Battle for Britain: The Government’s Idiocy on Increased University Tuition Fees Revealed

10.4.11

Did I miss something here? Check out the following sequence of events, and then tell me if it establishes anything other than the fact that Britain’s Tory-led coalition government is so blinded by its enthusiasm for sweeping ideological change that ministers have failed to think about the implications of their policies, and have done so to such an extent that they end up giving the impression that they are incompetent amateurs, who don’t have a clue what they are doing, and are unfit to govern.

When, in autumn, the government announced huge cuts to university teaching budgets, leading to the doubling or trebling of fees from the current rate of £3,290 a year to anywhere between £6,000 and £9,000 a year, the first casualty was the integrity of the Liberal Democrats, who had made an election promise that they would explicitly oppose a rise in tuition fees — a broken promise from which the party may never recover.

A second casualty was the apathy of British youth — a problem that appeared to coincide with the 13 years of the New Labour project, and which, anecdotally, I have always referred to as the effects of Tony Blair’s “psychic cosh,” which also silenced the critical inclinations of citizens of all ages — as 50,000 students and schoolchildren (as well as tutors and support staff) took to the streets of London in November to protest, surprising both the government and the police.

Along the way, the Poll Tax Riot was resuscitated (almost as some kind of racial memory), and the protests continued into December, cementing the return of large-scale dissent to the British streets, and the return of oppositional politics, and revealing that, unlike in times past, much of that opposition came from the people rather than from anyone associated with the Labour Party.

In the end, sadly, the government won the vote on tuition fees, by just 21 votes, and the students were unable to maintain the momentum of their campaign — although an untold number were radicalized by their experiences. That was in December, and since then, behind the scenes, universities have either been lobbying the government to rethink its plans, or have begun working out how to adapt in light of the radical changes.

To understand the predicament facing the universities, it is necessary to look at the difficulties that I highlighted back in November in my article, Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities. Amazingly, the extent of the cuts to arts, humanities and the social sciences — to everything except the ring-fenced subjects of science, engineering, technology and maths — has been barely noticed in either the mainstream media or the new media.

As a result, only those who have taken on board the extent of the funding revolution (which involves transferring the entire burden of funding for this vast array of subjects from the state to the individual, without proper consultation, or a mandate for doing so), have also worked out that universities across the board will have to charge the maximum fees available — £9,000 a year — in order to stand a chance of surviving.

The reason for this is simple: it currently costs more than £9,000 a year to teach students, so the maximum fees will be necessary just to provide a service that will not even be as good as it is today, in everything except the ring-fenced subjects of science, engineering, technology and maths. However, the government evidently failed to notice this glaring problem when the fee increases were first announced, suggesting that only a handful of institutions would be charging £9,000 a year, and that the majority would settle for £6,000.

Astonishingly, it has taken until now for these problems to surface in the media, even though they are of extraordinary significance, as they raise profound questions about the ramifications of the government’s experiment, in relation to its impact on the numbers of people who will be prepared to accept an instant doubling or tripling of the cost of a degree, and its impact on the costs that will have to be borne by the government, which, lest we forget, will be paying out the hugely increased fees in the first place, and will then be reimbursed after students graduate.

In the Guardian last week, in an article and an editorial that only partly addressed what is going on, business columnist Richard Alcock suggested that universities were overwhelmingly charging £9,000 a year, “rather than the average £7,500 a year [ministers] had hoped, arguably leaving the government to scrabble round to find an extra £1 bn,” because charging the lower amount will make establishments look second-rate. This argument was also followed up by the Guardian‘s editors, without either party addressing the fact that decisions had been made in an effort to ensure that something resembling the current level of service can and will be maintained.

In response, the government threw a hissy fit, with universities minister David Willetts — whose nickname “Two Brains” only suggests that neither is working — indicating that the government might have to seriously cut student numbers in order to pay for the increase in fees imposed by ministers themselves, thereby jeopardizing their oft-repeated promise that they are interested in social mobility (even though all their actions across government actually indicate that the opposite is true).

There has been one slight glimmer of hope for the government — in that hugely restrictive caps on foreign students, which home secretary Theresa May intended to impose as part of the government’s immigration policies inspired directly by the BNP, were slightly lifted after intervention from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable.

