The NUS plan to betray the poor

Aaron Porter, NUS president, secretly proposed cutting maintenance grants by £800m to avoid a hike i

The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, secretly proposed an £800m cut to maintenance grants – which go towards helping the poorest students pay for their living costs at university – in order to avoid a sharp increase in fees.

The plans were put forward in an email to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, in October, before the release of the Browne review.

Porter defended his position in the Telegraph. "We were asked by Dr Cable to demonstrate how fees could be kept at current levels and on the basis of his request we produced modelling to show how that could be done."

Porter's suggestion to take from the poor to subsidise the middle classes does not sit well with the NUS's attempts to portray coalition plans as an attack on the poorest in society. While tuition fees are now paid back at an affordable rate over 25 years, living costs have to be paid upfront, making maintenance grants absolutely vital to many students.

It is the latest in a string of blunders by the NUS president, who has been marginalised as the movement against increased tuition fees has widened.

When student groups launched a string of occupations last month, Porter dithered before offering his support to them. This support was exposed as lukewarm when the UCL Occupation called on the NUS for legal support and was refused.

In this week's New Statesman, Porter hits out at his critics in the NUS and calls for unity.

"It is disappointing but sadly predictable . . . that in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary vote, focus has shifted to petty squabbles and internal criticism rather than directing all our efforts on applying pressure to influence policy," he writes.

After these revelations, Porter can expect a lot more "internal criticism".

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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