Pesky students

I’ve yet to make up my mind about the protests of the last few weeks. I watched the first live courtesy of a hyperactive BBC news channel, which probably gave a vastly distorted view of everything, and have been keeping up with – if not participating in – the rest of events. As a slightly bolshy leftist I broadly agree with Marx’s tenet that education should be free: I dislike the way it’s become a marketised social cost that must be repaid, when a good education is really a social benefit – that’s not really a radical viewpoint. Nevertheless, I think what’s been missed by the angry students and socialist agitators is that a lot of the education that’s affected is not all that good, not necessarily fit for purpose.

I don’t agree with charging any student nine grand per year to study. It’s too much burden to place on a teenager who isn’t really sure what they’re doing. I don’t agree with a graduate tax when a loan can be paid off and not hang over the student forever.

Having been both a student and an education administrator of late, I’m pretty familiar with HE: what’s needed is not necessarily to make undergraduate degrees more accessible to all, but to make education more appropriate to need and ability. So: students who are academically-able should be able to go to do a literate, academic degree at a university of their choice, and should have the same access whatever background they’re from. But many students would be better suited to vocational courses, or training, or apprenticeships, or something similar, and this is what is sorely lacking. Hiking fees and cutting university funding is NOT the way to solve the problem: it needs a more root-and-branch approach.

…then I found a job

Well, not really. I have 10.5 hours work this week. Perhaps some next week; perhaps not. My wife is the breadwinner right now, a public servant, and I am grabbing what I can. I do believe this puts me in Gareth Stedman Jones‘ “dangerous classes” of casual labour, which is quite exciting. See you down the docks.

I’m an optimistic sort of chap, and have confidence in a master-plan that I don’t really know about, so I figure there’s no point fretting. But I can’t really help but feel an ire on behalf of everyone in this country who isn’t stinking rich right now: some hilariously disingenuous economic spin gives an impression that we’re all in this together, but it isn’t true: just ask Vodafone, who were last month let off £6bn tax – incidentally, not too dissimilar to the amount slashed from welfare benefits by Gideon George Osborne yesterday.

According to the Guardian then, we’ve got a withdrawal of £50 for those on long-term disability benefits. Screw you if you can’t afford Bupa, peasant. Screw you if you can’t afford to defend your rights against huge corporations – £350m goes from legal aid. Screw you if you happen to live in a poor place where there’s crime but no private contracted security – 20% from the police. Screw you if you can’t afford a roof over your head – “half off social housing!” reads like a special offer – it’s not. Screw you if you’ve had to slave through your life looking forward to retirement because you can’t afford a pension – retirement age goes up. Screw you if you can’t afford a car – rail fares to rise. Screw you if you’d like to be educated but can’t afford it – EMA is dismissed for the poorest students as a “bribe”, FE and HE funding is slashed.

And screw you if you think freezing the science budget when it needs to be swelled, raising the schools budget a touch – but taking the pupil premium from within it – or a paltry £1bn green investment bank is sufficient, because you’re wrong, and if you’re not stinking rich, you’re going to suffer. Pleh.

Recommended reading: Johann Hari in the Indie.

Get real

Clegg: word to yo mama

Clegg: word to yo mama

I always get caught up in the fun of an election, and the TV debates are only making it better (or worse, depending on which way you look at it). Last night’s was a further unveiling of the charm offensive in British politics – ever more important now that the leaders are becoming more like presidential candidates than representatives of their respective parties. It’s Cleggmania here.

As on most levels, Nick Clegg (possibly related to Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine) came out tops. Cameron still has the slightly aloof air of a man who knows, deep down, he’s evil, whereas Clegg manages to schmooze at the camera while still waving a presidential thumb at the blonde in the crowd. He’s the most convincing and comfortable of the three – Gord manages to creep everyone out just by smiling and waggling his massive ears whereas Clegg’s this clean-cut young man who seems morally driven by his policies, not just that they’re been written into the manifesto by some back-room policy chappy.

Of the three, his are by far the most appealing policies – I don’t hold with his jumping in on the spending cuts = wonderful consensus, and he could go a lot further on Trident, climate change and upping the welfare state. But generally speaking, he’s far and away the most palatable of the major contenders. I’m left with a tricky decision in Hornsey and Wood Green: do I stick to my guns and vote Green, with whom I agree on 99% of their policies, but who have no chance of being elected, thereby not countering any Tory surge, however unlikely? Or do I go safe, vote for a good local Lib Dem MP? I understand one vote rarely makes a difference, but having voted in an election where the LDs won by literally two votes, it’s imbued me with a sense of responsibility over my X.

Antagonism/agonism

It appears obligatory for newspapers to be ranting one way or the other about the budget today, and as always (apart from lone voices like the true-red Mirror and the ever-esoteric Independent) Alistair Darling is being slated. As was Gordon Brown before him of course, as was Ken Clarke, and Norman Lamont, and Nigel Lawson, no doubt right back to Hervey de Stanton. And it’s healthy politics to do so, because antagonism equals deliberation equals progress. Or does it?

