Regressive

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student

Labour Ist Für Alle Da


Why yes, the title of this blog entry is a pseudo-clever pun on the title of a Rammstein album, and yes, it does translate loosely as “Labour is there for everyone”.

Labour is there for everyone

My political allegiance aren’t really much of a secret. I’m a leftie. Loosely, a socialist. And also, a member of the Labour Party. I figured it was high time that I explained that; something as important as political stance shouldn’t be kept in the wardrobe, and brought out only at elections.

I joined Labour after the May election, honestly heartbroken at the results, and disappointed in the people of Britain. My basic reason for joining then was the realisation that I hadn’t done my bit to keep this coalition out of government. I think a lot of people felt the same, given the massive numbers joining the party in the weeks after the David Cameron took office.

But that’s not really an explanation is it? It’s why I paid the membership fee. It’s not why I’ve been so adamantly opposed to right-wing conservatism all my life. That’s a little more complicated.

I’ll start with by looking at phraseology. Have you ever noticed the names of the three major parties? The Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats. Labour. Spot the difference? Yes, it’s the word “the”. To me, that tells you everything you need to know about Labour. The Tories and the Lib Dems are organisations, institutions. Labour is more than that, more than just an association. Labour is a social movement.

To be honest, that’s the advantage that the left has always had over the right. Left wing politics may have been demonised over the

The red flag has been historically demonised, but actually it's the stalwart of the people's rights

last sixty-odd years by rampant US propaganda, but the truth is that it isn’t the barbaric ideology that a lot of people believe. Socialism rallies people for the greater good, for the advantage and benefit of society as a whole. And that’s where conservatism falls down. It’s harder to rally people to an individualist cause, because it comes across exactly as it is: selfish.

It’s no coincidence that the right-wing uses hate, fear and negativity to gain support. Just look at the Tories’ recent election campaign. It was always how Labour had destroyed the economy (false: the banking sector did that, and the Labour government’s quick response saved us from full-blown depression); how everything had to immediately be cut in order to save the economy (false: severe cuts have already resulted in the Bank of England downgrading economic forecasts, and today the IFS has condemned the Coalition budget as regressive); that immigration is destroying, rather than enriching, Britain.

The Labour government made mistakes, I won’t dispute that. But they did a hell of a lot of good. The minimum wage. Support for the poorest sectors of society. Investment in public services. Vital expansion of the NHS. Political reform, including House of Lords reform and devolution.

Those progressive measures aren’t something you’ll get from a right-wing that values the individual over society, and thus places intrinsic values on people based upon their personal wealth and standing. And given the current identity crisis the Lib Dems seem to be undergoing as the Tories’ puppets and scapegoats, Labour is the only solid representation of the left wing in British politics.

The conclusion to this little rant, is that Labour is for the people, and is the people. That’s what socialism is about. If Labour has made mistakes, if Labour has been heading down wrong avenues, then that can be changed. For all those who hate the injustice this new government will result in, Labour is the way forward. All of the positives achieved by Labour, or any left-wing party around the world, are because people saw that it was unfair, and decided to change things.

Yes, there is the Labour leadership election coming up soon (and I will be blogging about it nearer the time), so there is now a real chance to get involved, and to shape the future. Despite what the Tory press says, the candidates have a lot of interesting ideas to discuss and the more people who get involved, the more comprehensive, inclusive and effective the opposition will be- more than ample reason to take a look and consider joining up.

If the Tories, if the Coalition are not for you, you are not alone. Labour is there for everyone.