Video: 15-Year Old Tells UK Government Why It Has Radicalised A Generation


As the last legislative hurdle to the government’s savage cuts to university funding fell in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening, the determination of Britain’s young people to resist the plans to raise tuition fees from £3,290 a year to £9,000 a year, and to cut 100 percent of the funding to arts, humanities and the social sciences, was undimmed.

Although the government’s plans were supported by the Lords, there was some spirited opposition in the debate. Labour peer Lord Triesman said, “This afternoon’s decision will switch the concept of universities from being a public good, as they have always been through modern history, to essentially a private sector market driven by personal private investment.” He added, “There was always a likelihood there would be an increase in fees, but on these kind of scales, it was never contemplated.”

In addition, Lord Krebs, the principal of Jesus College, Oxford. asked the government to explain “why it is cutting university funding when Britain is already spending less on higher education as a proportion of GDP than Hungary, Mexico, Poland and Brazil,” as the Guardian described it, and there was also criticism from the Rt. Rev. John Saxbee, the bishop of Lincoln and the Church of England’s chair of education, who said he was “concerned about the withdrawal of funding to humanities and social sciences, subjects he believed were essential to encouraging ’rounded human beings.'” He added, “We must ask whether the normalising of debt in this way is morally defensible, or socially sustainable. Higher education is not a privatised commodity to be bought and sold on the open market.”

Sadly, an amendment tabled by Lord Bilimoria, a crossbench businessman and a former chancellor of Thames Valley University, in which he called for the increase in fees to be phased in, and explained, “There are cuts, and there is carpet bombing,” was also defeated, leaving the coalition government triumphant, even though the capitulation of the Lib Dems may well have destroyed them as a party, and the Tories have no guarantee that they will be able to survive a continuing backlash by students and schoolchildren, especially, if, in the New Year, the resistance to the government’s cuts programme begins to shape into more of a a mass movement, as I anticipate it will.

Yesterday, as an indication of the strength of feeling engendered in young people by the government’s brutal and ill-conceived plans, I was alerted to the following video on YouTube — filmed last month in London at the first national conference of the anti-cuts umbrella group, Coalition of Resistance, and already watched by over 370,000 people — in which Barnaby, a 15-year old schoolboy, explains perfectly how the younger generation has finally awoken — after the strange slumber of the Labour years — to the injustices heaped upon them, and how they will not be resting from their dissent any time soon. As was noted in the email accompanying the link, “This video of a 15-year old called Barnaby is remarkable for several reasons. First because he’s just 15, also because he seems to be new to political protest, and most importantly because Clegg, Cameron, and Cable seem to have inadvertantly radicalised a generation — and that can only be a good thing.”

Barnaby is just one voice of the new revolutionary youth of the UK, and part of a vibrant alternative to a craven mainstream media and increasingly rattled government ministers. As David Cameron spoke of “feral thugs” (revealing Etonian class disdain in full flow), and Theresa May toyed with introducing water cannons, the media, with few exceptions, wittered on incessantly about the threat to the Royals, Charles and Camilla, whose car was attacked in Regent Street after the police failed to realize that a group of young protestors was moving faster than them.

Recalling King Mob, a book by the historian Christopher Hibbert about the “Gordon Riots” of 1780, which I reviewed back in 2005, it occurred to me how the incident was actually like a momentary rebirth of the “London Mob,” who used to rise up regularly in centuries past — as they did in 1780 — when they were thoroughly sick of their oppression. And from here my mind wandered to the 1848 Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common, trade union agitation in the 1880s, and that last demonstration of the revolt of the people pushed too far by the abuse of power, the Poll Tax Riot of 1990.

This, I’m delighted to realize, has already been recognized, by those who were not even born 20 years ago, as the precursor to the great struggle unfolding right now — overturning an unjust law passed by an unpopular goverment; in this case, one without even the mandate that Margaret Thatcher achieved at her third election victory in 1987, and it is, I hope, only a matter of time before the students and schooldchildren — the vanguard of opposition to a regime of cuts on everyone but the rich and the super-rich, whose effects are akin to Thatcher’s attempt to impose a level tax on all, regardless of income — are joined, in significant numbers, by other affected groups and individuals.

On Sunday, the Observer wrote about the anti-fees protests, and also about the abolition of the Education Maintanance Allowance, introduced in 2004, which helps young people from low-income households stay in education after the age of 16. As the article explained, “Almost 647,000 of England’s 16- to 18-year-olds receive the allowance,” which provides £30 a week to young people from households with incomes below £20,817, tapering to £10 a week for those with household incomes under £30,810. This, combined with the perceived blow to university prospects for those from poorer households (who, understandably, are not taken by the government’s concessions), is what has particularly galvanized schoolchildren into action, and the Observer captured the mood, echoing many of the points made by Barnaby, above:

What has triggered this change? For years, the young have been dismissed as apathetic. What has happened to make tens of thousands of them pour on to the streets in the bitter cold – not once, but again and again; not just in London, but in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds? What has sparked the re-emergence of student occupations in lecture theatres across the country? What is it about the coalition government and its policies that has ignited so much anger?

Shiv Malik, co-author of the book Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth, says the under-thirties feel betrayed — sold out in favour of their parents and grandparents. Fees, he argue, are just one part of the jigsaw. The 29-year old took to the streets himself on Thursday, and was injured after being hit by a police baton. He argues that most of the protesters were not anarchists or socialists but young people whose instinct to revolt had been awakened for the first time.

“George Osborne kept his promises to the older generation — to keep their free eye tests, their winter fuel allowance, their free prescriptions, their free bus passes,” says Malik. “Eighty per cent of winter fuel recipients are not winter-fuel poor. If you means-tested [them], you would make £2bn to spend on higher education.”

He argues that what has particularly angered the young is David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s insistence that the cuts are necessary to prevent heaping debt on to the next generation. “They have cut our futures and are lumbering us with debts anyway,” he declares.

Students interviewed by the Observer at the protest last week expressed the same concerns:

“By the time the cuts are put into place, my uni will be hanging by a shoestring and the government want to charge people three times the amount,” said Lucinda Hodge, 22, from Goldsmiths, University of London. “Politicians don’t care about young people as we don’t vote as much. We are just collateral damage.”

Others had come from school and college. “There is a slim chance of going to university now,” said Roze Brooks, 17. “Quite frankly I won’t be able to pay,” said Jack Jordan, 16.

There was even some sympathy in the right-wing press. While condemning the violence, the Daily Mail also commented: “We … worry that graduates will have to start paying this money back at about the time they are buying their first house and starting a family, crippling them financially just as they try to become fully fledged members of society.”

Young people are discussing fears about their financial futures. “Debt for ever?” asked Holly Carlile, 22, from the University of Birmingham. “Will we ever be out of rented accommodation? How are we expected to put a single foot on the property ladder?”

For now, Barnaby is not the only hero. There is also Jody McIntyre, a 20-year old activist who has cerebral palsy, but who, nevertheless, was pulled out of his wheelchair by the police on two occasions in Parliament Square at last Thursday’s tuition fees protests, and dragged across the street.

Although McIntyre, who requires a helper to push his wheelchair for him, was clearly the victim of targeted police brutality last week, he was subjected to unacceptably harsh questioning on the BBC by correspondent Ben Brown, who, as an article in Business Review Europe explained, was “extremely confrontational towards McIntyre, accusing him of provoking officers by throwing objects, wheeling towards police and shouting abuse, despite there being no documented evidence of any of these actions in the footage.”

McIntyre refused to be drawn, maintaining his dignity and composure, and explaining, “I was not throwing anything at police officers and I was not posing a threat to anyone.” Asked whether he was “wheeling towards officers,” he pointed out that he was “unable to operate his own wheelchair and was being pushed by his brother,” and, as the article explained, “The footage does not suggest that he was threatening police officers in any way.”

McIntyre was also able to point out that the media “was trying to distract the public from the real cause of the protests,” which he correctly pinpointed as “the rise in tuition fees, which would mean only the elite would be able to attend university,” and when Brown tried again to dismiss his complaints about the violence to which he had been subjected by stating that he had not filed an official complaint, was rebuffed when McIntyre explained that he “was in discussion with lawyers about the right best way to proceed with an official complaint,” and one would be made in the “very near future.”

This also gave McIntyre the opportunity to score another point, bringing the story of another protestor injured by the police, 20-year old student Alfie Meadows, into the conversation. Meadows, who was struck by a police truncheon, in what he described as “the hugest blow he ever felt in his life,” suffered a stroke and underwent three hours of surgery after he was attacked. McIntyre described him as being in hospital, “within an inch of his life” and also pointed out that, when he first arrived at the hospital, the police tried to prevent hospital staff from providing him with medical assistance.

Meadows’ ordeal led to a protest at Scotland Yard against “kettling,” the police tactic of enclosing protestors in a confined area for many hours, which is, essentially, a form of collective punishment. Legal challenges to the tactic, which was introduced in 2001, have not, to date, been successful, but after the repeated use of “kettling” throughout the last few weeks’ demonstrations, a new legal challenge has been mounted by Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, who has stated that the police tactics “breach articles 5, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights” (“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person,” “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” and “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly”).

Shiner, who is well-known as a human rights lawyer, is acting on behalf of five protestors – including four sixth-formers – who were kettled for up to five hours in Trafalgar Square. The lead claimant is his daughter, Bethany, who recently completed a masters degree in art and politics at Goldsmiths College. Speaking to the Guardian, she said, “I was with a group of young people who behaved at all times perfectly properly and lawfully. We then found ourselves kettled in sub-zero temperatures. It is outrageous that the police should resort to such tactics against all protestors, most of whom were acting peacefully.” As Phil Shiner added, “My clients are very concerned that the Metropolitan Police are now using kettling as a stock response to all public protests and appear to have authorised kettling in advance of this particular protest.” Shiner has sent a pre-action letter to the Met Chief, Sir Paul Stephenson, and the police have 14 days to respond. He added, “The police are required to have a range of lawful responses to different scenarios and not just resort to the most coercive tactics at the first sign of trouble. The policy of kettling has to be struck down.”

While Phil Shiner awaits a response to his legal challenge, protestors are regrouping, making plans for the New Year, and forging new coalitions.

Of particular interest, as an organization that appears to have arisen as an offshoot of the student protests, is UK Uncut, which has targeted Vodaphone and Sir Philip Green’s fashion empire as part of a frontline campaign against tax avoidance, and which is therefore involved in widening the debate, pointing out that cuts in one part of the economy could be avoided if other areas were targeted (corporate tax evasion is one very obvious focus, but I would also like to see more attention directed at the City). Also of interest, as mentioned above, is Coalition of Resistance, a broad movement of opposition to the government’s policies, whose founding statement (signed by Tony Benn and 73 others) was published in the Guardian in August, and, on the student front, the London Student Assembly, an umbrella organisation made up of various protest groups, including the Education Activist Network and the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, which grew from an initial meeting of 170 students.

The Assembly held its first meeting at the London School of Economics on December 10, and, as Michael Chessum, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, told the Evening Standard, “People are saying we have become a serious mass movement for the first time in a generation. Let’s get some rest over Christmas and come back to reverse these measures. We are not going to give up and go home.” Chessum also picked up on the popular dissent of 20 years ago that did so much to destroy Margaret Thatcher’s authority. “A generation of people have been sold out by their elected representatives,” he said, “but it can still be reversed, just like the Poll Tax was. The Poll Tax is a concrete example of how mass protests can overturn already existing legislation.”

The Assembly was critical of the National Union of Students, after the union organized a candlelit vigil on the day of the vote last week, which attracted just 2,000 students, while more than 20,000 turned out for the march organised by the Assembly. Mark Bergfeld, from the Education Activist Network, said, “The National Student Assembly could develop into a rival to the NUS if the movement continues to grow as it has over the last couple of weeks. We only saw a few hundred people at the NUS rally. People are tired of being in a union that doesn’t align itself with students. It was an ineffective protest. If you hold a candlelit vigil you are mourning the death of higher education, but we are still fighting for it.”

The Assembly has a point, certainly. NUS President Aaron Porter has, like a politician-in-waiting, been swift to condemn violence, and the candlelit vigil certainly appeared to be nothing more than a capitulation planned in advance, However, Porter also recognizes that something unprecedented is happening. As he told the Observer, “There has been a build-up of issues — not just tuition fees but the EMA, youth unemployment, struggling to get onto the housing ladder and bleak prospects for the future — all coming together to spark a wave of protest. The NUS considers this level of youth activism to be unprecedented, perhaps since the 1960s.”

So have a good Christmas break — unless, of course, you’re amongst the 100,000 workers in the public sector who will be hearing about your job losses over the holiday period. With youth unemployment at an all-time high, and the jobless total now over two and half million, 2011 looks set to be the coalition government’s Year of Discontent, dwarfing the recent student protests and fundamentally challenging the authority of a government that has no genuine mandate for its cruel and destructive policies.

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 and Twitter). 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), 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.

17 Responses

  1. coreluminous says...

    “By the time the cuts are put into place, my uni will be hanging by a shoestring and the government want to charge people three times the amount,” said Lucinda Hodge, 22, from Goldsmiths, University of London. “Politicians don’t care about young people as we don’t vote as much. We are just collateral damage.”

    The truth is that there are Powerful Societal Forces that are able to determine much of the conditions of the majority of people’s lives and that these forces do not care about children at all…..

    Tony Blair obviously didn’t have any concern about the effects of sanctions, and then launching a war against a vulnerable country. 350,000 children died between 2003 and 2006, violently. He might well care for his own children, but that’s about as far as it goes.

