Friday, 10 December 2010

Tuition Fees Increase and Riots put UK Democracy under spotlight

"If we amplify everything, we hear nothing" Jon Stewart

As the Lib Dem and Tory Whips scuttled round the Commons effectively coercing a majority of 21 to pass a vote to increase tuition fees which will increase some fees to £9k a year, London was anarchic.

My brother sent me a picture of the police 'kettling' and it looked truly terrifying. He also reported to me gangs of young trouble makers in masks, clearly not there for a peaceful protest and with little passion about the cause of the protest. He remarked that it was similar to a gang of football hooligans infiltrating a peaceful march.

The images of Charles and Camilla's car being attacked, of original windows in the Supreme Court being smashed, of a disabled man being dragged by police out of his wheel chair - they shame this country by revealing the dearth of democracy on our streets.

More than that, the true tragedy is that the hard working students who have tried to press the debate, such as the NUS leaders, have been let down. They'll now be painted as rioters, as selfish, as the one niche in society unwilling to pay their way when the going gets tough.

Nick Clegg will fair no better. He has been dismissive of the student voice, so shamed by the picture of him proudly signing a pledge not to increase tuition fees which he gladly posed for before the election.

Rather than delay this law and try and form a truly open dialogue, the Coalition has got into a 'tit for tat' public argument. Hyperbole has been the order of the day. 

For example, only a day before the vote, the Deputy Prime Minister uses the media to talk of 'dreamers' and over simplistic syntax - this adds fuel to the protesters' fire, it takes the debate nowhere:

''I would feel ashamed if I didn't deal with the way that the world is, not simply dream of the way the world I would like it to be,'' the Deputy Prime Minister said.
''In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn't very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university – we have to find the solution for all of that.
''I believe that asking graduates to make a contribution – and only make a contribution after they have left university, no upfront fees whatsoever, and only when they have earned a considerably more amount of money than they do under the present system – that is the best possible choice we could have taken.''

This is paralleled by the physical hyperbole of some of the violence last night. It is an eye for an eye, the 'haves versus the have nots'. 

Only, it is not that simple. It is the physical embodiment of a vacuous space void of true dialogue, of engagement - of democracy.

Britain has always turned to violence when democracy fails, from the Corn Laws to the Poll Tax. It is a nasty underbelly which gives lie to our projection of a civilised Western society.

For the real loser hear has been democracy. In extinguishing the flames on Trafalgar Squares Christmas Tree last night, officers signaled the dawn of a new dark age of ideas. Trapped by a blanket of reaction, our politicians are fed by fear and our public is at odds with the debate, unable to find a door to enter the debate. Without this, the UK will be led kicking and screaming through the fall-out from the recession.

Thought, reason and judgement will be muffled through the prism of apathy.

Jon Stewart was right, when we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

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