Occupy London: the eviction and the backlash

Protesters angered by apparent collusion of St Paul's with the police.

When Giles Fraser resigned as the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's last year it was, he said, because he could not face the prospect of "Dale Farm" on the steps of the Cathedral. But, to the protesters' credit, last night's eviction did not result in violence. Legal observers report that there were around 20 arrests but the majority of activists, who were given just five minutes' notice by bailiffs, complied peacefully with police orders.

On Twitter, Fraser, who was denied access to the site by police, has commented:

Of concern to activists is the apparent collusion of St Paul's with the eviction. Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, has posted footage (see below) of police stating that the Cathedral gave them permission to clear the steps. The protesters lost their legal right to remain earlier this month but there are some who feel that St Paul's should have stood with them in peaceful resistance.

Meanwhile, Occupy London has issued a press release declaring that "plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us."

The key paragraphs read:

This morning, the City of London Corporation and St Paul's Cathedral have dismantled a camp and displaced a small community, but they will not derail a movement. The attention given to the final hours of the Occupy London Stock Exchange site is testament to that. We would like to thank all those who got the word out on social and traditional media overnight. We are deeply appreciative of the sustained attention we have received; it's all the more precious at absurd hours of the morning.

The natural question to rush to in these moments is "what next?" In the short term, there will be a GA at 7pm on Tuesday by the steps of St Paul's. In the medium term, it is only right that people will need time to rest, reflect and recharge, to take stock and learn the lessons of the past four and a half months. But be assured that plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us. All will be revealed in time. May is one of our favourite months.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The price of accessing higher education

Should young people from low income backgrounds abandon higher education, or do they need more support to access it? 

The determination of over 400,000 young people to go into higher education (HE) every year, despite England having the most expensive HE system in the world, and particularly the determination of over 20,000 young people from low income backgrounds to progress to HE should be celebrated. Regrettably, there are many in the media and politics that are keen to argue that we have too many students and HE is not worth the time or expense.

These views stem partly from the result of high levels of student debt, and changing graduate employment markets appearing to diminish the payoff from a degree. It is not just economics though; it is partly a product of a generational gap. Older graduates appear to find it hard to come to terms with more people, and people from dissimilar backgrounds to theirs, getting degrees.  Such unease is personified by Frank Field, a veteran of many great causes, using statistics showing over 20 per cent of graduates early in their working lives are earning less than apprentices to make a case against HE participation. In fact, the same statistics show that for the vast majority a degree makes a better investment than an apprenticeship. This is exactly what the majority of young people believe. Not only does it make a better financial investment, it is also the route into careers that young people want to pursue for reasons other than money.

This failure of older "generations" (mainly politics and media graduates) to connect with young people’s ambitions has now, via Labour's surprising near win in June, propelled the question of student finance back into the spotlight. The balance between state and individual investment in higher education is suddenly up for debate again. It is time, however, for a much wider discussion than one only focussed on the cost of HE. We must start by recognising the worth and value of HE, especially in the context of a labour market where the nature of many future jobs is being rendered increasingly uncertain by technology. The twisting of the facts to continually question the worth of HE by many older graduates does most damage not to the allegedly over-paid Vice Chancellors, but the futures of the very groups that they purport to be most concerned for: those from low income groups most at risk from an uncertain future labour market.

While the attacks on HE are ongoing, the majority of parents from higher income backgrounds are quietly going to greater and greater lengths to secure the futures of their children – recent research from the Sutton Trust showed that in London nearly half of all pupils have received private tuition. It is naive in the extreme to suggest that they are doing this so their children can progress into anything other than higher education. It is fundamental that we try and close the social background gap in HE participation if we wish to see a labour market in which better jobs, regardless of their definition, are more equally distributed across the population. Doing this requires a national discussion that is not constrained by cost, but also looks at what schools, higher education providers and employers can do to target support at young people from low income backgrounds, and the relative contributions that universities, newer HE providers and further education colleges should make. The higher education problem is not too many students; it is too few from the millions of families on average incomes and below.

Dr. Graeme Atherton is the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON). NEON are partnering with the New Statesman to deliver a fringe event at this year's Conservative party conference: ‘Sustainable Access: the Future of Higher Education in Britain’ on the Monday 2nd October 2017 from 16:30-17:30pm.