Friday, 10 December 2010

The children of the conned liberals

Yesterday I took part in my first ever tweet storm.

Together with several of my followers and followees, I tracked and quoted my way across the landscape of the fees debate, the vote and the demonstrations.

For hours we pulled together quotes, opinions and live updates from MPs, demonstrators, observers and journalists into multiple feeds which attempted to assemble together the ground up and top down views of the event.

From views we agreed with to views we found despicable, the tweets flowed in.
The topics of discussion ranged from clashes with advocates of violence against the protestors, to concern for those trapped and held in the kettles, to choice sound bites from politicians. Gradually, events unfolded in a glut of information, opinion and action.

When it came time for the vote, my twitter world held its collective breath, though few held out much hope that the vote would come out in favour of the students.

They weren’t wrong.

Support for the proposal was slashed, but the vote passed the motion with a majority of 21, with 25 abstentions.

The clashes between police and protestors had been escalating all day. Alarming was spreading as the tactics used by the police become more and more questionable. Protestors, peaceful and violent alike were being held in kettles by the police, panic spreading through the crowds and injury reports flowing in. Fires were being lit and property was being damaged. Mounted police were charging the crowds, sending people fleeing for their safety, in scenes that sent shockwaves of horror resonating through observers.

After the results were announced, things seemed to be get worse. Protestors were held in kettles for extended periods of time and then funnelled through identification check points. Violent minorities began to really lay into private property and the tweets about police preventing medical treatment began to catch our attention.

Then Charles and Camilla arrived - wrong place, wrong time. A tiny number of violent demonstrators saw a target and took aim.

I woke up this morning fully expecting the press to be awash with clashes between protestors and police, reports about damage to property and condemnation of violent action, but I genuinely believed the focus would have been on the vote. Go on, call me naïve again.

However, I was shocked by the general decision by the press to lead with Charles and Camilla.

No headlines highlighting the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats and their failure to represent the liberals and the youth vote that had put them in power.
Neither was there any headlines highlighting the disproportionate use of force by the police. The disabled protestor pulled from his wheelchair, the bloodied heads, the charging horses, the kettling.

The head of the Met claimed that these measures were in response to protestors not sticking to the agreed route, but who had agreed this route? The NUS? This wasn’t an NUS protest, this was a diverse group of people, teachers, parents, students, objectors that had come together to show their condemnation of the coalition governments proposal.

In my opinion the media has missed the key message of these events. It has played down the actions of those that are supposed to protect the public but have protected the government, choosing instead to focus their coverage on the actions of the violent few who could no longer contain their anger and disappointment.

I am not going to apologise for this minorities actions.

I do not and will never condone violent action.

However, please, for the love of everything this country is supposed to hold dear, tell the story of the protestors.

Tell us the stories from the people inside the kettles, held against their will, without charge, for hours in the freezing cold.

Tell us about how peaceful demonstrators were denied medical treatment and funnelled through identification check points.

Tell us where the student representatives were. What was there part in these protests? Where was Aaron Porter?

Tell us about the abstainers who could have swung the vote.

Tell us about the broken promises of the people that we trusted and voted into power.

Tell us about the commendable actions of the many, instead of focusing on the deplorable actions of the few.

Don’t tell us about the brief involvement of icons of a generation that is no longer relevant.

Above all, tell us about how the Liberal Democrats have sold out to gain power and sentenced the next generation to crippling debt and an education system that will be even more class based and inaccessible to those from low income backgrounds than it already is.

Tell us about how this is going to condemn our children.

The children of the conned liberals.
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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Education is a right, not a privilege - or obligation?

So back in 2002 we were protesting against top up fees.

Now, eight years later we're protesting against further increases in fees.

The arguments are essentially the same. Higher costs price lower income students out of an education they have a right to.

"Education is a right, not a privilege", that’s what we were chanting back in 2002. I still believe this, but it has taken me a while to get behind the current round of protests.

To begin with, I had a Tory boy moment and decided that, as long as the extra money did find its way back to the students in the form of better facilities and increased amounts of contact time, and then it was probably going to be a good thing in the long term.

Students and parents of the current university bound generation would struggle, yes, but the following generations would just have to accept that they would have to save over a longer period and grants need be provided to help the lowest income families.

Spiralling student debt would be offset by higher repayment thresholds and variable interest rates, it all seemed to make a vague amount of sense to me.

Sarah Teather MP addressing a Liberal Democrat...Image via Wikipedia
So, maybe this is the rationale for Sarah Teather and co abandoning their belief that "All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities", (from her maiden speech to the house of commons).

But seeing as this appears to be quite an epic swing, it would be nice if we could get some clarification on why they changed their positions, Teather in particular. Does Teather believe that there will be enough support systems in place that 'lower income families' will not be excluded? Or has she just abandoned them? I don't think the latter is true, but then I've been called naive more than once.

