Browne is yellow and blue all over


The coalition government have voted to remove the cap on University tuition fees. As I write, students and others are protesting in Westminster, the streets are being torn apart and police are hitting people with batons.

Let’s be clear about why this is happening. The government decided to make huge cuts in public spending to reduce the budget deficit, and furthermore to make these cuts within the lifetime of the parliament. From that decision extends an inexorable logic. What would you cut? Defence? Police? Health provision? Or Universities which, in the popular imagination, churn out graduates who walk into well paid jobs?

The Comprehensive Spending Review included a 79% cut in the teaching grant to universities. Again, the logic is unavoidable: universities cannot teach if to do so costs them losses of thousands of pounds per student per year. Either funding must be found from elsewhere, or dozens of the more than 130 universities in the country must close.

If I had my way – I don’t and I never will – we’d be saying goodbye to Trident, taxing the corporations, bankers and anyone else earning over 10 times the minimum wage until their pips squeak, and re-establishing fully-funded education for all. The benefits are unarguable, for graduates and for the country. Why not recoup the cost of higher education from those who have benefitted so fully from free degrees (not to say low taxes, booming property, free universal healthcare). In short, raise taxes for every generation from the post-war baby-boomers up to and including my own. We had it all given to us on a plate, why not make us give some of it back?

But the cuts have been made. Fees are the only game in town. The logic, crushing and unavoidable, is clear. The effects will be felt over a generation. Browne has a strong progressive safety net. Poor students will not repay fees, reasonably well-off graduates will. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to imagine that the poorest in society – those who do relatively better through attending university¬† than the middle-class entitled, by the way – will not turn away from education in their thousands. Read Sickmouthy’s recent post to understand how universities have become engines for social mobility over the last decades.

The rest is politics, and what’s left is the shredded corpse of the Liberal Democrats. Are they cheats, or liars? Did they make pledges they had no intention of keeping? Or did they fail to stand up to their Conservative overlords and choose to break their promises and betray their beliefs instead? Perhaps this is coalition politics. Perhaps we would have done the same thing, with heavy hearts and twitching sphincters.

What’s clear is that come the next election their pledges will be worthless and their promises will fall on deaf ears. All that remains for them is to make the most of their time in front of the cameras, squirming as they try to justify policies they used to denounce. They won’t be around for much longer and in the meantime the Conservatives have a whole load more shit for them to carry.


Election fever turns terminal


We were away for the election, and I count us lucky. I don’t think I would have survived the slow, suffocating crush of the aftermath as the coalition of the damned came together with terrible inevitability. Driving back down the M5 a couple of hours after the new occupant of 10 Downing Street had kicked off his shoes (presumably delivered for him by prime-ministerial Jag), the news and phone-ins were bad enough.

What to make of it.

I’m no lover of Brown’s Labour party. They lead a sustained assault on civil liberties that would have made Thatcher proud, sleepwalked us into a financial ambush sufficiently catastrophic as to give the Tories all the excuses they need to decimate our public services and they began an illegal war in our name. Brown, long thought to be the brains behind the organisation, proved dithering and ineffective when he finally got the chance at the top job he had supposedly always craved.

But the hysterical monstering he suffered at the hands of the British press has been biased, pernicious, dishonest and ultimately corrosive for politics and public life. No more, it seems, are we allowed a leader who is ill-tempered, unpolished, difficult, ugly.

Now we are being told that his departure from power is a “profoundly human” moment, as if that meant anything other than an acknowledgement that he has not been treated humanely by commentators since he took power.

This country feels safer, more prosperous, more vibrant and more equal than when the last Tory government was rousted. Labour got some things wrong, and some things right. Shock horror. To the idiotic callers to phone-in shows screaming good riddance and asserting that the country is broken, two questions: How blinkered or hate-blinded can you possibly be, and just what do you think is going to happen now?

Let’s think about that.

As The Bugle rightly put it on Friday, everyone lost this election. Labour certainly did. The Tories meanwhile ran the most expensive campaign in history, against a hugely unpopular government, upon a background of economic collapse and political sleaze, and they couldn’t persuade the British public to vote them in. I met two people during the campaign who thought they’d like to see Cameron as PM and dozens who seemed likely to scratch their own faces off at the very prospect.