Overall, however, the system is now so chaotic that, as well as suggesting enforced cuts in student numbers (which will, of course, do nothing to help universities survive), the government has now, via Vince Cable, proposed that universities need to think drastically about how to reduce their costs, rather than charging students £9,000 a year.

To my mind, this looks like haranguing universities for not voluntarily flagellating themselves into a state of total economic submission, but to Cable there apparently should have been “a ferment of creative thinking about how to redesign courses and manage staff change,” as the Guardian explained, with the business secretary rather condescendingly stating, “I may be missing something, but I haven’t seen much evidence of this.”

Evidently envisaging some sort of Primark-style world of university provision, based on cut-price competition — and, to my mind, chillingly hinting that sixth-form colleges will be the next “luxury” to be charged for — Cable “[drew] a comparison with sixth-form colleges, where students can receive a year’s teaching at a cost of £4,800,” and said, “To then receive less intensive teaching [at university] will leave them wondering why university is so expensive.”

He also “warned universities they could face sharper competition from new providers offering ‘high standards at lower prices,’ as well as more vocational qualifications that could lead straight to a job,” as the Guardian put it, explaining, “They will need to think about whether putative links between public reputation and price will work in their favour or not — because, fundamentally, those setting the highest prices should logically be making the strongest offer to their students, especially on teaching and employment,” and added that ministers will “support the expansion of student numbers at institutions that offer cheaper courses,” including FE colleges and private providers, stating, “If these providers can offer places that students want — at prices students want — we intend to help them grow. The corollary is that institutions not offering provision of recognisably good value — but that pitch for high prices — could be seriously squeezed.”

For NUS President Aaron Porter, all this smacks of desperation, as indeed it does. Porter stated that it was “shameful” for “government ministers who presided over the creation of a university funding system that encourages universities to charge the highest fee to try passing the blame on to universities.” He added, echoing my sentiments exactly, “Ministers are facing the consequences that everyone but them saw coming when they rushed through changes to tuition fees and they are in a state of panic.”

So now we just need to capitalize on this panic, to force the government to back down before it ruins Britain’s universities. After the TUC-led “March for the Alternative” on March 26, which drew in 500,000 people, I’d suggest that to do so we need national gatherings on a regular basis, to create new coalitions of resistance out of the promise expressed on that day.

Any suggestions?

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

50 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, I wonder how it is that the Tories are so determined to be wreckers, but they are ideologically-driven. They have waited a long time for their chance, and determined to silence all dissent. The old-Etonians just don’t believe that workers’ sons and daughters should have the hope of a tertiary education. But British voters voted for them, didn’t they! You must change the voting system to make it actually democratic.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    I thought that if they charged over £7,200 then they will actually be worse off. But now one has said £9k then they all have to so they don’t demean their courses.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    The dumbing down of the planet continues. You would have to be stupid to take out the loans to get into uni anyway. The educational establishments are there to train people for the workforce. Fodder for industry and you get to foot the bill. Gone are the days when education was a means of getting you to think.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    Yep Sarah, there are always jobs at McDonalds for non-graduates.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jack Cajones Jacksie wrote:

    Typical of all their ‘savings’ that they actually cost more. All they really want is to destroy social equality. They want us ‘in our place.’ The ruling classes still think they can take it back to Victorian times. Sad bastards.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    ‎……..and graduates alike Amber…….you must be in Australia where there are still opportunities. Here in the UK it is very difficult to get any meaningful work even with 1 and sometimes 2 degrees. If you cannot get a job and you need therefore to claim benefits, which by the way is about 100 aussie dollars a week, you are subjected to the most demeaning interviews and requests that you lower your expectations and accept crap low paid work………………………..

