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We failed in 2002, but this time it’s different; there’s real anger


1:00 pm - November 13th 2010

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contribution by Matt Bolton

Just before heading down to the Millbank protests on Wednesday, I read a couple of interesting tweets. One was from @_richardking, was works at Domino Records. He wrote: “Hats off to everyone marching today, especially young people – showing the innocent smoothie generation how it’s done”.

The other was from @wdjstraw of Left Foot Forward: “Good luck everyone on #demo2010. We failed u in 2002/3 when Lab introduced top up fees.” Will was one of the leaders of the student protests against the introduction of fees in 2002 – protests that I attended, and which I left thoroughly disillusioned.

Innocent Smoothies was founded in 1998, and although I didn’t go to university until 2001, I still pretty much fall into the generation King was talking about. And I was certainly one of the people who ‘failed’ today’s students in 2002.

I remember the soggy march through London to Kennington Park, and the feeling that this was all a sorry charade. I remember looking around at my fellow marchers and doubting their motives for being there, and then in turn doubting my own motives. Halfway through the march, as it snaked past council tower blocks in Lambeth, I couldn’t hack it any longer, and left.

Ostensibly, the main thrust of the 2002 protest was that fees would deter poorer students, undoubtedly a commendable political aim. But my experience of meeting students in that period made me more cynical. I went to Cardiff – a decent enough, middle-ranking university. After a couple of years there, two things stuck in my mind. One, the number of cars parked on the streets all over Cathays, the main student area, during term time. Nearly all belonged to students: these were not poor people. Second, the complete lack of political engagement from the vast majority of the student population.

Cardiff couldn’t even scrape a full coach load of students for the 2002 march. In total, between 5-10,000 marched (maybe more, police estimates are notoriously low). Given the national student body at any one time numbers around 2 million, it would seem likely that Cardiff’s disinterest in politics was one that was replicated across the country.

The majority of the early noughties student body were apathetic in that singular way that only the truly pampered can be apathetic. An economy that grew through the entirety of our adolescence meant that we didn’t even have to think about our job prospects. Of course there would be work.

This luxurious state of affairs directly translated into the cutesy pie brand of capitalist conformity represented by Innocent Smoothies and the like. The message was ‘as long as we’re having a lovely time and we’re healthy and not harming anyone, what’s the problem?’

All of these issues were wrapped up in the consumer credit model, just a better, friendlier model – consumerism with a human face. They did not require any wider analysis of political or economic structures – even Iraq, which was an issue that was easy to separate from any wider socio-economic context.

It’s no coincidence that it was around this time that the hipster movement really started to gain momentum. This was and is a movement whose (admittedly sometimes) beautiful art and music not only signifies nothing beyond itself, but is actually defined by its lack of significance. An artistic world was created in which any expression which wasn’t ironically self-referential or obsessed with childhood became an embarrassment.

This kind of mood is not one that leads to people smashing windows, or storming political party offices. Nor is it one that governments find hard to ignore.

The contrast with the protests at Millbank Tower could not be starker.

It was as middle-class as ever, but there was a visceral undertow of resentment in that crowd that I had not felt before. The people at the front who were smashing windows, grappling with police, and scaling the roof were being supported by the thousands at the back – this was not the ‘extremist minority of outsiders’ that the NUS leadership and media is trying to portray.

And the signs and placards that were on display were not just about fees – there were messages of support for schoolchildren’s EMAs, and raging slogans denouncing the banks, the coalition government and the forthcoming demolition of the public sector.

This was not a protest of the ‘ethical consumer’. It was the protest of the furious dispossessed, defending not just their own status but an entire model of social organisation. It is an anger that is not a simulation, is not going away, and cannot be ignored.

My generation was mollycoddled, complacent and, ultimately, complicit – our happy position in a bloated economy ensured any sharp edges we might have had were sanded down to nothing. We helped to dump this generation in the mire, and it is the least we can do to join in the battle to get them out.