Interviewed by Evan Davies this morning on the Today show, the ascendant George Osborne was revelling in the lack of spending cuts and the over-reliance on taxation, as though this was news from what is ostensibly a left-centre government. His argument was that (as per the OECD) the cuts:tax ratio should be 80:20, rather than the 66:33 of Darling’s budget. But where’s the actual difference there? 5 billion pounds is a lot to me, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t mean a huge difference to the average punter. Would Osborne’s budget work better than AD’s? Will Labour save the day? Neither. Both are going to whinge and whine whatever the outcome, and once again leave the burden (fiscal or otherwise) on someone else. The ‘post-politics’ of Chantal Mouffe is ever more real – nothing gets done outside of an accepted consensus of things that can be done.

There is, now more than ever, I think little difference between the two major parties: the Conservatives advocate exactly the same things as Labour, just a bit nastier, and a bit worse for everyone except the really well-off (which is why you should never vote for them). Both parties (and the others as well) have framed it so that to criticise something old-fashioned called ‘capitalism’ marks you out as a bit of an eccentric, who doesn’t know his place in the modern world. Eccentric I may be then, but the eternal quest for cold, hard money, whoever has it, doesn’t earn my respect. I’m off to do some research as to who I might vote for that’s neither of them. Give me Tito any day.

Give it away, now.

An interesting concept today, via Shahryar Malek on OpenDemocracy: give your vote away. Not in terms of selling it, obviously, but more conceptually. The Ulrich Beck endorsed cosmopolitan world in which we live is a complex one, not the least of which is the odd, divisive globalisation of the world. For all the transnational multi-mil-lion-aires and the cheerleading of the global economy, it’s a dodgy subject to try and define.

Certainly globalisation is economics: the mobility of capital, interregional competition, yadda yadda yadda. But it’s also people, and so the idea that Malek is recommending is enticing: give your vote in the UK election to someone who it affects, just not someone here. More specifically, via Give Your Vote, to someone in Afghanistan (where UK defence policy is extremely relevant to the country), Ghana (where international economic policy is the cause of constant frustration for one of Africa’s few successful democracies) or Bangladesh (where global environmental policies find their shortest-term outcomes). I have yet to decide whether to go in for this or not, but it’s certainly a curious idea.

To what extent do I affect an election? What do I know about rising sea levels in Asia, or everyday poverty in West Africa? All too little – perhaps someone better informed than me would be able to make a decision about these; those without a say would find a voice. Certainly I’m of the view that whether I vote Green or LibDem (my main choices), not much is going to change for me, so why be selfish? I shall continue to ponder.

History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends.

There’s lots of terms I’ve been cheerfully bandying about over the last few weeks: post-politics, the death of conflict in the political world; the new public management, or the corporatisation of public services; governmentality, a Foucauldian intervention, “the conduct of conduct” by government; elitism/pluralism, or how the world is governed; cosmopolitanism, the positive disconnectedness associated with our ‘second modernity’. I could go on. It’s been satisfying to go through a course at university and discover that, in doing the assessment, everything ties together.

I’ve been pursuing an elective course on the governance of the sustainable city, and it’s been by far the most organised thing I’ve studied so far. Everything in it’s place, discrete topics every week, and yet they come together really satisfyinglyin this assessment of the current position of the political state. So I’ve been off (as well as doing a million other things at once) arguing the case that the idea of government by consensus, partnership etc. is a sham and a front, and I find myself right in the middle of it on an internship. Government by general consent is an appealing concept on some levels: include as many as you can so you don’t exclude any opinion, consult consult consult… yet everything’s dictated from the top. It’s quite impressive. It’s been good to see this in practice, and it’s been firmly consolidating me in my political standpoint. Yes I’m still somewhat a Bevanite, but when it boils down to it I’m a reluctant, partial, neo/post/whatever Marxist. The old beardy man had some sensible things to say, and they’re a bit inescapable.

Can I copy your notes?

I have a difficult time being a grown-up sometimes. I’m used to being the teachers pet kind of student (I managed to acquire the nickname ‘boff’ in secondary school which, if nothing else, attests to the lack of imagination in 12 year old boys), and have actually never bunked a lesson, of any sort. Mostly this just adds to the guilt when I do take a day off for sick. Sometimes, as with last summer’s broken hip, it’s justified; today, I have a stiff neck (since yesterday morning) which would be desperately uncomfortable to sit through a lecture with. It still takes someone sensible just to tell me to stay home though.

Hence I’m home, squished into bed amidst a tower of pillow upon which my tiny computer is propped, and I have no idea how I’ll be spending the rest of the day. Ah well. At the moment I’m listening to Radio 4 which has been firstly about Henry Ford’s modernist, high industrial utopianism in the Amazon jungle, then about Creswell model village, now the literary habits of Molotov (he and Stalin both loved Chekhov best). Good old Radio 4 – cutting 6Music starts a Facebook frenzy, cutting Radio 4 would cause national riots.