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Thursday, December 09, 2010 

Pure terror in her eyes (and a baton in her gob).

The protesters surely couldn't have believed their luck. There are coincidences and then there are the most fortuitous, incredible opportunities. To not have taken some sort of advantage from Prince Charles and Camilla travelling to the Royal Variety performance, their Rolls Royce lit up like a Christmas tree, presumably so they could wave to their adoring public as they went along Regent Street would have been even more criminal than what they did to the car. Right in front of them were the wonderful, obscene idiosyncrasies of our state: here was the future monarch, someone who has spent the vast majority of his life living off the taxpayer, having had everything handed to him purely as a result of accident of birth, being driven to a show which glorifies and celebrates the institution he will come to represent. Deference and patronage were brought into direct conflict with those who had just been told they would have to take on even more debt should they want to receive the same education that Charles' generation, as well as that of Cameron and Clegg, had provided for them free at the point of use.

Few photographs from this year are going to be as iconic as the one of Camilla, gob open so wide you could easily fit a police baton in there, reeling in shock at having her nice evening out shattered by a bunch of yobboes rampaging across central London. After all, that's the picture being painted by police, government and media of the end of today's protests, with the Met describing the levels of violence as "outrageous and increasing". They weren't, sadly, describing the actions of their own officers, who were as always making the most of the opportunity to swing their own weapons around, hitting the likes of Shiv Malik and others and then refusing to treat them or let them seek medical help outside the confines of the protest despite having been injured. Theresa May spoke of the wanton vandalism being committed, as though the government hadn't just done the equivalent of taking a hammer to the hopes and dreams of thousands of young people who simply can't face the prospect of having tens of thousands of pounds of debt hanging over them, even if they won't necessarily have to pay it back. Very few politicians seem to understand that so many disadvantaged youngsters know all about the realities of owing money, having seen their parents struggle to pay the bills, and desperately don't want to repeat the experience themselves. Absolutely nothing is more likely to put them off the idea of going to university.

Today's parliamentary debate and the vote that followed were great examples of just how distant politicians are from those they claim to represent. There was no need whatsoever for the coalition's implementation of the Browne report to be rushed in such a manner; it has been done purely for short-term political reasons rather than there being any great need to put the new funding scheme in place so hurriedly. As well as putting an end to the greatest source of embarrassment for the Liberal Democrats, the coalition knew full well that this threatened to be the issue around which the entire movement against the wider austerity measures coalesced. The urgency which the students and young have given to protests which could well have been helmed, organised and dominated entirely by the trade unions and wider labour movement has been remarkable, causing the government real concern over what could still be to come. Despite the overwhelmingly hostile media coverage, if anything the outbreaks of disorder on the marches have only increased the level of general awareness about what is being proposed, as well as inspiring sympathy when it has been children taking part in their first acts of political engagement who have been held against their will for hours in bitterly cold weather.

Having the vote this early was all about attempting to fracture this nascent movement. With the matter done and dusted, the establishment hope now must be that it will wither and die away, and there's no reason to suspect that anything other than that will happen. Far harder to shake will not just be the sense of betrayal many will feel at being lied to by the 34 Liberal Democrats who either voted for the opposite of what they promised or did the really cowardly thing and abstained, but also the reinforcement of the belief that politicians really are all the same. The very reason why so many were energised and encouraged by the Liberal Democrats during the general election campaign was because they seemed to offer a real, viable alternative to a tired, failed Labour government and to a Conservative party that seemed to think it deserved power purely on the basis that it was their turn to govern again. No amount of pathetic pleading that either the deficit or coalition compromises meant their policy on tuition fees was impossible to implement is going to make anyone believe a Lib Dem election pledge again.

We shouldn't incidentally let the slightly less egregious cynicism of the Labour party pass unmentioned, having commissioned the Browne report, and had they won the election would now be implementing it in almost exactly the same way as the government has. They have offered no real alternative other than the most vague outlines of a possible graduate tax, a policy which has just as many potential problems for university funding, even if it would arguably be the most fair way of paying for higher education in the long term. It's been that lack of almost anyone making the argument that education as a whole should be funded out of general taxation, a principle only recently abandoned, which has further reduced the feeling amongst those opposed to the changes that they're being even slightly represented in parliament, let alone elsewhere.

Just as 9/11 and the Iraq war were a political wake up call for those of my age, the last few months will have opened a whole lot more minds and eyes to the state we're in now. It's one where an opportunistic attack on the royals which involves more force than words is shameful, and where promises are quite literally not worth the paper they written on. It's also one where the new young urban working classes have combined with the middle class student agitators in common cause, in a showing of force which has truly given the powers that be a scare. And that is the way it should be, our legislators and representatives truly aware of the strength of feeling ranged against them. This could just be the beginning. Far more like is that it's the beginning of the end.

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Except of course, some of the violence wasn't wanton. If the pictures I saw were right, it was directed at the Treasury and Top Shop. The source of the old corruption in favouring rich and privileged tax dodgers and the owner of Top Shop, the receipient of our largesse got what they deserved.

I think that your analysis is spot on, and one of the most sensible that I've read, but the most important point seems to be that there is no real opposition to the trebling of fees (and certainly not from labour.) the vision of an enlightened and publicly funded university system seems to be as distant and unimaginable as camelot.

Cracking post as ever. The whole situation is the most cynical piece of political maneuvering I've seen in a long while. I'm sure there are yet more examples to come.

I've been touting this article from the London Review of Books around to anyone who'll listen as it's a good examination of the wider implications of the Browne report's recommendations - http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n21/stefan-collini/brownes-gamble - and they ain't purdy...

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