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    No Sarah, I am in NW Wales. And I’m well aware of the work situation. And I’m well aware of the welfare benefit situation. And what is a demeaning job exactly? Demeaning for a graduate do you mean? What do you think it is like for a non-graduate?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    I don’t wish to argue with you Amber I think we may have misunderstood each other and i am sure that we can agree that governments are generally shit and we need a revolution.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    Every time you encourage people not to go to university, you know who you are talking to don’t you? Not the m/c kids who are going to go because they have been prepared to go by their parents all their lives. You are talking to the w/c kids who are scared by all this. Yes it’s shit. Yes it’s ideological. Obviously there should be no fees. But there are student loans. Stop scaring kids.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    And as Andy pointed out last year, the sickest thing in all this is the vast number of courses that are to be wiped out. Arts courses and the like that have no ‘value’.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    I believe it is worse for young people to be burdened by debt before they even start thinking about a career. It is like the old apprenticeship system where you have to buy yourself a job but under these circumstances there is no job guaranteed at the end of the training and you still have the debt. Thank the americans for this system and the UK for being so stupid as to follow them.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    I have first-hand experience of a university (in Brisbane, Australia) where a conservative government scrapped the whole humanities school, and a Labor government followed this by finishing the job. The belief system of both major parties is philistinism

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    A Pierre Yurovski wrote:

    ‎[snort] You should all have it so bad and be a student in America, where you are guaranteed a minimum of $50k and up to $120k in debt as soon as you graduate Uni. Thank you Bush, OBAMA!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Shelley wrote:

    A Pierre…if you convert pounds to dollars you’ll find it’s a comparable amount.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Sod You wrote:

    University are for rich, poor cannot go anymore, that what politicians want, it is actually class war.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Amber Burrows wrote:

    Sarah, do you have a degree? Does your husband?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    Amber I went to uni and got a degree when I was 51. I paid some of my debt back but they can get f—-d for the rest………………..

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Scott wrote:

    No my husband did not go to uni………He slaved in a shit job to support his family………………….most of us are economic slaves our whole lives…………….

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Jack Cajones Jacksie wrote:

    Go to uni, get a degree, because you are only gonna get a shit job anyway under these showers we allow to rule us. BUT you can go abroad to work. Go to a country who’s cost of living is low and you can earn a good wage and still be under the amount you need to earn before you pay back your fees.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’ll share and Digg this now. A bit late, because of what I wrote above on your wall.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    I always enjoy your comments, Willy but can I split hairs here – it was the English voters that voted in the Tories and Lib Dems. The rest of the UK didn’t but we share the suffering regardless. In the 1997 election when Bliar got in, Scotland had no Tory MPs. Our happiness didn’t last long though…………………

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Here is a comparison about how things were and can, I hope, be again. I was educated as an undergraduate in NYC, between 1960 and 1965. I attended the NYC colleges CCNY and Queens College. In that period I never paid more than 20 Dollars per semester. That was an internal administrative fee.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Jack Cajones Jacksie wrote:

    An educated populace is only useful to a growing economy. Ours is stagnating,to say the least. They want us ignorant and malleable like we used to be before the wars.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the lively comments, everyone. I know the Guardian does a very thorough job of covering the cuts — although they shy away from headlines that are quite as combative as mine, which I think is a pity. We all understand what the words “Tory Scum” mean, and it’s abundantly clear that that’s who we’re dealing with.

    As for where this is all going, and why, I think the latest comment above by Jack gets it about right — “An educated populace is only useful to a growing economy. Ours is stagnating.” As a result, an increasing section of the populace is redundant, and for the first time, I believe, we have a government that is actively working to disempower the unwanted as much as possible.

    So how do we fight back? Well, unless we can convince the Labour Party to change, and to put people first, then we need a new political movement — and I believe that the first seeds of that are emerging in meetings and marches, on the net and through the daily complaints of people who see what’s happening and won’t shut up about it. So if you hate what’s happening, keep complaining, and don’t let the forces of apathy and indifference triumph.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Allison Lee-Clay wrote:

    Canada’s Harper is in an election race: he’s never seen a conservative privatization US/UK scheme he didn’t like…

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Fern Lindsay wrote:

    Yes Willy I think the Tories are idealogically driven to get rid of the middle classes AKA the affluent working class. I had it once explained to me that aspiration to an egalitarian society is not a good idea and it did not produce anything of merit unlike the Renaissance or the Classical periods which were not not very democratic and certainly not egalitarian. Personally I think the Tories are the classic example of idiots voting for other idiots.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Allison, for the Canadian perspective, and Fern, for that explanation of the assault on the middle classes — the one that most of us, I suspect — or, at least, those of us without assets — have to watch out for.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    I don’t think there is any way to convince Labour to change. Even if the Tories didn’t get into power Labour would still be putting through the same cuts to the NHS and the same rises to University fees.

