The student protest: a historical perspective

I’ve found it quite amusing watching and reading some of the historyonics regarding Wednesdays student protests in London. Witness the howls in the blue-rinse broadsheets, and one newspaper even launching a name-and-shame the students campaign. At the risk of marking myself out as Brother Daly, or Red Jim, these are my thoughts.

Lets get this in perspective. Out of 50,000 students, about a hundred kicked off. And even then, I doubt many of them were actually students, more like rent-a-mob. Look at the film of the incident at Tory Party HQ – more photographers than protesters and police put together. Funny that, isn’t it? An angry mob always makes for good pictures and definitely sells papers.

A few windows got kicked in, the reception got trashed. We’re talking tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage – nothing to somebody like Lord Ashcroft. The damage being wreaked to this country – higher education, education in general, the nhs, the armed forces, welfare – goes way way beyond any sum of money. We’re talking about society, and peoples lives here. The problem is, the Tory party love to claim the moral high ground when it comes to angry mobs of erks rampaging. But if they weren’t hell-bent on wrecking British society from every direction, there would be nothing to protest about in the first place.

The problem is, nowadays protest-inspired damage is pretty alien to us. Yet hundreds of years ago – particularly in class-fraught periods such as the Nineteenth Centuryworking class people would routinely protest if they felt wronged. In the early Nineteenth Century the Luddites protested against the introduction of machinery by smashing it up. By and large, protests were against the wage labour system, and the class control system in particular. Property has always been one of the most visible symbols of class – think in terms of the haves and the have nots – so damaging property has always been a primal way of normal people making their feelings obvious.

Its funny also how the establishment is more concerned about damage to property than to people. This is almost a medieval, victorian attitude – one peasant can murder another peasant and nobody cares, but if a peasant steals a loaf of bread from a rich persons kitchen, then there’s hell to pay. So as well as working class people feeling a need to protest by damaging the property of the middle and upper classes, those classes in turn are ultra-sensitive about their class-symbolism being challenged. The fear of ‘the mob’ after the French revolution was electrifying.

So essentially, what we have seen this week is a return to early Nineteenth Century society – an embattled working class, and a middle class attempting to exert its control. Its all very well complaining about people protesting and getting angry, but think about WHY they are protesting, and WHY they are angry. If you try and shaft people, limit their options in life, restrict their social mobility and condemm them to a life of debt, you shouldn’t be surprised if they’re not too happy about it.

Forget taking us back to the 1980′s, this Government is taking us back to the 1800′s. ‘Tory scum’ is an ancient cry in British class struggle; right back to the Duke of Wellington and the Corn Laws. And as much as I admire the Iron Duke as the greatest British field commander in history, do we really want to go back to that archaic age?

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “The student protest: a historical perspective

  1. Um…”blue-rinse broadsheets”? Is that, in American, “old folks’ newspapers”? Sorry, it’s that “separated by a common language thing again…
    The “mobs” looked pretty pathetic on the BBC News. And the damage? The rioters had an entire multi-story building, and all they accomplished were a few broken windows and some tiny little trash fires? You need to look through one of our American news sites and do a search on “Super Bowl Champions” or “Stanley Cup Champions”. Whole downtown shopping areas (high-street shops?) have been completely destroyed by fans of our sports teams rioting because their team WON! Don’t you love that? British students riot about something reasonable like increased tuition costs. Our college students riot when their sports teams win. There are days when I wish America had LOST the Revolutionary War!

    • James Daly

      Sorry John yeah, blue rinse refers to the tendency of older women from a certain section of society to die their hair blue, complete with couiffeur bouffant style bubble perm. They may or may not vote for a certain party, attend church on a sunday morning, and be stalwarts of the Womens Institute too ;)

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  3. x

    Do you feel better for that JD? :)

    I think there were a few more than a hundred or so at Milbank; it is hard to estimate crowds. I agree with you that some of the elements involved with the protest weren’t students. And then you have the likes of Clare Solomon……. >shudders<

    But do you know what struck me about the protests? Everybody who I sawed interviewed spoke with the very distinctive middle class ascent. The guy who they got for the fire extinguisher "stunt" his dad was company director and the family home is valued at £1million. These were hardly the down trodden masses. The media and left seem attached to a romantic image of student struggling up from peasant hovel. Even though the majority of socialist leaders have always been drawn from the middle and upper classes. Yet this has hardly ever been the case; the working class student was a minority until recently and since WW2 the working class student was eligible for grants (not loans) and all manner of bursaries.

