Friday, 10 December 2010

Tuition Fees - Recent Demonstrations

Hi all

Given the publicity given to the recent student demonstrations I think that we probably need to address some of the wider philosophical and political issues associated with these events.

Please keep the conversation civil!

The real issue for me here isn't really about education at all - rather, the transfer of debts accrued by one generation onto another.

Therefore, it is important not to get too bogged down in the minutiae of the policy dimensions of the debate - for example, about the whether the university teaching grant was cut too much, or whether something else might have been cut instead. The question is why the cuts have had to be made at all and who we call to account for this.

In this way, we must feel some sympathy for the next generation of students - a generation that is likely to be somewhat less affluent and have fewer opportunities than than the one preceeding it.

However, it is less easy to feel sorry for the majority of demonstrating students in narrow political terms. Most voted liberal democrat at the last election (alongside a number of academic staff, it must be said) and so politically these students have, in a sense, 'got what they deserved'.

This phenomenon - to vote lib dem as an expression of 'disaffected radicalism' - began in 2005; when a numerous students and academic staff voted lib dem as a protest against the Iraq war. This significantly reduced the labour majority and put the Tories within striking distance of government. This trend was repeated in 2010 - giving us in the end the new Tory-Lib dem coalition.

Why did this happen? Self interest? A loose concern with 'lib demish' humanitarian issues such a 'ecology' etc?. Perhaps a combination - I don't think that we can dismiss this phenomenon as simply a symptom of intellectual confusion and/or self-preoccupation. The best explanation for me is that it simply became 'fashionable' to do so.....

Overall, this is a hard lesson in economic and political realities for a new generation of people depolicitised by markets and distracted by the media.

Welcome to the real world!



  1. Although there is a hint of a Lib Dem vote being 'fashionable', I'm not entirely sure that that was necessarily the main cause for students/lefty lecturers voting for them.

    What it seems to be really is that the Lib Dems were seen as something of a slightly lefty 'conscience' on the Labour Party and therefore people who became disaffected with Labour's doings automatically defaulted to the Lib Dem camp.

    What this really was however was a shying away from political issues as no-one ever dreamed that the Lib Dems would ever see power again, so people could happily vote for the Lib Dems and know that that if bad things were to happen, their consciences would be clear, safe in the knowledge that they had nothing to do with it.

    The problem is that the Lib Dems aren't just a bin for hopeless leftists hoping to thrust their heads into the sand while still attempting to save a shred of dignity by still being able to say 'well at least I voted'. The Lib Dems are full of aspiring career politicians who, after the 90 or so years of not having power, will do anything to get power and be remembered for something, anything, just something to prove they're not entirely impotent.

    The problem is the image of what the Lib Dem voters thought their party was and what it really is are totally different. We have to realize that they all actually loved it and wished it was somewhat true when at the Lib Dem conference Vince Cable came out and, jokingly, called the conference 'Friends, Comrades!'. Instead of that they got this political reality, and as much as the coalition is something to despise, there is a millimeter thick silver lining in being able to laugh at Lib Dem voters who attempted to run away from politics.

  2. A trade union bureaucrat11 December 2010 at 00:12

    It's not true that all Lib Dem voters were grumpy lefties. Many were genuinely middle of the road "can't vote for either of the two parties" type voters.

    But whatever anyone's reason for voting Lib Dem the reality has come crashing home now. The real problem for the Lib Dems is more the broken pledge than the actual policy issue of tutition fees. At the next election the obvious question at any hustings for all Lib Dems is "what are your pledges to the electorate and which ones will you be breaking?"

    There is perhaps a philosophical question about political promises and when it is ok to break them.

    And there is also an existential question. If the Lib Dens existed primarily for disaffected voters, given the past 6 months, what is the purpose, value or meaning of the Lib Dems?

  3. Well, the Lib Dems have always found it hard to find a real voice as they are the third party. This means that they can't just be the opposition but actually have to be creative enough to stand FOR something.

    They can't just be a negative to the other party as Labour and the Conservatives already have those positions, the Lib Dems needed to think of positive reasons to vote for them.

    What the Lib Dems tried to do at the last election however was to attempt to become the 'other' to the two main parties together, to lump the two main parties together under one label as 'old politics', therefore allowing the Lib Dems to be the alternative.

    Their campaign was one of 'old' vs 'new'. Against the old broken promises of the old politics, they could provide a new alternative. It was almost a meta-message about the nature of the 'old politics' as a whole, and the Lib Dems were the new, fresh alternative to a run down system of corruption, lies and despair.

    Unfortunately the Lib Dems in power have quickly forgotten what they ran for, why they did it, why that made them something of an alternative and why that gave them purpose. So when they abandoned that position they lost the point of themselves, thereby positioning themselves as wholly useless. You're exactly right when you say that as the lib dems were the alternative to those disaffected with the 'old politics', however it has yet to be seen how they will attempt to regain a purpose.