    We need a new movement for the Left, one that isn’t beholden to any powerful economic interests and in our climate of capitalist media that won’t be easy.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    Another concern of mine is that the Right are just as likely to make gains and it’s down to us to articulate why we’re correct. It’s shocking to see how many people sprout overtly racist views.

    Most people will agree we need policies that empower the working class and then in the next breath blame [insert immigrant group] for the NHS problems and lack of jobs etc. We need to be vocal in our workplaces and social groups. United we stand and can achieve anything, divided we’ve already lost.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Josh. Your analysis is spot-on, and it seems like it’s now a question of how to achieve this. I am prepared to get involved in this, as finally we’re starting to have the kind of conversations that were frozen during the years of Blair’s “psychic cosh.”

    Personally, I’m coming round to the feeling that we need politicians to serve on a basis like jury service, to avoid the problem we now have, which is that almost all politicians are driven solely by their egos and their greed for power, but before we get to that point, of course, we need this new political movement.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Josh and Andy. About Labour, one point. Sometime during the Blair Period I spoke with a British political activist. Our subject was healthcare and the NHS (I lived in Holland then). I mentioned Thatcher and Major. His reply surprised me a bit. He told me that a Tory “in the know” (the activist’s quote) confided in him that the Blair government was advancing Thatcher’s policies, but “at an accelerated pace.” That quote is my friend’s; I don’t know the Conservative’s exact words. Now, assuming that such attitudes at least are still operative within New Labour, and given that this claim about the NHS can be generalised to other targets, what trust and faith can be had in that party?

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    This is a massive departure from where we currently are, and honestly I’m not sure how we’d get there, but I think we need some kind of Participatory Democracy where you vote for something similar to Local Councils. In my case you would have a Council for Bearwood (my home area) and then that council would have representation in a Birmingham Council which would have representation in a West Midlands Council and so on. All decisions would need to be ratified by any council involved so decisions for the entire country would involve a lot of work and I think a complete change to the way we view politics. It would take up a lot of time but it would be something that was truly ours not something we only get involved in on election day. There’s quite a bit of info on ZCom – http://www.zcommunications.org/ – for anyone who is interested in reading a bit more.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    We all need to be involved and get together to make this a reality, everything is set up to make us think we are atomised and working to achieve ours goals alone. It’s enough stress to make sure the rent is paid and you’ve still got a job to make sure it still can be next month. Thinking about changing the world often seems like a pipedream but maybe just maybe together we can make a difference.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Josh–Local councils are where I’m often at. I think there were only three attempts at such structures: the Bavarian Council Republic, Former Yugoslavia (to an extent and at times), and the Kibbutzim. All failed, due to intervention of several sorts.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    George you’re bang on the money, New Labour is Thatcherite and no matter what Milliband says if he was in power I think he’d be the same, Labour has been corrupted and that’s why we need something new.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Thanks Josh. Yes, I have little doubt of that, especially since I’ve seen similar trends in the Netherlands and Sweden (where I live now). Very long stories there.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Fern Lindsay wrote:

    Most of the Unions (not all) are in thrall to the Labour party and this has reduced the opportunities the working people have for expressing themselves. I am not anti Labour at all but I do see the labour movement as having become moribund.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    My ex in the Netherlands often wonders what would have happened if John Smith had not died. Several days ago I read a sort of alternative history about just that. Can’t remember where though. Here in Sweden, people ask the same question about Olaf Palme.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Josh Langford wrote:

    Fern, interesting you mention the Unions because I think you’re right about the leadership at least being in the thrall of the Labour party. However they are an organisation set up ready for worker action, imagine if they started baring their teeth. That will be down to how much the members demand it.

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    George, yes, that anecdote (at 31, above) explains much of what happened under 13 years of “New Labour” — most, but not all, as there were also elements of “Old Labour” present as well. Now, though, we’re back to thorough Thatcherism — or, I should say, something inspired by Thatcherism, but actually much worse.

