In the past week there have been many articles printed in the mainstream press which attempt to discredit the movement against Higher Education cuts and increased tuition fees. This weekend saw The Mail on Sunday’s latest session of protester-bashing with a piece slating the ‘hypocrisy’ of the demonstrating middle classes, which, quite predictably, took Oxford students as its main targets. Aside from the numerous falsities and misquotations, the questionable techniques used to gain information, and the weakness of the conclusion, which showed little more than that some protesters went to good state schools, the argument itself – that people whose families would be able to afford the proposed tuition fees are nothing but hypocrites if they fight against them – is deeply flawed. With this mind, it is simply wrong to suggest, as do The Mail and others, that protesters who campaign against something which will not directly affect them cannot have any worthy reason to demonstrate; protesting in solidarity with less privileged students, or on the basis of principle is not an option – according to them.
The tabloids seem unaware of the irony at work when they criticise the Millbank activists as hypocrites. In all the excitement of the recent manhunts for those who broke the windows of Tory HQ, the real hypocrites and criminals seem to have escaped unscathed. Could anyone stand as a better example of self-contradiction than Nick Clegg? Perhaps only fellow Oxonian, David Cameron, can match his level of duplicity. In his extreme reaction to the events at Millbank, (a reaction disproportionate to the breaking of a few windows), Cameron seems to have conveniently forgotten not only his own Bullingdon club days of smashing and trashing, but also the fact that the proposed cuts are a violent and destructive act against an entire nation. His vehement defence of the innocent, fragile panes of glass at Millbank only highlights, in contrast, his neglect of millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable who will be massively hit by the cuts; he wants activists to face “the full force of the law” for glass damage but takes no responsibility for the lives he is about to destroy. Why is the media not holding the real guilty parties to account?
The Daily Mail’s attack on middle class campaigners follows an early media attempt to characterize those involved in the direct action at Millbank as ‘professional agitators’ and ‘rent-a-mob lefties’, always up for a round of random vandalism and thuggery. Photographs of random protesters (often seemingly under the age of eighteen) were printed in a wave of name and shame style articles designed to instill fear in protesters and incite the public to turn against what they called the tiny independent group of extremists. But last week’s direct action was not conducted by a ‘small extremist faction’, as is shown by one of the best photos of the demonstration, taken from the roof of Millbank. Pictured are crowds of thousands below in the courtyard, and the caption underneath reads, ‘The tiny rogue minority. Can you spot it?’ Similarly, there has been media outrage that the protest was “hijacked by a load of anarchists – not even students!” as if the terms ‘anarchist’ and ‘student’ are somehow mutually exclusive. There is no evidence at all that the activists at Millbank were not students anyway, and going by sight only (unless students have developed some common physical feature by which they can all be identified) it is highly misleading to suggest that it was possible to know this.
And it is precisely this point, that we are not one small identifiable group of people that makes our movement strong, and really threatens the Government. Far from being detrimental to the cause, the fact that school, sixth-form, and university students, teachers, lecturers, tutors, unionists and workers from all professions marched together, in unity, is not only an incredible sight in times of apparent political apathy, but is also absolutely essential if cuts are to be successfully resisted. Historically, solidarity has, like civil disobedience been extremely powerful in winning campaigns against the state. At this very moment for example, the campaign against regressive changes to pension laws in France, are massively strengthened by the active support of thousands of lycéens.
It is convenient for both the media and the Government to characterize the direct action of the 10th November as the work of one confined social or political group, be that the middle classes or the ‘anarchist layabouts’. Conflating the different groups and individuals involved provides them with one clear target, and aims at dismissing the very real threat which the movement poses to the powers attempting to enforce the cuts (the powers that is, with whom Aaron Porter has so keenly attempted to stay in favour in order to secure his own future career). More than four thousand people from all ages, backgrounds, professions and political affiliations have now signed the statement in solidarity with those arrested at Millbank. Unfortunately for the coalition Government and the mass media, we have diversity, solidarity and unity; this is only just the beginning of great resistance to come.
OxfordEducation Campaign has called on Oxford students and lecturers to participate in the national day of walk-outs against the cuts, assembling at the Carfax Tower next Wednesday 24th November, at 12 noon.