The Lib Dems won the campaign and lost seats. Thanks but no thanks Nick.

I’m a hopeless analyst: naive, trusting and shortsighted. Nonetheless, the logic of the coalition and where it’s going seems inescapable and destructive.

The Lib Dems lost seats on the back of an apparently triumphant campaign. They must have realised early on Friday that they will never get anything from our current electoral system. Their one hope for improved future fortunes must lie in the electoral reform which has always been a sine qua non for them, and which would deliver real seats and influence to their party. They had to get it to have any sort of a future, and they failed. The Tory party won’t support it, no matter how much they are holding hands and skipping through daisies together today, and Labour voters will surely feel ‘disinclined’ to vote for the LIberal leg-up, to put it mildly. They may get their referendum, but they won’t get their reform and their one chance to become a permanent part of the political landscape has gone, traded in for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit in government with a Tory party prepared to do anything to grab that power for themselves after 13 years separated from what they surely feel is their rightful inheritance.

They may have half a buttock on various ministerial seats, but the Liberal Democrats have committed a long, slow suicide that will surely see them annihilated at the next election, if not before by the horrible, repulsive, abusive marriage they have just entered into. And as you see them holding hands over the next days and weeks, cooing to each about “the new politics” they have created, remember how much they hate each other, how little they actually want this, and how much they are now lying to you.

A pact with Labour would, arguably, have delivered proportional representation, and created the progressive alliance that many in the country wanted. But the numbers wouldn’t have held and, ultimately the government would have been hounded as illegitimate. The chance has gone. Ultimately, perhaps the most heartbreaking element of this whole slow motion disaster is that it seems to have ground towards the only realistic outcome, even though no-one wanted it.

There have to be upsides, don’t there?

The screeching harpies who railed blindly against the last lot are in for a dose of cold, slick reality. Governing is tough.

At last we can all hate the government without feeling conflicted, and those who abandoned Labour after the Iraq betrayal may feel they can begin to come back. Who knows, we may even get a decent left-wing opposition that’s also fit to be elected.

Foxhunting might stay banned.

And those idiots, who have been able to belch bollocks on my radio for years will have to shut up and start to take responsibility for what they’ve done. Perhaps this is the lesson we all need. Sense, perspective, balance, nuance and restraint may come back to our public debate. Perhaps we, the people, can form a true coalition of the willing.

What’s that I smell, wafting on the breeze?


Election time is prime time for bullshit spotters. Let’s see what we can smell.

Day one:

Mr Cameron said he was fighting the election for “the great ignored”.

“They work hard, they set up businesses, they work in factories, they teach our children, they keep our streets safe, they obey the law and they their pay taxes,” he said.

“They do the right thing. They are the honest, hard-working people of our country and they are desperate to know that in this great country we can still achieve great things.”

Prime bullshit, and surprisingly ripe considering we’re so early in the campaign. Who are these “great ignored”? Honest people? People who work? In factories? People who have families? Why David, that sounds like me! In fact, wait a moment… that sounds like everyone I know! Hang on, you cheeky scoundrel. That sounds like everyone in the entire country!

Presumably you’re not fighting it for any of the nasty people out there who do things I don’t like, like avoid taxes or hunt animals for fun, or else you would have said so, right? Glad we got that straight.

“This country, Britain, has now had Conservative and Labour governments for 65 years, just doing the same old thing, taking it in turns to make the same old mistakes, over and over again. So the real choice in this election is between more of the same… or real change. Something different.”

So said Nick Clegg, launching the Lib Dem campaign. Very brave, and very bullshitty. I know the chap’s a Liberal and all, but I never had him down as the British Bakunin. Apparently nothing has gone right in this place for 65 years, and we need a change. Bold, Cleggy, very bold. Very bold move for day one, setting yourself against defeating Hitler, creating the NHS, decimalisation AND Neil Kinnock falling in the sea.

As a great rock singer once said, it’s a fine line between clever and stupid. Sometimes you can be both at the same time. Unfortunately, Nick, sometimes you’re just one of those things.