A reply to David Cameron

Contrary to what the Prime Minister believes, we students know exactly why we are protesting.

It is generous of David Cameron, writing for the London Evening Standard this week, to acknowledge our democratic right to protest. Perhaps he could pass on these sentiments to the Metropolitan Police, which has tried to kettle thousands of students and prevent them marching.

Is protest no longer legal in the UK? Cameron may yet become infamous as the prime minister who destroyed a core British freedom, despite his claims to lead a "new era of liberty".

Cameron, along with Nick Clegg, has argued that students are angry because of our "misconceptions" about the government's education reforms. This is not the case. We fundamentally disagree with his view of what education is and means for the nation. It is an ideological, moral and democratic disagreement – and we know exactly why we are protesting.

We are protesting because the government is loading our generation with vast debts, under the pretence of a financial crisis we didn't cause. We are angry because of the patronising misconceptions the coalition continues to peddle about what we think, and its insistence that the cuts are "inevitable". And we are taking to the streets and occupying our universities because parliamentary democracy has failed us; we have been directly lied to for political gain.

It is dishonest of the government to claim that raising tuition fees and cutting the higher education budget is due to the deficit. Over the next two parliaments, these reforms will cost taxpayers more than the present funding system would.

The government asks, disingenuously, why the low-paid should have to pay for our education. It is an absurd question: students are taxpayers, too, and the nation benefits collectively from an educated population. Furthermore, cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance, as well as the trebling of tuition fees, will make it incredibly difficult for students from poorer backgrounds to continue their education – even if the fees are not to be paid upfront.

Education is a public good and should be funded by all of us. There is the money to pay for this. A fairer and more progressive approach to tax where the richest pay the most, not the least, would fund a fantastic university system.

In truth, the coalition's reforms are ideologically driven. Cameron is making a deliberate choice to reduce state support for universities and marketise our system of higher education. We will become consumers not students; departments will focus on price not free inquiry; research will be funded on grounds of profitability and "impact", not on expanding our collective knowledge. The starkest example of this can be seen in the cuts to arts and humanities, which will lose up to 100 per cent of their funding in many places.

The right-wing argument that you can cut your way out of a recession has begun to be pulled apart by economists across the world. Not only are the government's proposals based on a discredited economic dogma, but they are dangerous, risking future growth.

These are the reasons why students are protesting. Perhaps Cameron is confused about this because he has not come to meet us since the election. Or perhaps it's because, with 18 millionaires in the cabinet, his government comes from a completely different planet than most of us.

As students, we ought to have been given a fair hearing and a fair response to our concerns, rather than a deliberate attempt to misrepresent what we believe. What the Prime Minister must understand, however, is that we will continue to speak out until we have won this argument and this fight. And we do fully intend to win.

Matthew Hall is a student taking part in the UCL Ooccupation.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.