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Owen Jones: "Make your voice heard. Make the powerful fear you."


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After almost a decade of running, liberal arts and music festival Latitude is the place to firmly pitch your tent if intellectual socialism and left-wing debates about the future of the Labour party are your idea of a break between seeing Noel Gallagher, riding on gondolas or dining from one of the few too many vegan vans.

At the centre point of the opening night’s packed schedule, between cabaret and comedy, left-wing political columnist for the Guardian and newly the New Statesman, Owen Jones, joined Caroline Crampton, Suzanne Moore and Georgia Gould to discuss the “Politics of Hope.”

To be hopeful and a student in 2015 is a task proving to be a little harder than imagined, with Osbourne’s 2015 Budget announcing that student maintenance grants will be turned into maintenance loans, meaning those who borrow more money will end up having to pay back more. The change will hugely affect poorer students and deter working class young people from becoming students. I speak to Jones, the author of Chavs and The Establishment, on how students can remain hopeful in a time of turmoil.

In the fear that future students will flick through university prospectuses as if they were holiday brochures, looking for the cheapest universities instead of the ones that suit them the most, Owen explains how “things are happening through marketisation instead of broadening academic choice.”

He continues: “We’ve seen if you compare England with Scotland, where they’ve introduced the tuition fee system and find a broader range of subjects, because if you do it off the base of a market it’ll be on the basis of courses that are less subscribed being cancelled. You get this limiting of choice and this is ironic. The whole point of our university system is that it should be seen as a social good, not a consumer good, which is what’s happening. We as society rely on university students.”

Jones tells me, backstage at the literary arena cradling a hot drink, that the university system isn’t based off of a social good anymore, explaining how the individual consumer is benefiting alone, affecting poorer students.

“We’re one of the most expensive education systems in the world and we have this system to support poorer students and that’s being taken away. There’s a fear of debt and accumulating debt, particularly if those affected are from backgrounds of seeing debt,” Owen elaborates with a tinge of understandable anger in his voice.

“The government often justifies their terrible cuts and austerity with saddling the next generation of debt but it’s ironic that they’re filling students with debt to cut future debts. It’s perverse, it’s completely perverse. We should move towards systems like in Germany where they’ve introduced free education because it’s a social good. “

I’m told that in 2010, after the Liberal Democrats won young voters over with a notion of free education and were unable to supply it, a lot of first time voters lost all trust in politicians.

“When you take away or undermine people’s faith in democracy, it’s hard to restore. I think the issues facing young people, including students, are going to be more and more of an issues because of the insecurity of debt and audacity of having an education. The housing crisis with the lack of affordable housing and the housing initiatives falling through will affect young people the most. The lack of skill secured jobs is affecting young people. Things affecting young people are often ignored. Students are affecting by a lot more of debt. They’re going to have their living standards cut for years. Students need to get their voices heard otherwise they will be ignored."

Owen tells me that “Politicians should fear young people" and getting more young people to register to vote will make politicians see consequences of attacking students “as they often do”, and will change the future.

“If you’re gay and your parents have rejected you and you have no housing benefit because of the cuts, what are you going to do? It’s like unpaid internships, not being paid to get into industries.”

On talking on unpaid internships, Jones relates it as discriminatory of wealth not talent.

So, how should we combat this? His answer is definitive: “Organise. Make your voice heard. Make the powerful fear you.”

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