, sign the Birkbeck petition.

Why student organisation could change this country for the better

Today, student activists occupying the Jeremy Bentham Room in UCL heard news that their court hearing, determining the future of their direct action, has been moved to Tuesday – a result that has been held as a victory for the movement, and an opportunity for extra planning and campaigning. Time will no doubt be spent devising action before next Thursday, when Parliament has the opportunity to vote on raising tuition fees.

Already the Liberal Democrats are being massively embarrassed by their dithering on the vote, Vince Cable receiving the most concerted kicking for his limp decision to abstain from voting, so as not to split the government – a point which which highlights their waning power feeding out of the LibDem portion of the coalition.

Phone calls made to Liberal Democrat MPs by the media group of UCL Occupation found that many are “undecided” or even “out of the country” on the day of the vote. Instead of becoming complacent at the attitude taken by many of these MPs, anger is rising at how these politicians, one time champions of free higher education, are going to be one of the main reasons why the vote could fail us.

As visits from other universities, trade unions and organisations have made clear, student uprising is not a single issue matter, it is a microcosm of the way people as whole feel in this country. When very rich investors like Warren Buffett remind us how tax cuts for the rich are unfair during times of austerity, we know things have taken a turn for the worst, and though it cannot be condoned, tension, anger and even violence will rise. What must be encouraged is that nobody takes the ideological cuts lightly, one thing visitors have reminded the occupiers is that they have been a massive influence on activism as a whole, and serve to remind all people that we don`t simply have to sit and watch while attacks on our economy are made.

It is worth pointing out that the scare notion of capital flight is the thing that generally provides justification for easing up on tax avoidance, gifts for the rich and very rich, as well as dilly dallying on transaction taxes or the bank levy. Yet cuts to the public sector are seen as comparatively easier to operate for right wing governments, because lesser off people tend to put all their income back into the national economy, as opposed to the privilege wealthier people have in spending, or even registering for tax purposes, internationally. However, what the mass mobilisation of the students are representing is that this comfort will now be short lived – already the Lib Dems are running scared, pulling out, as they have, from holding a conference in London.

Another consequence of student organisation is that the National Union of Students, and Aaron Porter in particular, is increasingly becoming seen as an irrelevence, or at worse, a hindrance. Students, who are directly affected by draconian cuts, are operating fantastically, but on a national level they need leadership. Soon there will be enough who agree that Porter is no longer fit to be that person, that realisation could be sooner than he thinks. If he doesn`t step up his game, and define his principles in a more coherent and consistent way, he will either have to quit or make the decision himself to take to the shadows.

Met Police begin profiling student protests (press release)

Press release from UCL Occupation

Yesterday’s student demonstration in London ended in a mass arrest of 144 people, being described by protesters and legal groups as an exercise in information gathering by Metropolitan Police.

After being surrounded by moving ‘kettles’ throughout the day, Police forced protesters back to Trafalgar square where at 6.20pm a Kettle was formed around the remaining people followed by their mass arrest for breach of the peace.

Ashley, who was inside the demo last night, said “The police took me from the kettle with another person to be searched and questioned in front of cameras. They told us that if we gave our details we would be released but after giving my name, address and date of birth I was arrested.”

She added, “These arrests are nonsense. It was just an excuse for the Met to find out my name, take my figure prints and look at my phone to see how these demos are organised.”

Another protester, who’s friend was trapped in the kettle in the snow for three hours before being arrested, said “I think what’s confusing the cops is how this is organised. They can’t seem to work out how these protests are happening and how to stop them and that’s why they feel the need to collect as much information on everyone as they can”

Green and Black Cross legal group supporting the demonstrations on the day report many incidents of undercover police officers, members of the Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), mixing with protestors in order to gain information. One member of the group reports seeing undercover police bringing out batons after protestors in Lewisham on Monday night attempted to enter the town hall during a council meeting on budget cuts.

Shane from Green and Black Cross said, “What we are noticing is a huge concentration of police resources being put into information gathering, especially around the student demos this month. The concern for us is that students, particularly school or college students, aren’t aware of this tactic and make it easy for the Police to monitor them by talking about everything they did or saw at the protests on Facebook.”

Green and Black Cross will continue to support the movement against the cuts in the aftermath of last night and for future protests.


For interviews:

Shane from Green and Black Cross Legal support 07804951217

The student protests: all rise, students

I’m sat, once again, in the Jeremy Bentham room at University College London, fortunately the activists here are able to enjoy relative relaxation, after the day they’ve had, with some music and cheap rosé wine.

While an important meeting takes place – which those of us not at liberty to know so, know nothing about – one of the occupiers sings about how Liberal Democrat voters were robbed by putting “Clegg in the cabinet”. This, as need not be mentioned, goes down rather well among students who have today braved the winter cold to tell the coalition government what they think of their crippling agenda.

I made my way down to Trafalgar square today at around half past two/quarter to three. I wasn’t part of a group at this stage so I was able to walk in quite quickly – groups of people found it far harder to operate around town. I’d seen tweets from protesters throughout lunchtime to say Oxford Street had been a safe place to run to when police tried to kettle protests before they started. Ingenious young things would sing their own protest songs outside flagship stores owned by tax avoiders, before Her Majesty’s Maladroit’s arrived to play in a round of cat and mouse – an activity it seems bright young things are better at than confused constabulary used to easy pickings.

When I started to walk towards the fountain, crowds of angered students congregated on the other side of the National Gallery, as well as a smattering near Nelson’s Column. No sooner that I walked towards the stairs some protesters emerged as if to come from Tesco via Charing Cross Waterstones (this post may rely on Central London knowledge) – what I’m assuming is that some protesters were kettled in down there, and they got through, because the mood was particularly euphoric, as if they’d just been able to escape.

Lines of police tightened to block protesters getting through to Charing Cross Road, the crowd started to get a little packed which pushed myself and others towards the National Gallery. After a couple of moments the protesters moved sidewards to the left of the National Gallery, and it was at this point I realised all roads out of Trafalgar Square were being manned by police.

To the left of the National Gallery, police had managed to block protesters in a small circle. I came in from the other side and was unable to enter past. Within the small group a fire was set, fireworks let off, and beer cans flew. What it looked like to me, was that the police were trying to create small blocks within the kettled area of Trafalgar Square. This seemed to be for no other purpose than to arouse the tempers of those people (indeed tempers flew in the form of fireworks, some of which – sadly – were being launched at the police, causing one officer to dash off covering his eyes).

More than anything the kettling and blocking seemed to be a tactic to annoy people, and play silly games with them. Small pockets of people could leave the area if they chose to, which is standard practice to a kettling of this size, but mainly the crowd were limited to spaces opened up by the police – which usually led to another closed area. At no time were the protesters allowed to march in the designated area through Whitehall – and as Richard Seymour rightly put it “There’s no reason for this. They haven’t done anything illegal, hurt anyone or damaged anything. They certainly didn’t ‘riot’. But the police are exacting revenge, punishing the protesters. This is what kettling is for.”

A picture captured by the Daily Mail shows a man being taken to the ground by a police officer – unprovoked. The man in question is staying at the UCL tonight and I had the opportunity to catch up with him. At a site near to the one agreed for protesters to march down, lines of police sped into a group of innocent objectors to cuts to the EMA and University fee increases. The man just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was rugby tackled by a policeman for no reason. These are the sorts of tactics carried out by police to deter people from expressing their right to protest and it must be counteracted – and people are seeing right through it. All support to the students.




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