As a former university student who graduated this summer, I really should sympathise more with future students who are soon going to find themselves having to pay nine grand a year to fund their education, but all I can feel after watching today’s riots is apathy towards their predicament. When the Millbank tower (Tory HQ) was attacked a few weeks ago, I was horrified at both the sheer brutality of the protesters and, more importantly, the subversive manner in which authority figures, which should have known better, justified the action. I’m mainly thinking of the lecturers at Goldsmiths, who signed a declaration describing such actions as the throwing of a fire extinguisher from a roof ‘magnificent’ and stressed that the riots were genuinely caused by an outpouring of student anger rather than the demonstrations of a few thugs muscling in on an otherwise peaceful protest.
I still believe that today’s troubles (which saw numerous police and protesters carted off to hospital, some with serious injuries) were started by the small minority that simply turned up for the sake of violence. But there are far too many students, lecturers, and politicians watching from the margins saying things like ‘I don’t condone violence, but....’ That qualifier really irritates me because people use it all too frequently and then go on to endorse violence (sort of like saying ‘No offence, but...’ to someone before you insult them) or, at the very least, go on to spout some ridiculous hyperbole about what the coalition is doing to the country; Goldsmiths fumed that ‘the real violence in this situation [is] ... the destructive impacts of the cuts.'
No. Violence is a pitched battle mounted in Parliament Square, or a statue of Winston Churchill being attacked by anarchists who couldn’t really give a toss about the vote itself. As the leader of the Opposition, the first thing Ed Milliband should be doing is condemning all incarnations of violence and insisting that democratic debate is how civilisation should resolve complex issues. Instead, whilst anarchists were raging quite literally across the street from him, he calls today ‘a sad day for democracy’, as if the coalition had staged a coup d’état and he’s calling for revolution. Given that his government introduced tuition fees and raised them every year whilst still in power, I also wonder where he gets the authority to take such a moralistic stance.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see anyone priced out of university or left with unmanageable debt (although I don’t think that this plan would bring that about). But I just won’t support a point of view that seems to nudge and wink at a civil disorder that it ‘does not condone.’ I hope that that people will still be able to afford their education, and that money can be found to support those that can’t. In the meantime, I’m glad the proposals were passed today, if only because it shows that violence does not get results. Besides, in a few decades time, I imagine that many of today’s angry students will have utilised their education to become wealthy, and will subsequently become furious at the extent to which their taxes subsidise others. Just a hunch.