    Perhaps the biggest crime against the student was the Labour Party's own policy of getting 50% of teens to university. This has put unbearable strain on the system. And do 50% of teens deserve to go to university? Probably not. The youth's expectations have been raised and degrees valued. Do you know that the country's top 30 VCs can't explain why there has been an increase in firsts. And yet there hasn't been a corresponding increase in MAs and Phds. The country is crying out for skilled technicians and yet none can be found.

    There was once route for the academically gifted working class child to reach university and that was via grammar schools. But the Labour Party dismantled the system as it was divisive. Under Labour everybody was a winner in the state system. Note the number of Labour MPs who bypassed the state system as they are products of independent schools. Do as we say, not as we do. In many ways the 50% policy and scrapping grammar schools is all about keeping the masses in their place by weakening the education system. Which degree do you think employer's value more? A 2.1 from Nowhere Uni' (used to be a poly/college) or a 2.1 from Oxbridge.

    As for Lord Ashcroft I think his record in the UK should be compared to Labour's non-dom supporter Lord Paul. Which one sponsors a successful charity and a state secondary school. And which one raided the pension funds of steel workers in the North East.

    I do note with amusement though that fire extinguisher wielding student went to a university with a building sponsored by Ashcroft.

    Money for universities should be targeted at the high brow important fields like doctors, scientists, IT, engineering, and history. ;)

  4. James Daly

    In my eyes the modern Labour party is largely discredited as a socialist political force, tories who just happened to take a punt on the left site. Its so far removed from its roots its unbelievable. Its virtually unrecognisable from the 1945-1951 Attlee Government.

    The damage being done to our education system will last for generations – as you quite rightly say x there is this ludicrous idea that a 2:1 from a polo-playing-rowing-rugger-chucking-uni is worth more than a 2:1 from a provincial no-frills uni. Same degree, same grade. Its just pure unashamed snobbery and it will take our country backwards. Look at Cameron, Osborne et al. Goodness knows how anyone thinks they’re fit to run a country, and they’ve shown absolutely no signs of being supposedly high calibre oxford graduates. But money, class and privilege opens doors.

    • You know, James, you are just too vague with your commentary. You really have to work on expressing how you REALLY feel! :D
      We have the same problem with school reputation over here. I came out of college (DeVry, a “tech” school as opposed to an intellectual “Ivy-league school) with a 3.2/4. I tested out of taking all but one English class compliments of my high school training. And yet most employers treated me like a pariah. A friend of mine, who dropped out of no less than 5 colleges and finally squeaked out with a 2.something, was romanced by several employers because his graduating school was a high-ranked “intellectual” college. Completely unfair.

    • x

      You forgot lacrosse!!! Everybody forgets lacrosse…….

      Unfortunately not all degrees are created equal. The institution I escaped from last Christmas had a law school, but graduates with law degrees from the ex-polly down the road had a much better chance of employment. Same in IT. They were rather good at black holes though and the medical school is carving itself a niche. The trouble is there is no decent verifiable data; as I said above VCs can’t account for the rise in firsts. There is disparity between institutions with good research and publishing records and those that are good for “teaching”.

      I can’t fault you on your analysis of our current leaders. Unfortunately it is best of a bad bunch. Personally I don’t see really in what any of them get out of it. And even I can appreciate the scope of vision of the Attlee (Haileybury College, Oxford, 2nd in Modern History) government.

      I am waiting to see what the background of the long haired yeti is who threw that second extinguisher.

  5. Lord in Heaven above, we are having an argument over here in the States to banish the “F” grade. “It can depress the children.”
    Anybody want to sponsor an immigrant family? Me and my wife, 1 dog, 6 cats. Wife can work, husband is a first-class pain in the posterior but loaded with useless information and useful manual skills. I don’t want to be American any more! Not if this is going to be the biggest news story today! HHHAALLLLPPPPPP!!!! 8O

    • Shame on me, I forget that Britain and the US don’t always share the same concepts. Our schools use a letter grade, usually on a percentile scale. 90%-100% of possible points=A, 80%-89%=B, etc. 5 grades total – A (excellent), B, C, D (worst grade that still allows you to pass, and hence proceed to the next school year), and F=Failure – you have to repeat that level of school over. Some wacko far-left group have decided that giving a student an F will depress them, so we need to make our teachers work harder to bring the child along. Never mind that most inner-city schools are already horribly under-funded, with teachers earning salaries usually reserved for the burger-flippers in your local fast-food restaurant. Never mind that children are going to schools with leaking pipes, collapsing roofs, peeling paint, and no modern textbooks or computers. No, we have to make our over-worked teachers work even harder, with no pay increases, so we don’t harm some poor little child’s psyche. Well, in my day (WARNING – OLD FART ALERT!), you were SUPPOSED to feel ashamed of an F. It was supposed to make you work harder to AVOID the shame of failing. But America is shifting to a “it’s not my fault” attitude. Are you fat? It’s not your fault, it’s those nasty fast-food restaurants feeding you Big Macs. Failing you classes? It’s not your fault, the school isn’t teaching you properly. Falling asleep at the wheel of your car? It’s not your fault, the car companies should have gimmicks in your car to keep it in your lane. (That’s the point of a Benz ad over here.) Like I say, I don’t want to be an American anymore. Anybody need a dependent for a credit on your taxes? :)

  6. Our schools do too – or they did. Not sure now as I’ve been out of the education system for years.

    Is it a case of F means FAIL, or is it just the lowest pass grade? If it’s the latter, then it would appear to be suggesting telling kids that they’re doing better than thet actually are – which won’t help.

    • WEBF- An F means you fail, so you have to repeat that grade level. D is the lowest passing grade. No one has talked about just HOW we’re supposed to pull these failing students up to a passing level, other than stating that the teachers “need to help these students along”. So, what do the teachers do? Ignore the A students, punishing them (by neglect) to help the failing students? Nobody seems to have the answers to how, just that we need not embarrass the “poor little” failing students.

  7. James Daly

    There has been talk in Britain of an A** grade being introduced, as so many people are now getting A*’s. Meanwhile, the GCSE results have improved EVERY year since they were instituted. Now, you can really take these results seriously can’t you…

    • x

      Well a few years back I did GCSE Maths equivalent test for my Access to Higher Education course. I wasn’t impressed. For example when I did O Level Maths we did Calculus. You don’t see that at 16 now, that is A/AS Level territory. The GCSE trig’ covers the same territory, but the problems aren’t as complex. Where we had to work out a series of angles (work out A so you can find B and then C) GCSE just gets you to one angle (just A.)

      Now even back O Levels I am sure that certain boards were tougher than others. Even though they supposedly met the same standards.

      And I have fond memories of taking a GCSE prototype paper in Computer Science. Well there were 5 papers. You took if I remember correctly paper 1 and 2 if you were a strong O-Level candidate and so on downwards. The two papers were supposed to take 90 minutes. We did all 5 papers in one hour and we came out with 98% because one of the questions was wrong……….

  8. Okay, this doesn’t belong in this thread, but…..

    James, no thoughts on the announcement of Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton? C’mon, I’ve been spreading my overt Royalist sentiments on other sites, I need to vent here among all my British friends! (Or at least, among a group of Brits who barely tolerate my Yankee idiocy!) :D

  9. The student protests are not just protests by students who have nothing better to do, the protests where to save our society and to protect the future.

    The blue’s are not hear to improve our society but they are here to compromise our way of life to pay off financial debt borrowed in the past. Our entire lifestyles and future has been re-mortgaged through no fault of our own. My question is ‘The borrowed money (in the past) where has it been spent?’ – is it on foreign wars which we too demonstrated against on a national level or is it to save the banks who got us in this position.

    It unfair that the Working Class and Middle Class have to compromise their lives and standards to pay for this mess.

    If student protests gets nasty then one needs to question who are the mobs? As we know the public opinion in this country matters, and by hiring few mobs with face covered posing in-front of journalist and news reports does mean the entire student protest is flawed. This is just another attempt to change the public opinion against student protests. If we don’t support student protests then were all going to fall, as the government will continue to change our living standards for the worse and we will be unable to do anything about it.

    • James Daly

      I do agree that the coalition government and sections of the media are trying pretty hard to discredit the student protests, no doubt as the find them pretty uncomfortable, ie that they have a perfectly reasonable point. It is important for people to see through the smokescreen that Cameron, Clegg etc are putting out. Yes, there are rogue elements who take things too far, as you get with any protest. Yes, I suspect that there is an element of ‘rent-a-mob’ at work, no doubt prodded by the media to make a good story. But the substantive issues about the danger to our society remain.

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