The unwritten law says protest is something you grow out of. We drift rightwards. Activism is simply a rite of passage that gives way to a life full of passive grumbling. This is the only way I can comprehend how a generation that had free education, access to jobs and housing feels at ease denying these things to the young. This is truly mystifying. Is the word “deficit” enough to lose us lose all our political marbles?
Yes, it was exactly like every protest I have been on, and, yes, it was completely different. Some of what was happening was immediately recognisable to me and some new. What is most impressive is how far these students have come in a couple of weeks. They are the opposite of just about every stereotype that is used about them. Call me old-fashioned but I hardly see them as hardcore anarchists, as their main contention is wanting access to state institutions. They do not want to drop out of the system but rather to drop in. They are also way too efficient to be proper anarchists. It is fantastic that these young people, who we have been told have been blinded by celebrity culture and are mainly Facebook narcissists, soon made contact with other causes.
The media of course has banged on about tuition fees as the children of media people go to university. Little has been said about EMA, a means-tested benefit, possibly because those who live on less than £20,000 a year are not in the middle-class bubble. To remove this in effect prohibits a whole sector of society even getting the qualifications they need to get university.
The students at least know their figures – and how to widen out their protest. One girl told me her vice-chancellor was earning £280,000 a year and would be presiding over an 80% cut in an arts and humanities course. That same night people drinking good wine bandied about other figures that justify tuition fees. “£7 a week is easy to pay back.” “It doesn’t really make any difference whether fees are £3,000 or £6,000 or £9,000.” To accept the inevitability of this is one thing, but are we to embrace the complete marketisation of all we hold dear? Are we happy to live with the decimation of arts and social sciences? Do we not see this as straightforward ideological attack? Do we think it is acceptable to make one generation pay for the sins of another?