Pissed-Off With The Protest

DAVID SHIPTON: “student protests demonstrate nothing more than the fact that we’re still not ready to move into the real world.”

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Up to the age of eighteen, teenage rebellion should be tolerated and forgiven.

Whether it’s teachers, parents or simply ‘the man’ that’s making you angry at the state of the world, you can’t always be expected to see the bigger picture in adolescence as you strum along to lame political songs and dye your hair green. But once at university, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect what is allegedly the country’s future elite to stop being ruled by hormonal impulses for uprising.

Wednesday’s scenes of furious undergraduates in skinny jeans and Jack Wills hoodies hurling abuse at poorly-paid policemen who probably never had the chance to go to university provided a perfect illustration of student rallies in this country. Picture the scene: the street-wise leaders, armed with embarrassingly simplistic banners and media-friendly chants, are leading their army of politically apathetic but socially frustrated comrades in a Bastille-style assault on Tory HQ. The event confirmed that student protests demonstrate nothing more than the fact that we’re still not ready to move into the real world.

After watching a YouTube clip of the Tiananmen Square protests, it seems as though everyone wants to be the man standing defiant before the tanks. The belief that it’s our duty to fight authority too – irrespective of the considerable differences between our regime and that of China in the 1980s – is juxtaposed with a feeling that being an undergraduate is our last chance to cause chaos without consequence. Though I can think of no better way of winning over the sympathy of the nation than injuring forty-one policemen and lighting fires in the street, I’m not surprised even the NUS is embarrassed about how their protest developed.

It is precisely because student demonstrations have become so clichéd, so clearly planned by slightly tragic characters determined to experience the ‘60s, so incontrovertibly in defence of every student interest – even at the expense of society as a whole – that the protest received no support from the wider public.

It would have been interesting to see a quick show of hands indicating how many of the jeering undergraduates had really scrutinized the proposed government policy they protested so vehemently against. But then I suppose it isn’t convenient to know that the poorest twenty-five per cent of students will actually benefit from the changes. Still more irritating was news of a high Oxbridge turnout, for half of whom the novelty of paying above the odds for education should have worn off by the age of thirteen.

Banners announcing “No to Education Cuts” portray a fundamentally deluded student population. The very notion that students should contribute nothing to the £81bn worth of cuts designed to lift the burden of debts off the future generation is absurd and profoundly regressive. If the demonstrators value their education so highly, I wonder how many lectures they’ll have missed after a night of serious pennying or whether they’ve ever done more than the bare minimum to get through a term. Expecting working-class taxpayers who never had the benefit of attending university themselves to fund what is usually a middle-class student’s higher education seems, to me, far more morally abhorrent than saddling us with a £30 monthly charge when we’re earning over £25,000. After all, apparently on average we’ll earn £160,000 more during our lives than those without degrees.

The painful reality for the NUS is that, besides using their votes, students have absolutely no political leverage. Aside from giving lecturers a paid holiday, student strikes are about as likely to succeed as an attempt to find a mathmo in Fez.

With regard to rallying, it’s hard to imagine the cabinet really considering a last minute change in policy, huddled together under siege in Downing Street with the distant chanting of; “Build a bonfire, put the Tories on the top, put the LibDems in the middle and we’ll burn the fuckin’ lot” vaguely audible. Wouldn’t they just be encouraging all sections of society to descend on the metropolis like a hoard of politically-conscious locusts, and uncompromisingly defend their given interests. It would make an elected government impotent, no? Perhaps worse, wouldn’t a quick change of course imply that all their policies were fragile and arbitrary whims which cannot withstand a few weeks of public scrutiny?

Student Unions can achieve nothing but annoy the rest of the country who are equally affected by government cuts, but too responsible to moan about it in such an uncivilized fashion. The only beneficiaries of Wednesday’s demonstrations were National Rail, ‘Spoons (all that shouting must have got boring after a while) and the glazier for 30 Millbank.