Saturday, December 11, 2010


This account of the recent protests against tuition fee increases in the UK is fascinating, especially given its source: the Economics editor of the BBC's flagship current affairs program, Newsnight.
Any idea that you are dealing with Lacan-reading hipsters from Spitalfields on this demo is mistaken.

While a good half of the march was undergraduates from the most militant college occupations - UCL, SOAS, Leeds, Sussex - the really stunning phenomenon, politically, was the presence of youth: bainlieue-style youth from Croydon, Peckam, the council estates of Islington.

[. . .]

When there are speeches, the university students often defer to the working class young people from sixth forms, who they see as being the main victims of the reform. With the Coalition's majority reduced by 3/4, as I reflected earlier, it is unprecedented to see a government teeter before a movement in whom the iconic voices are sixteen and seventeen year old women, and whose anthems are mainly dubstep.
I have no idea how accurate this account is--I'm a long way away from the protests myself--but it would be quite something it it were. The protests against the initial introduction of fees (which took place when I was at university) were nothing like this.

Meanwhile, the picture of Charles and Camilla's shock at being caught up in the melée, and their realization that they are perhaps not so insulated from ordinary people as they may hope, is quite extraordinary:

Frankly, this may be the only good reason to have a royalty still: to provide images such as this one.


Anonymous said...

<span>paul mason is actually a pretty awesome labor journalist. his latest:</span>

Simon Pawley said...

I was at the back of the march, so didn't see much at all of what was going on at the front in terms of confrontations. My understanding was that the organizers had agreed a route with the police which would take the march past parliament. The police say that protesters refused to move past parliament, gathered in Parliament Square, deviating from the agreed route, which proves that at least some were intent on violent confrontation. Paul Mason reported (either in his Newsnight package, or when he was speaking live to BBC News 24 in the afternoon, I saw both and can't remember which) that when the march reached Parliament Square, it had "nowhere to go." That is a small space for 20 to 30000 people, and it is no great surprise that fences were torn down. Speaking live that afternoon, Mason reported that no efforts had been made to destroy property, even though implements with which to do so (dismantled fencing etc) were lying on the ground all around him. 

As for composition, there were many teenagers from around London, making up a substantial proportion of the protesters. There were many students as well (and it is worth noting, though the media rarely has done, that anyone who has already begun their degree won't be affected by the fee rise, so clearly the issue goes beyond narrow self-interest). There was a palpable sense (which could be gathered from watching news) among many of the younger protesters that narrow and limited educational opportunities were being taken away from them, a real sense of betrayal at the sense that having been promised that if they worked hard at school, they could go to university and make a better life for themselves, and that £9000 fees would make it impossible for them to do so. 
The fact that the rise in fees is so dramatic seems to have united teenagers from very deprived backgrounds with those from middle-class families who are hardly poor, but for whom the prospect of graduating with £50k worth of debt is not a financial risk they feel able to take. What happens now depends on whether this sense of unity is maintained, and on whether it can find a point of focus in another issue now that the Commons vote on fees has passed. A delay in passing the bill by the Lords could trigger further action on a large scale, although universities' long Christmas holiday might scupper efforts at major mobilization.
It could all fizzle out, but if it does, I think the result will be a huge swathe of young people who feel deeply disenfranchised, with little reason to suppose that applying themselves to study and work (much less politics) will really bring them any benefit.

Jon said...

I had no idea about Paul Mason; thanks for the link and the information.  (I quite liked Evan Davis, previous Economics reporter for Newsnight, but clearly he was at best uninterested in labour issues.)

And Simon, thanks for your account of things.  I have been trying to follow what's been going on, and the relationship between students and non-student teenagers is one of the more interesting developments.

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing.