For those of you who’ve followed the recent student protests in Britain over the rise of university tuition fees, their somewhat violent nature may have come as a surprise.
The Britain of today is not renowned for being radical, the most disobedient Brits get is usually a one-day strike by tube (metro) workers. In fact, probably the only high point in recent years in terms of civil disobedience was in the run up to the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then up to two million people marched against the war in Iraq.
Despite being 100 per cent peaceful, and utilising all the legal avenues for dissent, Tony Blair’s government ignored the demands of his people.
During New Labour’s time in office, Blair’s government also increased university fees – the man who had set out “Education, Education, Education” as his election campaign heading – tripled the cost of those who wanted to continue in higher education.
Back then, students also marched against the proposals. Their demonstrations were also largely peaceful. Blair was consistent in his governing of Britain – he ignored them too.
Those two decisions (invading Iraq and trebling tuition fees) are arguably the single most important issues which brought about the collapse of New Labour.
Fast forward a few years and it’s 2010. You have a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. The Lib Dems brought into power to prop up a Tory government without whom it wouldn’t posses a working parliamentary majority.
As with New Labour, the Lib Dems are lead by a “young and dynamic leader” – Mr Nick Clegg. He too used the right to education prominently in his election campaign.
In fact, in the run up to last May’s parliamentary elections, the Liberal Democrats categorically stated that they would oppose ANY increase in university tuition fees. Furthermore they cosied up to the National Union of Students, and canvassed across university campuses. There is no doubting that the student vote won the Lib Dems several seats in parliament.
But power is a dirty, dirty thing. It gets to the mind and eats at the soul. No sooner had Mr Clegg, champion of the students, the man who would “keep the Tories in check” become deputy prime minister, than he forgot his most important campaign pledge.
But here’s the thing. Students and the wider British public shouldn’t be mad at Clegg or the Liberal Democrats. This isn’t their doing, they didn’t write the script to this tragic tale of the death of Britain’s education system. The first acts, the most important scenes were written by Tony Blair, New Labour and its youth wing – Labour Students. The Lib Dems just wrote its natural ending.
I still remember my days as a member of Britain’s National Union of Students’ executive committee. I remember the amount of times Labour Students blocked calls for national demonstrations or parliamentary lobbies to ensure that tuition fees would never be increased.
I remember how young wannabe career politicians within the Labour party hijacked the student movement and crippled it to the point it was incapable of dissent. That same organisation – Labour Students – now has the gall to call foul, when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are doing EXACTLY the same thing Blair did – tripling tuition fees once again.
There was a time in Britain when politicians did what they said they would, and didn’t do what they promised the wouldn’t. Margret Thatcher never hid her politics, as despised as she was, you got what you saw.
But then came New Labour and the age of the (B)liars. They polluted Whitehall and British politics, and unfortunately the people never punished them strongly enough. Power was no longer a means to serve the people, people became a means to reach power.
Nick Clegg is just a product of this devastating legacy. What’s at stake today is far greater than the right to an education (as seismic as that is). The question that must be asked of Brits today is, will you allow this legacy to continue, or will you cleanse Downing Street of career politicians who say one thing and do the complete opposite?
The students of Britain have spoken, what does the rest of the country have to say?