    My hope, I suppose, is that a new movement arises out of resistance to the terrible policies of the coalition government — but it’s clear that resistance must come first.

    More protest, please!

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Andy,
    Since similar things happened in Holland and Sweden, I’m with you on the need for a new movement. It has all been pretty disappointing to me and some friends.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Esther Angel ‎wrote:

    George Kenneth Berger – I very much agree that New Labour is only a bit more of a fluffy version of the Tories. I remember my mum calling me in shock just shortly after Blair became PM in 1997 and she asked: “what is Blair doing inviting Maggie Thatcher for a talk?”

    In the 90’s it became more and more clear that the Labour Party was changing into another Tory Party in order to get elected. The CJB was just one thing that Labour embraced with as much enthusiasm as the Tories.

    Tony Benn said that the reason to burden young people with lots of debts is to keep them compliant. There is no way you will rebel in your place of work or society when it could cost you your job, which is the only thing which keeps your head above water against a rising tide of debts.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Esther Angel wrote:

    I agree with George, Andy, Josh and Fern that a new movement is what we do need in this country. I think it needs to be based on people power and to some degree the Liverpudlians have started something by just refusing to participate in Cameron’s Big Society.

    But what we need is far more what real democracy is supposed to be – a government elected by the people and for the people. Why were we as the people never consulted about the “War on Terror”? No referendum, just Tony crawling so far up Dubya’s a*** that you no longer knew where one started and the other ended…

    I’m from Switzerland originally, where something similar to what Josh suggests is in operation (just such a shame the Swiss themselves are so conservative that they don’t end up using this system to improve society on a moral level) and referenda are the way to establish what people want. Politicians can’t just force things through and make U-turns on promises.

    The other problem is financial coruption and the issue of power corrupting moral values. Under Blair’s government the UK almost ended up under sanctions due to the high corruption (Mark Thomas did a series on this).

    As long as we have the current financial system, there will always be people who will go over dead bodies to enrich themselves. How do we change that?

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Great commentary, Esther. I too recall with dread Blair’s meetings with Thatcher prior to his electoral success, and, of course, the invasion of Iraq was essentially a one-man show, along with Britain’s enthusiastic entry into the “War on Terror,” which shouldn’t have been allowed to happen …

    As for now, I think that in recognizing that uber-rich transnational thieves will “go over dead bodies to enrich themselves,” you may have identified the heart of the problem, and for that reason I think, for Britain at least, UK Uncut — with their concise manifesto based on bankers’ greed and corporate tax evasion, and their theatrical, non-violent, consciousness-raising interventions — are well worth supporting. Something bigger may come out of this movement, especially if more and more of us get involved.
    http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/
    http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/about/cuts

    And there is a US offshoot:
    http://www.usuncut.org/

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Andy,
    During that “run-up” to the War In Iraq I was almost glued to BBC4 Radio.

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    Esther Angel ‎wrote:

    Andy et al – yes, I agree, UK Uncut are very much worth supporting – and what they do seems to rattle the government. There can be no other reason for the recent arrests of ca 150 of them after their Fortnum & Mason sit in on Saturday 26 March and the fact an undercover cop was planted in their midst.

    Good luck to the authorities while they look for a ring leader as UK Uncut has no leadership to speak of!

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that was a cynical attempt by the authorities to discredit UK Uncut by attempting to portray them as violent anarchists. I don’t think it’s worked, fortunately.
    As for leadership, I’m fascinated by movements without charismatic leaders (years of watching how charismatic leaders operate has caused this — and Blair may have been the last straw!)
    The lack of leadership, or of obvious leadership in the current movements is fascinating, and a genuine source of encouragement, I think.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    My very good friend Anna — from Poland — wrote:

    As for governments rushing through reforms which they had not sufficiently pondered before doing so, that’s a common feature of the post-communist government in Poland.