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Reader comments


This was the protest of the vile left, throwing a massive tantrum because you’re, once again being ignored for being obviously and stupidly wrong.

When children misbehave and throw tantrums, they should be punished but otherwise ignored.

“We failed in 2002, but this time it’s different…”

…yes, the Tories are in Government, so the left is free to be as self-righteous as it likes, and justify vandalism to themselves. There’s no real anger there, just priggery and the odious notion that the Government is illegitimate because not left, and should be unable to carry out its policy.

Just to show the difference between then and now, Cardiff took 7 or 8 coaches to Wednesday’s protest.

Good luck with your progressive cause.

In a time of national austerity, its only fair that graduates earning over 21k ask policeman, nurses and carers to pay for their worthless degrees.

I pity anyone who views education as worthless

The big problem is that this is being talked up as a big deal and impressionable middle and upper class kids who want to rebel are falling for it.

I don’t understand why method of payment is such a hot issue, seeing as they’ll have to pay it via taxes if not through fees.

Untill we start focusing on real issues and not trivial things like whether high earners should get child benefit or not, or should graduates pay easily payable tuition fees, we’re never going to improve this country.

5

You agree that David Beckham Studies is completely worthless of course. You also agree that the standard and value of many degrees is lower than in the past.

But if you want to pretened I said ‘education is worthless’ thats up to you.

8. the a&e charge nurse

[7] “You agree that David Beckham Studies is completely worthless” – maybe, but not quite as worthless as YOUR understanding of this development.

Staffordshire Uni offers a MODULE which looks at the relationship between footy and culture.
Prof Cashmore says, “We’ll be examining the rise of football from its folk origins in the 17th century, to the power it’s become and the central place it occupies in British culture, and indeed world culture”.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/694451.stm

Are you one of those ignoramuses who regards all forms of education as worthless unless it complies with some sort of apprenticeship model for the workplace?

Do you Tories ever bother reading the article or are those comment cut-and-paste jobs? Looks like the latter to me.

In a time of national austerity, its only fair that graduates earning over 21k ask policeman, nurses and carers to pay for their worthless degrees.

This fallacy really needs to be nailed down because it’s completely idiotic.

Thanks to progressive taxation – those public sector workers won’t pay more as a percentage of their income than, say, rich lawyers.

Though why not ask if policemen and nurses should be paying for massive nuclear submarines that won’t be needed? On balance, I think I’ll take education over Trident.

Secondly, those nurses, policemen etc will have children too, who will be deterred by the extremely high loans they’ll have to take out. Do you even care for that?

That aside, the point of the article is that – whether you Tories like it or not – there is a different level of anger this time around compared to 2002. There’s more coming.

Just to say i have worked and payed taxes all my life, so have my two son inlaws. my grandaughter and my grandson who are very cleaver and expect to go to university have now been told that they have no chance. where do working class families find this kind of money.

“where do working class families find this kind of money”

Perhaps understanding exactly what the proposed system actually entails should be made a condition of entry.

***You don’t have to find anything.***

You may in the future have to pay some or all of it back via 9% of earnings above £21,000.

@ Sunny Hundal – do you really think that a graduate having to pay £30 a month when they’re earning £25,000 per annum is really such a big deal?

Anyone who is smart enough to go to uni is surely not going to be put off if they’ve actually looked into the policy.

There is a rather dark irony in the fact that the most controversial coalition plans for the left wing media and bloggers have been higher earners not getting child benefit and graduates having to pay tuition fees that won’t burden them in the slightest.

As someone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s I remember the the feeling of resentment and real hostility towards the Tory governments attacks on workers and the unemployed. I was then fortunate enough to work through the prosperous 90’s and 00’s when as described above society was pampered. I can now feel those same hostile views returning, coincidence or what?