    The sad history of Elite Child Rearing practices dating way back – spare the rod, spoil the child originates from pre-classical Greece – reveals this as factual, documented and intentional.

    Compare that how the majority of pre-civilised Societies relate to children, as James Prescott did in the 1970s, and you can begin to see the roots of the problem.

    The children are well aware of what is going on. And it’s to the shame of all adults that so many are not.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment. Very good to hear from you.

  3. coreluminous says...

    Good to see articles giving voice to the diversity and intelligence of the children and youth….

    I recall watching at the Powr Inquiry conference 2006, as a discussion raged about the voting age, with the politicians rejecting the idea of reducing it to 16 spite of evidence that many 16 year olds are well capable of making that kind of decision..then the discourse moved onto the issue of the pensions of the elderly… more blah blah from the politicians…

    A young boy, sitting right in front of the panel where the polticians were, raised his shand. He was ignored, – what would a 13 year old have to say about pensions! pah!- but kept his hand up….

    Eventually they deigned to let him speak.

    “What is stopping you from taking the money you are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan on War and using it to support the elderly?” was his question…

    The hall erupted in cheers, and the panel praised the boy, and moved on to the next topic….

    The hall may have cheered, but their deference to power stopped them from DEMANDING that the question be answered.

    Shame on the adults for their deference to power.

  4. Tashi Farmilo-Marouf says...

    “The Bush Administration was wrong about the benefits of the war and it was wrong about the costs of the war. The president and his advisers expected a quick, inexpensive conflict. Instead, we have a war that is costing more than anyone could have imagined. From the beginning, the United Kingdom has played a pivotal role – strategic, military, and political – in the Iraq conflict. Before the war, Gordon Brown set aside £1 billion for war spending. As of late 2007, the UK had spent an estimated £7 billion in direct operating expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan (76 per cent of it in Iraq). This includes money from a supplemental “special reserve”, plus additional spending from the Ministry of Defence. Based on assumptions set out in our book, the budgetary cost to the UK of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2010 will total more than £18 billion. If we include the social costs, the total impact on the UK will exceed £20 billion.” Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, 2008. Extracted from The Three Trillion Dollar War
    (And now, who is paying the price? — Tashi)

  5. Tweets that mention Video: 15-Year Old Tells UK Government Why It Has Radicalised A Generation | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Cathleen Mackay. Cathleen Mackay said: Video: 15-Year Old Tells UK Government Why It Has Radicalised A …: On Sunday, the Observer wrote about the ant… […]

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great point, Tashi. Thanks.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Huda Gharir wrote:

    wow, good on him! great speaker!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Jordan wrote:

    Thanks – I’ve shared it

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    brilliant article, yet again Andy – sharing x

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Turin Turabar wrote:

    Still spamming this video every week on my profile 🙂

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Anthony F. Angelic wrote:

    Those “radicalised” need to establish coalitions. Coalitions of workers, students, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc. Those “radicalised” need to identify, establish a subsequent link, a cross section of socio, economic, political agendas. The British establishment appears to be as oblivious to their cause, as is the US military-industrial complex to the plight of the american people. They need to continue to take their plight to the streets.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Jabril Mujahid-Alexander wrote:

    Maybe the house of lords should examine reducing the “free money” they allocate for the royal family. From my understanding it is in excess of $60 Million USD per year. Lower tuition and cut the budget for the royal family

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Sod You wrote:

    Prime Minister and the media are calling these students “thug” but who is thug here, raising tuition fees and cancelling EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) for sixth formers?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    Thanks for posting this Andy. We tend to sit down here and pretend things will get better even when we know they won’t.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone.
    Anthony, I agree absolutely about the need to establish coalitions. I see this beginning to happen already, but more is needed in the New Year, and I’ll be doing my best to be involved in that.
    I was also struck by your line, “They need to continue to take their plight to the streets.” I think that’s also central to keeping up the pressure, but I anticipate that being out in the streets will continue. Partly, I think, younger people who have become accustomed to having public spaces taken away from them (especially in a surveillance culture such as the UK), and who, in addition, have been living much of their lives online, are finding that real solidarity in public is quite thrilling.

  16. The Year of Revolution: The War on Tyranny Replaces the War on Terror « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] although the response so far has generally been muted (with the exception of the students and schoolchildren who took to the streets last November and December), a widespread anger is just below the surface, […]

  17. Where is the Shame and Anger as UK Govt’s Unbridled Assault on Disabled People continues? – Eurasia Review OpEd | Black Triangle Campaign says...

    […] for a well-functioning civil society, the butchers of the Tory-led government have been attacking schoolchildren, students, the working poor, the unemployed, the old, the ill and disabled […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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