    Of course one might remark that my government could be expected to do foolish things, considering that –although we do have one of the oldest constitutions in Europe — we ceased to exist in 1792 (or so), then reappeared in 1918 only to have our intelligentsia nearly annihilated 20 years later by Nazis and Soviets, after which we enjoyed another 45 years of intellectually debilitating communist rule. So yes, we may not be altogether experienced in democratic rule, while Britain has been able to enjoy practically unfettered exercise since many centuries, so we might have expected more professional approaches. However, maybe in that case Poland can now render some return services by sending a few experts (I’m afraid by now as expensive as western ones :-), to teach your government how to back out of such situations?

    For I have never followed it in detail, but we have for instance had the case of drastic cuts in students/pupils/handicapped etc reductions on public transport. Same scenario, rushed through without reflection. After which endless protests and little by little the cuts have been undone. Probably not completely but substantially. One wonders whether all changes — at all levels, from ministers to cashiers in railway stations — did not cost more than the cuts could have provided in savings? For of course, without the subsidies, many students etc would simply stop taking the train and possibly even stop studying, if they were still living with their parents and commuted daily to school or university. So the government would have to pay more subsidies to the railway company instead … etc.

    Hm, come to think of it, maybe some clever ‘Polish Plumber’ has managed to sell himself off to your government as an expert in tuition cuts? That would explain it all! I’m kidding of course, as irony sometimes is the only way to tackle such distressing matters.

    I do of course fully underwrite your outrage. Looks like UK universities will now also cater exclusively to the silicone valleys, banking sector and other hi-tech money makers, with multi-nationals financing their ‘scientific research’, including in farmaceutics etc. Apart from the fact that millions of young people will not have a chance to follow their personal choice of development, this does not augure well for the development of ethics, and therefore of humanity.

    Where did it all go wrong? It seems to me that in older times, even if politicians were often patronising and of course there always was the fair share of crooks, at least some of them did have a genuine sense of responsibility (not only in UK), of truly being civil servants, just like Bobbies wore no arms when patrolling their turf. That was only 50 years ago. Or was that only an illusion? After all, only the same 50 years ago, black Americans were not yet allowed to attend a ‘white’ school …

    Part of the problem was certainly the ’60 drive that ‘all should go to university’ (which does not necessarily maintain quality), instead of socially valorising non-university education, which contributed to changing universities from institutions which aimed at producing scholars, scientists, persons (apart from a few concrete professions as doctors, lawyers and highest level engineers or economists) who would dedicate their professional lives to research rather than practical professions, while the less scientific but more practically oriented colleges supplied the medium-high level engineers, technicians, therapists etc. That anyway is how it was in the Netherlands when i was finishing high school. Now we have countless university graduates, and one needs at least a PhD to distinguish oneself as a scientist, but even that is not enough anymore, as PhDs are also becoming a — devaluated — market value. The other part of the problem was the illusion that if people would have more spare time, they would use it to develop themselves, have creative hobbies etc.

    That however, was counting without TV and later internet/computer games. Not to mention cheap flights which helped make mass tourism in poor countries possible …

    We’ve created a society of ‘fun and games’, of ‘rights’ rather than ‘responsibilities’. No wonder new generations of politicians who grew up in that ‘entertainment’ society, think that governing a country is as simple as a computer game, and that all should be had without putting in any real effort. ‘All’ in their case being power and a huge expense account.

    Be a minister once, ‘suffer’ it out and for the rest of your life collect its dividend by becoming member of boards of banks or other profit making companies.

    It’s about time the pendulum started swinging back. Let’s hope these demonstrations will be the beginning of that reversal.

    George Orwell, a new ‘Down and Out in Paris or London’, are direly needed …

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Anna, I was taken with your thoughts on privatization, and where it’s all gone wrong. You make good points about the cuts costing more than they save, thereby proving how the drive is ideological — and simply, unacceptably cruel — and also about how there used to be civil (or, one might say, civic) servants who cared about their roles — in the UK, the socialists and paternalistic Tories who both contributed to the establishment of the welfare state, and in the US, the vanishing moderate Republicans.

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna replied:

    The cuts I think are not only ideological but I honestly think also a result of sheer sloppiness. Why check everything through — over and over — before deciding something, if they know they can get away with murder (literally) without any negative consequences for them personally or their careers — see Tony Blair or Thatcher. I think, by the way, that the latter was really ideological, she was old school thoroughness, just in the wrong direction.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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