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.