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What's Left for the Left?


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In 2010, the coalition’s decision to raise student fees to an unprecedented £9,000 sparked nationwide protest. Students from all backgrounds descended on the capital to voice their opposition to this move, denouncing the coalition as a bunch of Janus-faced traitors.

student protestors

Yet the rewards for this display of solidarity were few and miniscule. The groundswell amounted to little more than a light tremor.

Despite solid numbers and mass media attention, the Government remained resolute in their decision. In fact, the only real achievement of the Millbank protest, as it will no doubt come to be known, was bad press. It was as if there were no dissenting voice in our country that anyone in power was prepared to listen to.

But why are protests today so notoriously ineffective? An independent survey revealed that over half of students believe campus protests are poorly organized. Impact’s Daisy Mash, however, resists blaming poor attendance on logistics and suggests that students, by and large, are an apathetic bunch.

That’s a generous description. A demonstration held at Nottingham University in November 2011 attracted approximately 60 protesters out of a student body approaching 32,000. All of which begs the question, are protests an effective platform to address social and political concerns?

However, dissatisfaction with government regulation of protest continues. The same survey disclosed that 67% of students at Nottingham University believe that the laws officiating civic protest are designed so that protests do not work.

Case in point: Occupy. The Occupy movement offered at least some hope for grassroots activism. But a conspicuous thread of legal loopholes led to their disbandment in the course of the last six months. The eviction of the St. Paul’s Cathedral plot was based on the ludicrous stipulation that protestors may reside but not sleep in their tents overnight.

Our distrust of the Government runs deeper. In fact, most critics of the coalition dismiss the Government’s claim that the rise in university fees was “unavoidable” as specious. Still, this does little to explain poor turnout at demonstrations.

Perhaps it’s time to face an uncomfortable home truth. Most universities are fairly affluent and middle-class and the majority of the clientele can afford the extra £6,000. Plainly said, if the working class want to educate themselves then they have to learn to live with the debt.

It seems it is no longer de rigeur to consider our nation’s future in a strictly revolutionary mode. Likewise, the student movement – if considered at all – is considered ineffectual and old-hat. And as it stands, there is still mileage to be had from right-wing myths that unions are for the work-shy, that anti-cuts demonstrators refuse to accommodate the practical realities of a recession, and that low protestor turn-out somehow means that most are in agreement with government policy.

However, on a more positive note, as of June 2012, Occupy London has continued its work unmolested in the nearby Shoreditch Park. Can we project similar progress for our student demonstrators?

Here’s hoping.

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