Saturday, 11 December 2010

Student Resistance: The Re-Awakening of British Youth.

The events of the past few days have shown how politically-aware sections of British youth have become.Seven months of Tory austerity measures, culminating in last Thursday's vote in Parliament to triple the cost of university tuition, have managed to galvanize thousands of youths into mass protest action.
It has been a long time since the centre of London has borne witness to such frenzied anti-government protest.
Last Thursday's demonstration, the latest in a series which is bound to continue well into the New Year, was attended by students from all over the country.Young people as young as 14 (some skiving - off  school) turned out to lobby Members of Parliament belonging to the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition which has been governing the country since the May Elections.
It comes as no surprise to me that much of the students' ire ( as well as that of their their teachers and lecturers) has been aimed at the treacherous Lib-Dems.
Prior to the Elections,they made a great show of their opposition to the raising of tuition fees. Their MPs were falling over themselves  to portray the Tories as evil tax-hikers who were hell-bent on raising VAT, cutting social programmes--and raising tuition fees.
They signed, publicly and ostentatiously--in front of cheering students --a pledge not to raise tuition fees. This made for good TV, and helped to garner votes, as well as Ministerial seats, after the Tories failed to get them vertiginous majority for which they had been yearning.
Labour lost their majority---but the Tories did not win.They became the largest party, without the ability to rule, as they were short of a majority.Consequently, they had to compromise with their erstwhile leftist foes.
As predicted, this cobbled-together  marriage -of-convenience is now showing signs of strain.LibDem Members of Parliament are finding it hard to back Tory policies which go against their political grain.Some senior members even went as far as to abstain in Thursday's vote on tuition fees!
Students have formed the vanguard of popular resistance to the enforced budget cuts which the Coalition has imposed on all areas of Government spending.
 An astonishing 80% cut in Government's support for university teaching has been put in place, the deficit being imposed on individual students---after they graduate.In addition, the EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance), the subsidy to poorer students before they enter university, is to be cut.Hence the anger.
The privileged cabal of  Old-Etonian-Oxbridge aristocrats who are disproportionally- represented in the present Cabinet, will not be personally affected . Their children will never have to worry about how to pay for college fees!
The overwhelmingly-Right-wing Press here have chosen to focus on the fighting and crowd trouble which took place during the demonstration.In doing so, they aimed to delegitimize the real grievances of the youths.Public opinion, it hopes, will thus turn against the students.It now becomes easier for the brightest and the best of the young generation to be labelled as "yobs" and "mindless hooligans". The ill-discipline of the few is thereby used to portray the majority.Little mention is made of the police-state tactics now being employed in quelling dissent.
In a week in which the whole of the Press and mass-media celegrated the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to an imprisoned Chinese citizen  who wants to overthrow his government, the Metropolitan Police are allowed to impose imprisonment without trial of up to 10 hours on ordinary citizens who choose to avail themselves of their constitutional right to protest.
 The majority of our Conservative-supporting Press have chosen to overlook the use of "kettling" as  a means of dissuading people from coming out to protest.
This tactic involves cordoning off a small area of the demonstration, forcing everyone to stay in that area---( for up to 10 hours!). Any attempt to escape from the "kettled" area is met with beatings and charges by mounted police.There are no provisions for food or toilets.FOR TEN HOURS!
 The Right-Wing then wonder why the thus-imprisoned demonstrators choose to resist! While they wag their finger at the Chinese authorities, they condone such tactics in the centre of London! Sadly, such commentators always lack a sense of history.
  Not so long ago, groups of women engaged the authorities in similar clashes. Some chained themselves to the railings outside Parliament, they went on demonstrations, rallies, protests. Some succumbed to brutal beatings, some, indeed, died for their cause.
What were these terrible women so fired up about? Why were they disturbing the peace, rattling the status quo? What great cause mede them risk their freedom, their very lives?
 They were the pioneers who were campaigning for votes for women.
 The whole population now views this as an unalloyed  good. Indeed , most modern people in Britain think this right is "natural", and very few people can imagine a Britain in which women do not have this right.
   The lesson for today's students?  Every "right" has to be fought for.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Mayor's bikes,the Maze, George Bush and WMDs.

It is early in August, so the usual signs of summer are in evidence all over the centre of town. Large groups of  foreign students laden down with large rucksacks take up the whole of the pavement without paying any heed to the needs of others.Some behave as if the pavement belongs to them---ill-mannered youths exporting their uncouth ways.Bad tourists who, one hopes, will mature into good, well-mannered guests with the passage of time.
  On every corner  there is a pretty tourista grappling with a map, looking helpless. I am constantly amazed at the number of single young women who travel to London.White, Black, Yellow, Brown , and all shades in-between!
  One novelty which caught my eye in the centre of town is the recently-introduced bicycle-for-hire scheme.
  The Mayor, Tory Boris Johnson, has decided that what London needs is a bike-hire scheme----just like the one in Paris, and, long before it, Amsterdam.As a result, London has teamed up with one of the big banks, and installed a few thousand sturdy unisex bicycles which are on loan for a few hours, or a  few days at a time.
   On the face of it, the scheme seems to be an excellent idea, but I have one major reservation----there is no supply of  helmets to accompany the shiny new bikes!
   These are essential in a bicycle-unfriendly city like London. More thought should have gone into safety considerations before the scheme  was rolled out.
There was a similar scheme in Amsterdam years ago.As I recall, it was instigated by the Provos, a sort of idealistic anarchist group of the late 60's-early 70's.A whole load of white-painted bicycles were made available---only to be stolen!
I hope, for London's sake, that the same fate does not befall Mayor Boris' scheme.Furthermore, I do hope that he will provide helmets to accompany the bicycles. After all, a tourist who may not have ridden a bike for a long time, on a short vacation to London, can not be expected to spend a large amount of money on a bicycle helmet which he/ she will only  use for a few hours or days...
Down in Trafalgar Square, I came across this artificial maze which was erected for a few days. It seems to have been a crowd-pleaser, but, by the time you read this, it would have been removed.Shame.
Further up the road (well, about 2 miles  away, actually), I visited an exhibition called "After the Bombs Dropped".
This is an exhibition about the massive destruction and devastation caused by the atom bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki  by the Americans at the end of WW2.
Everyone should see this. Once you do, I am sure you will not be able to think of weapons of mass-destruction in the same way.Ever.
George Bush & co. knew this, that is why they did not allow the American public---and the rest of the gullible world to see pictures of the dead and wounded in  the ill-fated adventure in Iraq.Once you see the gruesome after-effects of war, it becomes so much harder to wish such suffering on your fellow human.
The exhibition is on at :Friends House,173,Euston Rd.,London,NW1 2BJ., until 12th August 2010.