Friday, 12 November 2010

Two Decades On - Nothing Has Changed

Ever since the coalition government announced the removal of the cap on tuition fees which could see them increase to three times their current rate, one thought has been riding through my mind amplified by Wednesday's student demonstration. It is a thought that I have expressed on Twitter and to my colleagues at work.

Twenty years ago I went along with a few thousand other idealistic young students to march on the capital and protest a Conservative government's plans to introduce the dreaded student loan. It was a fight to protect the notion that education was a fundamental right for all and not for a privileged few. Two decades later and it seems the battle is lost as we have students demonstrating against a Conservative government's plan to allow for the significant rise in tuition fees.

If there is one interesting aspect to note about the change in the country's attitude it is that ever since the coalition government took control there has been a sense of accepted elitism. The left wing press have stated numerous times (and they are right) that David Cameron and his stalwarts simply do not understand the people they purport to represent, as evident from this quote by the so-called schools minister Nick Gibb:
"I'd rather see an Oxbridge graduate with no PGCE teaching physics than a qualified teacher with a degree from a 'rubbish university"
Furthermore it seems that this exclusionary view of the right on access to education has become a war cry for the very people that this government has in fact alienated with its highly unpopular cuts and policies. It doesn't help of course when those whom I tenuously label celebrity go on national television and push for even further exclusions such as one time  Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins who whilst on BBC's Question Time in June called for universities to be kept private and elitist. Easy for her to say.

I remember when in 2003 the Labour government  brought in top up loans to cover tuition fees for higher education. The media at the time whipped the public into a frenzy over peoples' rights to education.Suddenly everybody was championing the plight of the struggling student who may even have to sell their virginity to escape the clutches and burdens of student debt. Now it seems that the old rhetoric of undeserving students who do nothing but engage in drug fuelled and alcohol binged debauchery, is back with a vengeance judging by the numerous hateful remarks on various forums and social network sites, even from people I know.

This negative discourse of contempt towards students is fuelled further by Cameron describing Wednesday's demonstrations as "brainless" student protests. He is even content to allow The Daily Mail and The Times to basically tar the majority of peaceful demonstrators with the same brush as the small group of neanderthals who turned the protest in a riotous free for all. It has been argued that Wednesday's riots may even weaken the case against tuition fees as any "sympathy for impoverished students will be undermined if it turns out they can afford to take time out from their studies to travel to London, attack policemen and destroy property" according to Benedict Brogan of the Telegraph.

Yes twenty years on and not only is the country back where we started in fighting for the right to education, but it seems that the movement has lost an ally. When I attended the demonstration in Hyde Park London, students had the backing of Labour (naturally) but also the fledgling third alternative, the Liberal Democrats, with support spearheaded by Simon Hughes MP.

The Lib Dems however through their leader Nick Clegg whose political life force is seeping from his battered pride, have turned their backs on the students who vehemently supported them. The Deputy PM in a head rush inducing about turn, expressed regret at signing the anti-tuition fees pledge. The virtual loss of an ally, an increasing apathetic public and a vigorously determined Conservative led government, the students battle against the tuition fees just got harder.

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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Cable vs Murdoch Go to War. Surely Not?

I was surprised to read in the New Statesman that Business Secretary Vince Cable had referred the Murdoch owned News Corp's £8 billion bid for control over BSkyB to media regulators Ofcom. For a brief a moment I felt a measure of respect for a man who, along with his own party, pretty much alienated much of their voter base and showed themselves to be the treacherous power hungry turncoats we often expect politicians to be. Talk about resorting to cliches.

However as I read more and more, and thought long and hard about this decision I returned to my original thoughts (the treacherous turncoat ones) and asked why this sudden turnaround?  I can only assume it is to present an appearance of Lib Dem independence from their right wing cohorts who would happily allow Murdoch to own 50% of this country's media outlets. I shall touch briefly on why this is a bad thing shortly. Consider the Lib Dems' position in terms of popularity. Reuters reported that opinion polls gave them 33% approval rating, dropping to 23% following the election and more recently according to a YouGov poll, as low as 10% rating. The Lib Dems are, in political terms pretty much dead in the water, treading out in the open sea until they die of the cold or they are consumed by the very beast they aligned themselves with, chewed up and the remains spat out.

Bearing this in mind the Lib Dems have to, like a blowfish, puff themselves up to seem more aggressive then they really are, although they would do better to tackle an issue that more people either pay proper attention to,or care about (or even both). Still the issue of the likelihood of plurailty in the face of Murdoch's successful hostile take over of BSkyB is an important one as it represents the possibility of Murdoch's corporate message machine dominating the media outlets in this country, even possibly owning more coverage than the BBC. Those who have read my previous Murdoch efforts will know that he has opposed the licence fee, calling it "State-funded media" as if they were the UK's equivalent of Granma.

Back to why Cable is allowing Ofcom to investigate the News Corp bid, and I cannot help but feel that this move has put the media regulators in a difficult position. It's no secret that Murdoch's backing of the Conservative Party was a quid pro quo excercise. He backs David Cameron and the Conservative's during the election campaign and they in turn scrap Ofcom, in particular the rules that currently prevent Murdoch from setting up the UK's equivalent to Fox News. Imagine that, a British version of Glen Beck polluting our screens Amongst the list of quangos published by the Chancellor's office from 21st October 2010, Ofcom were listed as one that would be greatly affected. Should Ofcom tread carefully for fear that they might see their future quickly dissipate? Cable is trying to puff up his stomach to show that his party are still independent or draw fire away fromt he very unpopular cuts that he and the Lib Dems have helped implement buy causing a stir for Cameron's media buddy. Could Cable have deliberately put Ofcom in between the devil and the deep blue sea on purpose?

Of course this is all just speculation and in fact by referring the bid to Ofcom, Cable has slapped a bullseye on his bown back to which Murdoch will surely hone his aim. It is a brave move indeed, since Murdoch's media machine are not averse to stretching the truth like an elastic band in order to smear any political opponent. It will be interesting to witness the lengths Sky News, The Sun, etc will venture to discredit Ofcom and the Monopolies Commission should the decision not stear in Murdoch's favour.