Monday, 13 December 2010

Why the Coalition Government has lost my support

I don’t generally make political remarks on this blog. Normally, I confine myself to matters related to reading, writing and, occasionally, my life as both reader and writer. But, occasionally, politics impacts on those things, breaking through my general cynicism about the populace’s ability to change anything and provoking genuine outrage. The whole tuition fees debate is just such an issue.

It’s not an issue for me simply because it will impact on my family, though it will; hundreds of thousands of families will be impacted on in exactly the same way, some more so. At least only one of my sons will have to pay the new exorbitant fees.

It’s not an issue for me simply because of the hypocrisy and power-hungry spinelessness of the Liberal Democrats – a party I have voted for consistently ever since I reached the age at which I was able to vote because I thought Liberal meant liberal.

It’s not an issue for me simply because of the utterly outrageous burden that the young people of our country are being asked to take on in this supposedly collective belt-tightening, a burden so far in excess of the other cut-and-tax measures as to be ridiculous.

The coalition’s stated aim was to cut by 80% and tax by 20%. Well they’re certainly cutting the universities’ tutorial grant by 80% - a far greater cut than any other public service is being asked to bear - but instead of raising the students’ burden by 20% they’re raising it by 200%. How is that fair? How is that proportionate and equitable?

The government thinks it can get away with that kind of increase because the young are in such a minority that even if they every single person under 25 voted to oust the current government, they couldn’t. There aren’t enough of them.

It’s not even an issue for me because of fatuous comments like the one I heard made during Radio 4’s coverage of the vote on tuition fees last Thursday. Some MP, asked for his opinion before the vote, opined that there were people in his constituency who had no hope of ever going to university and that they should not, therefore, be asked to pay for the education of those who are capable of benefitting from it.

Just how fatuous a remark that is can be seen if you replace ‘those who have no hope over ever going to university’ with ‘those who’ve never had occasion to go into hospital’ and ‘pay for the eduation of those who are capable of benefitting from it’ with ‘pay for the care of people who, sadly, are sick but no responsibility of mine.’

If you want to live in a country where those values are played out, help yourself. Start swimming off the West Coast of Ireland. The outrage over President Obama’s healthcare reforms shows exactly the same ‘it’s nothing to do with me so why should I pay?’ attitude.

The actual issue that is causing me such outrage is the underlying attitude towards education which this whole fiasco reveals. And that attitude is that education must pay its way in a very simplistic money-out-of-individual’s-pocket-as fees, money-back-into-individual’s-pocket-as-increased-income/tax-potential equation.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s philistinistic government of the late 70s and early 80s there seems to have been a growing acceptance amongst our ruling classes that education must be useful in a direct and obvious way. The increasing marginalisation of history, art, music and other ‘non-core’ subjects in schools betrays a mindset which says ‘if it ain’t useful to the common good, they can do it in their own time.’ Well what the hell is the common good if it’s not an agglommeration of all the individual goods?

When I was at university there was a ha-ha line going around that scientists ask ‘what’ and artists ‘why?’

This government needs to ask itself why it thinks having an educated, informed population of enquiring minds is not worth paying for. Particularly when it so clearly thinks that propping up a corrupt and reckless banking system is.

Here endeth the political rant.


Frances Garrood said...

Well said, Alis! My 30-year-old son has just finished paying off his loans, and he is not only very well paid, but also had a lot of help from us as a student. And that was with fees as they are at present. I envisage a situation where people's student loans are being docked off their state pensions because they still haven't been able to pay them off.

Tim Stretton said...

There is somewhere a serious and nuanced debate to be had about the funding of higher education; but so far neither the media nor the Government has been interested in conducting it.

Sadly it has been taken as a given that the direct beneficiaries of a university education should be the ones to pay for it - which fails to recognise that *everyone* is an indirect benficiary of an educated population.

I think most people recognise that election pledges are somewhat flexible, but the way the Lib Dems so instantly and utterly repudiated their position on tuition fees can only lead to their utter annihilation at the next general election. And that is an immense shame for those who have long been weary of the tit-for-tat nonsense of the major parties.

And, as you suggest Alis, the banking industry which brought all this about sails on with wings barely clipped, the price instead being paid by anyone who works in on relies on the public sector.

C. N. Nevets said...

Living off the west coast of Ireland and being of a mostly libertarian (nigh upon anarchist) mindset, I would say there are are political and social philosophy arguments that run deeper...

But I also know that those are not the arguments that most people are putting forth, or the conversations most people are interested in having.

They do seem rather to boil it down to sulking, pouting, and being content so long as someone else is hurting apart from them.

Alis said...

Frances - it's horrible to imagine how much debt the kids are going to be in. How are they going to afford anywhere to live? Surely that's not the mark of a civilised society?

Alis said...

Tim - I think what annoys me most about the debate over higher education funding is how little there's been. There seems to be the assumption that it concerns nobody but those actually going to university and that they have a vested interest so their views are not canvassed but university funding and the consequent higher education of the nation affects (as you say) EVERYBODY, whether they realise it or not.

Alis said...

Nevets, re your comment
'They do seem rather to boil it down to sulking, pouting, and being content so long as someone else is hurting apart from them.'
I hope I'd be incensed about the cavalier attitude to our education system whether or not my family were actually affected and I know many people whose children are through the system who are outraged at what is happening.

C. N. Nevets said...

Alis, just to clarify, what I was trying to suggest is that there is a philosophical position to be made on the opposite side, that's it need not boil down to a petulant, "It doesn't effect me so why should I pay?" -- but that people aren't making any of those philosophical arguments and are, instead, leaving it at a petulant, "It doesn't effect me so why should I pay?"

And the same for the case west of Ireland that you reference.

In any case, it does seem from a distance that this particular "savings" action is way out of whack.

Frances Garrood said...

I imagine that all Lib Dem supporters must be feeling badly let down. It's quite amazing how people can do an about turn when it suits them. (I'm a floating voter, thank goodness, and am rarely let down. But I'm becoming increasingly cynical.)

By the way, I hope you're fully recovered now, Alis?

Alis said...

Hi Frances - yes, I'm feeling right back on form now, thank goodness. One of the things I've learned from my Dad, a man who's rarely ill, is that you should stay in bed if you feel unwell and not try and battle through - seems to work for us!