    This, as well as amply illustrating my point, also shows exactly how easy an attack on the Lib Dems will be at the next well as something of a chuckle...never forget...

  4. However this 'disaffected' vote that the Lib Dems managed to garner was a running away from politics.

    I have to pick you up when you stated that Lib Dem voters were 'genuinely middle of the road "can't vote for either of the two parties" type voters'.

    I think there is a hint of contradiction there when you state that Lib Dem voters are both positively in favour of a middle road yet also only voting Lib Dem because they can't vote for the other two: Surely either you truly believe positively in the middle of the road approach (although the cigarette paper's distance between the two main parties would make it more of an tightrope than a middle road)or you're disaffected with the two main parties, not both.

    There would possibly be a case for the middle of the road Lib Dems if there was a big gap between the two parties and they were both too extreme to vote for, however they broadly occupy the same ideological position, it's more a question of 'effective management' than ideological differences.

    Therefore I think that the Lib Dems were running on a ticket of disaffected running away from politics, that's why they ran as an alternative to the 'old politics' and that is why it will be very hard for them to find a voice again, as their last voice was grounded in 'trust'.

  5. I think I'm in danger of sounding a little naive here, and maybe I am, but I'll give it a go anyway...

    Shouldn't we wait and see what the effects of raising tuition fees are before we start complaining about them?

    I don't mean to say that we shouldn't be proactive when something is going wrong but just that all the media hype surrounding the fees changes at the moment, saying 'only rich families can afford to send their children to university now' only serves to scare off those potential students that we are all claiming to be trying to help!

    I think that there will still be funding available for undergraduates that they will pay back at a rate dictated by their post-graduate income, so all the tuition fees increase really serves to do is make people think more about their futures, what sort of work they want to be involved in and whether or not a degree will ultimately prove a viable investment. Or rather this is all it should serve to do but as long as people keep on talking about how no one can afford to go to university anymore that is what'll happen.

    This is another fine example of poor public information. There was a government radio add campaign running this summer about motor insurance. It said 'Tim was one of the good guys. He worked hard, always payed his taxes, always took a holiday. Then the recession hit! Money got tight for Tim and he thought he wouldn't pay his motor insurance to save money. Now Tim is in prison and he still had to pay his motor insurance! You have to pay motor insurance, it's the law.' That is really how it went, I couldn't believe it. Nobody has to pay motor insurance, only people who want to drive a car have to. The advert should be 'Recession hitting hard? Sell your car, try walking.' I just really don't think this kind of campaign helps anyone. It just makes people who are rightly worried about money even more worried about money, when it would be much better to help people think creatively around their problems.

  6. Good comments all round I think. I pretty much agree with everyone this time!

    1. Yes, the Lib Dems did position themselves as the authentic voice of a 'radical and independent conscience' - but it was a conscience that was/is profoundly shaped by the intellectual fads and fashions of the time. Hence today all the fashionable nonsense in lib dem circles about having to appear 'progressive' and so on - what does this amount to other than a certain radical posturing?

    So there is no problem in viewing a certain constituency of Lib Dem voters as driven by radical chic rather than intellectual substance. It is just that here chic takes an intensely pious and moralising form.

    Yes, some Lib Dems do view themselves as distinct and distinctive - a real third alternative I would say around 50% fall into this category. However, 50% are what might be term 'conscientious objectors' from the other two parties. This constituency has grown significantly in recent years - and the recent electoral successes of the lib dems has be been down to their ability to recruit this type of voter.

    Finally, yes - all this rhetoric about students not being able to got to university, being put off etc, is not helpful or accurate. They said this last time when the fees were last raised - but more students applied than ever before. It just creates a negative climate opinion around universities etc - not good PR in the long run.

    The real philosophical issue is whether we should believe in politicians at all. Isn't political discourse inherently duplicitous? Wasn't Plato right all along in pointing this out?

    Why did people believe Clegg when he said 'I am different, you can trust me'? It really is quite odd; naive and wishful. I guess, overall, that this is the main effect of political fashion (and perhaps all fashion) - 'regression' and the infantilisation of electorate.


  7. I can definatley sympathise with Rob, I think that we should wait to see the effects of raised tuition fees. Many people are coming to Uni just because they can, they dont take it very seriously, finish up with a 3rd or a 2:2, to only realise that they cannot get any work in the area of their degree, and so end up either in lots of debt, unemployed or doing a job they could have done if they left school at 16, and would be in a 'better' position if they had done so, from promotions.
    I agree that it is sad that many people won't be given as much encouragement or oppurtunities as others; but also think its sad that at the moment many people are coming to Uni and treating it as a joke, when theres lots of people who would give anything to be in their place!

    As Rob said, there will still be finances available, it just a matter of how determined you are to do something, and whether you will go to grow and flourish, or to get pissed and be lazy.