Unfortunately, we don't have an answer yet, and if this clip is anything to go by, we're going to have to wait until she's had adequate time to prepare a well composed, perfectly spun piece to camera to clarify her position.

Again with the naivety, I voted Lib Dem because I thought, ha, that it might mean a different kind of politics, but it appears that getting into bed with the Tories means you start playing the bedroom games their way. Kinky.

After seeing the demonstrations, the occupations and reading blogs and articles a-plenty, my opinion has been somewhat swayed. Not because I think that an increase in fees is itself a bad idea, but because I have very little confidence that the money will find its way to the students in any kind of real beneficial way.

I have never been a supporter of target based policies; 50% of school leavers going to University was always, in my opinion, a poor vision. I would support a policy that sees the people who are going to benefit from a degree going to university, supported financially, socially and where necessary, educationally, to do so.

I don't think that university should be for 'smart' people. I think it should be for those that want to learn, whatever their ability level.

I don't think that university should only be for those that can afford it, whatever the institution they want to go to. All students should have equal opportunity to access the best resources, with entry requirements being merit based, not financial.

I don't think that university should be the assumed natural next step after school. Most students would benefit greatly from working first, finding out whether a degree is actually going to be of benefit to them, before investing the time and money only to end up in a job that they could have worked their way into, earning along the way rather than accruing debt.

I was 21 when I went into university. Not a mature student really, but that extra two years, working in a call centre, cemented in my mind that if I wanted to achieve the things I had planned for myself, University was the way forward.

Now, many years later, after getting my degree, working in a bar for a year, I'm studying for a masters. My debt is spiralling, but I am still confident that it is a good investment.

Maybe the levels of debt proposed by the coalition government might put people off going to University, but for those who need to and for those that really want to I don’t think it will deter them.

I worry about a class based education system, but then do we not have one of those now anyway? Look at the Oxford and Cambridge students. Look at the top ten universities. Tell me we don't have a class based system.

Look at the schools these students come from, their parent’s socio-economic status, their cultural capital. Tell me we don't have a class based system.

I don't want to be an apologiser for the Lib Dem sell outs; I do think they have sold out on fundamental values, but maybe if they would talk to us, explain why they've changed their position, justify the increases, give us some sort of assurance that the support will be there and the funds will reach the students, we might be a bit happier to sell out too.
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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Freedom of speech, freedom of information, always. No exceptions.

Logo used by WikileaksImage via Wikipedia
So it would be foolish of me to assume that everyone knows what’s going on at the moment with WikiLeaks, so here's an incredibly brief summary.

Julian Assange, Australian, has published leaked diplomatic cables that have embarrassed to say the least, diplomats around the world. Chief suspect for passing the quarter of a million documents to WikiLeaks is Pembrokeshire born American Pvt, Bradley Manning.

Congressman Mike Rogers has called for Pvt Manning to be put to death as a traitor, as have former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and ex-Pentagon official KT McFarland. They claim that this release of documents have put American lives at risk and have damaged national security.

I am yet to see any evidence that any lives have been lost because of these leaks, though it is far too early to say that none will be.

I have seen evidence of corruption, torture and heinous mistakes.

There are also calls for Julian Assange to be assassinated from the Washington Times Jeffrey Kuhner and from Canadian official Tom Flanagan (even if Flanagan claims his remarks were in jest - we all remember Gareth Compton don't we?).

I am outraged by this.

Information should be freely available to all. On any subject, no matter how embarrassing it may be to the diplomats and government officials involved.

Now before you call me naive, I recognise that these documents contain very sensitive information that will have a direct impact on world politics and could potentially lead to awful situations.

That does not negate the fact that contained within these documents is information that the public have a right to be aware of.

We should know what our governments are doing in our name and we have an absolute right to decide given all available information, whether we are going to support our leaders in their actions.

If the governments don't want events like WikiLeaks to happen, they should take pre-emptive measures and either release this information themselves or not undertake activities which they fear the public finding out about.

This is a very hastily written post. And yes, I am an idealist. But surely if governments aren't hiding things that the public will want to know about then people like Julian Assange wouldn't need to release, en mass sensitive documents that risk national security.

I have no interest in what diplomats think about each other or the stupid things they say and do at dinner parties.

I have no interested in military operations that are secret but legal.

I AM interested in illegal, amoral and devious activities undertaken by our governments in our name, for our safety but without our consent our knowledge, and if the only way I can find out about them is through mass releases of sensitive documents like this, then so be it.

As for anyone who tries to assassinate Julian Assange or execute Pvt Manning, they'll have to come through me and the hundreds of thousands of supporters that they have.

The world is watching.
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