Even the alleged militant Bob Crow would have been seen as a moderate in the 80’s. You never had it so good but you better get ready for some real anger and feeling amongst the working classes who will once again be lost to a Tory generation of austerity and ideology.

14. the a&e charge nurse

[12] There is a rather dark irony in the fact that the most controversial coalition plans for the left wing media and bloggers have been higher earners not getting child benefit and graduates having to pay tuition fees that won’t burden them in the slightest – ahh, the implication that rich lefties are now whining because they are finally having to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for their kids education, yes, you’ve really captured the REAL reason why thousands of student trashed Tory HQ.

@ Sam

I think the figure is £60.00 per month for 30 years. There goes your child minding fees?

It is a bit of a scary time alright and I thought the opening post was a good one.
Six thousand a year for three years (in fees) would take ten years to pay off at 35 pounds a week extra in tax.

Is that too much of a deterrent? I’m not sure. And what happens when you chop and change jobs, and work abroad for periods? You only pay the money you owe in the years when you earn over 21 thousand in the UK? I can see people who are just over the 21K threshold, jacking in their jobs with a couple of months of the year to go and taking the 1,800 quid they would have to pay in extra tax to go backpacking with.

What it really all boils down to is the kind of society we want to live in. The tories have an I’m Alright Jack attitude when the lelft broadly see us as all supporting each other and sharing things more fairly.

To a tory with pots of cash the society we are being driven towards is fine. They can buy what they want with the money they love so much and not have to pay too much tax.

For the rest of us, the majority in all likelihood, we will face a struggle as one thing after another becomes inaccessible.

And the student fees? I don’t see why income tax shouldn’t do the same as the proposed graduate taxes. After all, we all benefit from the products of higher education.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for improvement in our tax system…

18. the a&e charge nurse

People talk about the £21k as though this figure was set in stone?
If things get worse (which is a distinct possibility) do you think it will be raised or lowered – in my opinion the £21k threshold (if the concept is embraced) will prove as reliable as one of Nick Clegg’s pre-election pledges.

@ Sunny Hundal – do you really think that a graduate having to pay £30 a month when they’re earning £25,000 per annum is really such a big deal?

It’s shocking how simplistic the right-wing mindset is. You don’t think people from poorer backgrounds will be dissuaded from education if they think it will bring massive debts? No one wants massive debts in the background and I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it even though I had only about 6000 in debt when I left uni.

Plus, you don’t know how they might have to support others in their family or what their circumstances will be. £9000 is a serious amount of money, and only a Tory would think that having that much debt, probably much more, will not put anyone off education.

Damon – it’s 9% of any amount *over* 21k, so it would be £15/month at 23k, £30/month at 25k, £67/month at 30k…

25k = approx £1600/month after tax and NI, so £30/month is less than 2% of take home pay.

OMFG!!! Take to the streets!!!

If the fees this year are 9k bet your bottom dollar they will be 15k soon .These are here to stay as Nick Clegg has stated “we have two partys with one policy”they were planing for fees two months before the election,he changed his mind about the deficit as well but forgot to mention that.He went on about fairness and a new kind of politics ,but he is just two faced .Danny Alexander trying to privatise English trees but gets his photo taken in Scotland with a protect our trees poster .They have won seats in parts of the country with the student vote ,no wonder the students are angry they feel let down and may never vote again ,cheers Nick
Andrew Edinburgh

22. Dick the Prick

‘ It was the protest of the furious dispossessed, defending not just their own status but an entire model of social organisation. It is an anger that is not a simulation, is not going away, and cannot be ignored.’

Ah, so young. I think you’ll find it can be completely ignored. As a Tory who graduated in 1996 i’m quite upset about it all but both Lab & Lib have given us total cover – we ain’t losing votes, here.

I quit directly after the election as I came to hate politicians and had become thoroughly disillusioned with the art of it all – making shit up just to see when & from whom it would get back to me (nice way to live your life, eh?) However, I think it’s pretty obvious students have been screwed and that’s that. The revelations today that the Libs had planned for it anyhow just goes to show – politicians have more in common with each other than they do with their electorate. You’ve been screwed – move on, it’s done.

