By Michael Meranze
I met Murder on the Way—
He had a mask Like Castlereagh
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven bloodhounds followed him:
All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy
The dapper Cameron has replaced the corpulent Castlereagh; England does not lead but follows the austerity bloodhounds; and the police kettle rather than kill protesters. But the English state is once more threatening to eat its common folk in the interest of the authority of capital. Despite large and growing protests including massive displays on November 10th and 24th and numerous campus occupations, the Tory-little Tory coalition plans to bring the bill to allow universities to raise student fees to a vote in Parliament on December 9th. With this vote, Cameron and Clegg accelerate their effort to end the public university in England and throw students and potential students into debt for decades. At the same time, as Iain Pears has argued, the state will game the system against the humanities and social sciences by holding the costs of certain science and priority courses unnaturally low while pushing universities to emphasize education for business instead of the business of education.
But the attack on the public university and the nature of education is only part of an effort to shift the costs of society onto the poor, the working-class, the elderly, and the young. As Ross McKibbon has pointed out there is no true economic necessity or rationale for the Coalition budget and its cuts to services across the spectrum. It only makes sense politically: as an effort to protect the banks (for whom there always seems to be enough money) and to attack the entire notion of welfare or, as it might be better termed, “shared responsibility.” The Department for Work and Pensions apparently ignored a report that suggested its cuts to housing support would affect nearly a million poor people. As in the United States the Coalition is asking the English to believe that a crisis caused by the machination of the finance sector must be solved by cutting support from the poor, the young, and the elderly. The new Conservative-Liberal Democratic government seeks to push through what Thatcher and new Labour never could: the liberation of the wealthy from any obligation to the society that they inhabit.
Neither the students nor labor nor local officials are sitting quietly. The students have planned another massive demonstration—this time at the House of Parliament itself—for December 9th. This protest is only the end of a series of events planned throughout the week. Strikingly, students have sought to bring their numbers to bear on individual members of parliament—threatening to remove them from office if they support the tuition increases. You can check out plans as they unfold at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
In addition, whereas in the United States there has been little pushback in the press against the notion that subjecting students to greater fees and cutting benefits to the poor and the elderly is the only possible solution to the debt problem, the English papers are filled with denunciations of the Coalition proposals. Despite the power of Rupert Murdoch, the British press has not been reduced to the status of lapdogs to power as in the US. The Coalition is on the defensive in the battle of public discourse; they have power it is clear. What will become of their authority in the long run is less evident.
Nor has the faculty or their supporters been standing by quietly. Besides expressing their support for the students, faculty and intellectuals have launched their own analytical counter-attack on the dominant discourse about education and universities. Defend the Arts and Humanities and Campaign for the Public University and Humanities and Social Science Matters are serving as transfer points for national debate, analysis, and planning. The University of Utopia has opened up debates about a new and better university.
If Cameron and his courtiers thought that anyone would surrender quietly they were mistaken. To be realistic, there seems little chance of defeating the tuition increases on Thursday. The Liberal Democrats would have to vote no and at most they will abstain allowing them to keep the financial blood off their hands by sitting on them. But it seems likely that they have triggered a new generation of social and political struggles:
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.
(Part 2 will address issues closer to home)
Update: There may be a revolt amongst the Liberal Democrats.
6 hours ago