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.


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