It’s funny how Clegg and chums talk about the need to reduce the deficit because they don’t want to see future generations pay for it, but they’re more than happy to lumber the future generations with huge amounts of debt (that Tories predictably try to sugar-coat). The revelations today indeed will be a turning point I feel, at least previously LD activists who didn’t like this policy could say “Yes but we looked at the books once we got in and it turns out we had to make changes” – turns out Clegg and the LD hierachy had no intention whatsoever of sticking to their manifesto plans!

It was the protest of the furious dispossessed

There can not have been many students there, then.

It’s shocking how simplistic the right-wing mindset is. You don’t think people from poorer backgrounds will be dissuaded from education if they think it will bring massive debts? No one wants massive debts in the background and I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it even though I had only about 6000 in debt when I left uni.

Plus, you don’t know how they might have to support others in their family or what their circumstances will be. £9000 is a serious amount of money, and only a Tory would think that having that much debt, probably much more, will not put anyone off education.

So by that logic, if potential students from poorer backgrounds were told how much they’d have to pay in tax then that would put them off going?
The statist left always use the excuse that the world is so bewildering for poorer people that government should power to “protect” them. Well how about explaining that the tuition fees aren’t as daunting as they sound? Me and my 16 year old brother both come from low income background, and he was obviously quite upset at the thought of paying expensive tuition fees, but I explained to him that he’ll only be paying a small amount each month after he has graduated and is earning over £21,000 a year and he now realises that it’s no reason to stop him from going to uni like me.

The real tragedy will be if people assume they are priced out of uni, without looking at the facts, simply because they’ve listened to the statist left – whose beef is more to do with the fact their ideological belief is education should be paid for by the state, full stop.

26. alienfromzog

Seriously, if fees are £3000/year, do you really think that total debt at the end of a degree will be £9000?

Even the most frugal of students needs the occasional luxury such as rent, food and text books.

I left uni in 2005 (as a doctor) with over £20,000 of debt (and the most I had to pay in fees was £1100/year). I’m still paying if off and will be for a while yet – and I’m better paid than many graduates.

Not to mention that the devil, as always, is in the details – the interest rate will be critical. There are rumours of significant interest rates – which means that you have to be earning well above the supposed 21k threshold before you actually start reducing your debt.

Oh, and don’t tell me it’s purely psychological. When I applied for my mortgage, one of the factors I had to demonstrate was the size of my student debt.

This policy is both stupid and wrong.

AFZ

‘It’s shocking how simplistic the right-wing mindset is.’

Its not shocking at all. You want working people to pay more subsidies to graduates earning over 21k. The only alternative is you don’t want any additional university funding. That is quite possible as I note you are also a deficit denier and believe its progressive to saddle future generations with even greater debt.

You’re just going to have to face it, on these issues we are the progressives now. Tuition fees are the very definition of progressive taxation, where you only pay if you can afford it. You lot support progressive definition, but not when its Tory policy it seems.

25

Maintenance grants will rise from £2,906 to £3,250 for students from households earning less than £25,000.

Yet more evidence this is actually a progressive reform. I for one wont be crying that middle class NUS window smashers are going to get less subsidies!

29. Dick the Prick

@25 – Sam – ‘It’s shocking how simplistic the right-wing mindset is’ – sorry to give you a mini history lesson sunshine but this was a review commissioned by Labour over a policy brought in by Labour and this development has been surported by the Libs and a fair few Labs. I’m not sure the ‘right wing mindset’ has got anything to do with anything.

And why should I, as a simplistic right wing chap, give 2 hoots what Labour think or the left wing cliteratti?

You can’t blame Tories for being Tories – look in your own backyard before lobbing bricks into mine.

