Students rioting, tabloids screaming, Tories ranting… blimey, I’m expecting to see a DeLorean drive past any moment.
Most of yesterday *could* be described without too much bluster or complication. Somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 students and education workers marched through London to protest against education cuts. Around 200 people behaved badly, to varying degrees. That’s a pretty tiny minority, but of course the tabloids have gleefully snapped back into 80s mode, barking their simplistic catchphrases that inform Tory (do we really call it a “coalition” any more, now that the reality is apparent?) policy.
Well, anyway… we’re damned either way. If the march had gone peacefully without any police involvement, it would have been a tiny footnote to the week’s news, making no impact on government policy. But when things get broken, the protesters invoke that good old Tory get-out clause… all dissent is the work of violent, anarchist thugs. Oh, and there’s still no impact on government policy. What’s the point?
I wasn’t really going to talk about the protest itself. I just wanted to vent about some of the convenient historical revisionism that seems to be at the root of some of the pro-government comment. On this morning’s Today programme Janet Daley of the Telegraph compared yesterday’s incident with the protests of the 1960s. You might want to don some pretty powerful rose-tinted spectacles for this (the italicised comments are what I was shouting at the radio)…
[Okay, just a minor point, but it's irritating me that the media keep referring to yesterday as a "student demonstration". There were lots of uni admin and teaching staff on the march. Also, as Matt just pointed out on Twitter, it's not just about the personal fear of tuition fees, but also a sector-wide fear of vicious teaching cuts.]
We were fighting for civil rights, black [voters?] in the south, and against de facto segregation in the north, and against the Vietnam war, and as a result I think those demonstrations really did capture the imagination of a generation.
[Selective memory. The government and National Guard didn't seem to be captivated in quite the same way.]
What these demonstrations seem to be about is something much more unrealistic
[Like the racial equality in America that you haven't even got 40 years later?!]
and self-serving, which is to say that the whole of society should pay for your education
[But it's fine when the whole of society bails out an incompetent bank, or fills in for a mobile phone company's tax evasion?]
and I think most people will perceive them rather in the way that they perceive those riots in France, where people went out on the streets and threw things at the police, because they were going to have to retire at 62 instead of 60.
[A large proportion of those French protesters were students who worry that the increase in older workers will affect their chances of finding empoyment when they graduate. Because we don't want a benefit-dependent culture now, do we?]
I don’t think that, even without the nihilist rent-a-mob aspect of it, that this is going to capture the sympathies of a country and a generation.
Speaking of the “dependent culture”, I’ll come to that in another post…