Welcome to being screwed by the baby boomers. They have turned looting into an art form for the last thirty years and now they want to loot you to pay for their retirement. They hold the real balance of power as your votes are not enough. They will remove everything that they themselves enjoyed in order that you finance their retirement. Can’t saddle future generations with debt you understand so we need to cut the deficit. See any pensioners losing benefits? The only politician to point out what is going on is the Tory, David Willetts. None of the other politicians will say anything because there it is a vote loser.

30

This is a fair point but it just demonstrates how unfair and useless universal welfare is. The same hypocrisy existed when Mr. Blair introduced the tuition fees.

The state should be investing in education as a top priority and not useless Trident missiles which will never be used. While China grows apace and invest in educating the Tories want to make education a minority privilege and throw the country back to the Dark Ages. In doing so we can never catch up.

2002 isn’t that long ago, so this is just the innocent smoothies wising up. Generational warfare always helps right wingers, not the left. The theft is coming from the upper strata, particularly finance capital not any particular generation. The victims are the working and middle class not any particular generation. Why does liberal conspiracy and the guardian allow all this spam from conservabots. They are deeply unpleasant to read.

The right are defecit decievers. Even after paying off the defecit the national
debt will still be 4 trillion so future generations have been saddled with debt for decades and will continue to be so. So the defecit will have very little impact on our overall debt. But hey what a great excuse to introduce ideology ?

Well done Matt and good luck for the future. I reckon we’re the same age, give or take a year or so, and you’re right that the anger on display now is different from the motivation of activists from earlier in the decade. Ideas like fair-trade and human rights became big things at university, but these concerns were largely met by acquiescent university management. Politically, students were as interested in the world as ever, but the normal channels were felt to be more than enough to deal with issues. So the student union would become fair-trade, and Amnesty would be able to screen films about human rights abuses, get a big crowd for it, and that was felt to be enough.

A very large section of students had jobs, and so the student world and the ‘outside’ (ie. ‘real’) world blended in a way it perhaps hadn’t for previous generations (who had received free tuition and grants, even unemployment benefit over summers – seems unbelievable now!). I think this gave rise to the feeling that the campus, the student world, wasn’t so removed from every day life, so the privileged position past generations had where campus movements could occupy such a large proportion of time was lost. Add to this the fact that getting a credit card was easy (so debt was much more normalised), fees to be paid were comparable with (frugal) living expenses, and the debt for uni was just another part in the long list of debt we already had, debt that was part of ordinary life for almost everybody.

The anger expressed on Wednesday was based on many things, but definitely in this mix was the feeling that the state of the economy, with part-time jobs being difficult to come by, and graduate jobs being practically non-existent, being asked to take on such inordinate levels of debt is just ridiculous. And the normal channels of complaint won’t work – the Lib Dems pledged to abolish fees, and now in government they’re doing the extreme opposite.

Making it worse is the well-known fact that it’s a cabinet of millionaires forcing this onto us!

Also – the idea that it’s £9k is not true. It’s £9k now, and it’ll rise year on year faster than inflation. What’s to stop it becoming £20k?

I remember being on marches and seeing people with placards saying, “Keep the Cap” [on tuition fees]. By time you’re arguing to keep a limit on it, you’ve lost principle argument. Once you accept a policy such as this, the only way is down.

35. barry

‘ The anger expressed on Wednesday was based on many things, but definitely in this mix was the feeling that the state of the economy, with part-time jobs being difficult to come by, and graduate jobs being practically non-existent, ‘

That is not borne out by the data, Barry. No one would deny that it is a challenging labour market. However, it is no worse for graduates than previous recessions and there are more of them now. In contrast, young people without qualifications are really struggling to find employment.

‘ Those with few qualifications have suffered more than other groups, according to Jonathan Wadsworth, an economist at the LSE. Nearly 30 per cent of those without A-levels were unemployed at the worst point in this recession, he calculates, compared with 20 per cent in the previous two.

By comparison, graduates at the worst point of the downturn had about the same chance of being without work as in the past – about 11 per cent – despite a deeper recession and larger numbers. ‘

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbc93828-eaa6-11df-b28d-00144feab49a.html#axzz15ByphBAC

cjcjc

– it’s 9% of any amount *over* 21k, so it would be £15/month at 23k, £30/month at 25k, £67/month at 30k…

Really? Then it’s not such a big deal after all. Anyone on 30k can’t cry too much at losing about 50p an hour. They’re still on a great hourly rate compared to a lot of people (like me).

According to this money website:

We asked data analyst Moneyfacts to calculate how long it would take a graduate to repay their debt.

We assumed they start on a salary of £21,000 and get a pay rise of 3% every year. To calculate the rate of interest, we set RPI at 2%.

Using these figures, Moneyfacts calculated that graduates with a debt of £43,500 would never repay all their loan. Instead they would repay £33,217, but much of this would be interest. And, as a result of further interest added to the loan, £73,659 would be wiped off after 30 years.

If tuition fees were £7,000, then the same graduate may have a total debt of £37,500. Using the same calculation repayments would be the same, but the amount written off would be £56,199.

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/savings-and-banking/student-finance/article.html?in_article_id=518001&in_page_id=52

So really, ex-students will just have a different tax code.

Is it true that the UK has debts of £4.8 trillion – about £77,000 for every man, woman and child in Britain? That was the alarming claim on a Channel 4 programme the other night.

“The majority of the early noughties student body were apathetic in that singular way that only the truly pampered can be apathetic.”

People from our generation aren’t apathetic Matt, they grew up with the feeling that working people aren’t going to win and Cardiff did absolutely nothing to counteract that. The university wasn’t politicised, I am politicised so I was totally shocked by the lack of political (local and national) information available through university channels. I didn’t even know that Cardiff was trying to get a coach load of students together because my friends were those apolitical, nervous people who couldn’t motivate themselves for the fight and how else would you find out? A poster on a pinboard you never read? The SWP who I didn’t have any contact with? A union that didn’t seem to give out information like that? The generation you’re talking about had early years that were spent looking at pictures of people being beaten up by the police when they were fighting for things that frankly they had a right to fight for. I think you’re doing people a disservice in writing this article without a nod for why it was hard for them to politicise themselves.

Hi nina – that’s probably a fair point, and perhaps i am being a little harsh. I did try to explain my reasoning behind the lack of engagement – an ever growing economy that meant that activism was a luxury rather than a neccessity, and led to political engagement being reduced to a bit of ‘ethical’ fiddling at the edges of the neo-liberal economy.

I guess it wasn’t solely our fault – not many people were issuing warnings about the direction in which we were travelling, least of all economists – but i do feel that we as a generation took our eye off the ball, to the detriment of the following generation.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr

  2. Matt Bolton

    Blog post now up at @libcon : We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr

  3. sunny hundal

    RT @libcon: We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr << good point

  4. Wendy Maddox

    The author is right about growing anger RT @libcon: We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr

  5. Lee Hyde

    "We failed in 2002, but this time it’s different; there’s real anger" by @matatatatat ( http://is.gd/h04Nb ) @UKuncut #Demo2010

  6. Plymouth City UNISON

    LONDON 2010: The hidden truth behind: http://bit.ly/amzshr

  7. Des O'Loughlin

    RT @sunny_hundal: RT @libcon: We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr << good point

  8. Paddy Eden

    RT @sunny_hundal: RT @libcon: We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr << good point

  9. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: We failed in 2002, but this time it's different; there's real anger http://bit.ly/amzshr

  10. Matthew Deaves

    We failed in 2002, but this time it’s different; there’s real anger | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/kTJHg #demo2010

  11. SOCIALIST UNITY » Merit Not Money, Debt Isn't Funny

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