Warming To The Kids

I’ve been feeling for a while that I ought to write something to express our broad support for the efforts of those resisting the government over the raising of tuition fees and the extent of cuts to public services – it has been hard for a couple of reasons.

Mainly, there really are few things more irritating than journalists and theorists who swoop in on events after they’ve already gotten going in order to cherry pick the images that best support whichever narrative they seek to discover so as to compose flowery and simplistic hymnals  for money. I don’t want to do that. The Kids don’t need pop musicians, poststructuralists or columnists to tell them what they think and history would do better without its glorifying bards. Glory serves no one and congratulation is best kept private. I won’t be writing any fucking folk ballads about the battle of Millbank or the huddled, kettled masses yearning to breathe free – however tempting such a course might be. I might be able to convince some people that I was performing a valuable service to the cause by indulging myself in that way – but I would be fooling them if I did. Songs like that are always for the singer first. Writing like that is always for the writer.


“There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” – Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin.

But I don’t think, having released Jerusalem this year – very specific in its target as it was – that we can just stay out of it completely, so, this is what I think about the Tuition Fee protests (a reserved whoo! with a sprinkle of yay! – in case the following paragraph makes you think you’re going to have to write me hatemail). It should also make some of the lyrics to Jerusalem clearer, if anyone was having trouble…

crosspost from facebook

I think there are lots of argument to be had about tuition fees.

I, for example, have always hated the slogan ‘education is a right not a privilege’ – it IS a privilege that could, one day, be a right and that shouldn’t be forgotten. I can’t find a way to join the dots between the deeply unedifying experience of students that I had at university and the people I know who seem permanently excluded from the benefits that lesser minds enjoyed by virtue of their class. I believe in education for its own sake – but I saw little of that happening at the university I attended – the level of CV building, imaginationless trope parroting and sheer uncriticised self-indulgence were things that disgusted me. I don’t know how you pay for it. I don’t know if fees are the cause of the career-focussed lack of rigour (as I’ve seen convincingly argued by Stewart Lee among others) or if they are a necessary symptom of a duller march of generations seeking pathways to the meeja. I don’t know if people are so put off by the quoted figures that they never read the bit about paying it back later – or if they, in fact, are rather better informed but know that an extra tax on £21,000 a year on their ss 4 online is not so vanishing a deal as people who’ve never had to budget for buses imagine.

I don’t know. It is obviously a toughie. As such, and as with every other cut that somewhere, somehow, some day will fuck up someone’s life it deserves a better justification than that sneeringly offered by the chancellor and heavy heartedly sighed out by the deputy prime minister.

It is no new thing to make political hay from the educational background of the government – but in its failure to properly convince people of its increasingly brutal agenda, the coalition has behaved exactly like the shower of public school tosspots that they are. It isn’t just that they’re too privileged and rich to understand about the price of flora – though that is part of it – it’s also the debating society thing.

Debating is not the same as arguing – you win nothing by being right or moral, you win by affect, by being best at sewing up your own logic and knowing when to deploy effective tricks. In Osbourne’s case it is the imperiously sharp point of information – an arch little rhetorical dagger that can be pulled out and used to slice the opponents hamstrings before he knows what’s hit him; with Clegg it’s the wde-eyed appeal to a decent common rationality; with Cameron, it’s a good natured expansion of the arms to establish intellectual dominance of a discourse, inviting an opponent in so as to make his presence conditional on the power of the inviter. They are different tricks, but tricks they are – as shallow as vapour. There is no moral weight behind them, nothing that does anything for those unschooled in their method but exclude them from the realm of valid opinion. You’ve been beaten, is the message, defeated by prefects, able in the rhetorical arts – how could you possibly object?

But arguments won by debaters are not won beyond the awarding of points. Winning is not the same as convincing, and when you haven’t won any kind of election by standing on a policy you’re enacting: you don’t have a mandate to do it –  no matter how many style points you won by or how proud your parents are.

The coalition policy has no mandate – no one won that election – no one who needs convincing is convinced – the debate has not been had anywhere but among the snotty echelons of the old etonian debating society that backroomed itself in charge. I’m out of the country and I don’t know exactly what I think about fees – but the demonstrators have my solidarity if they want it. I believe they can break this debating society coalition and force an election, requiring these stately proposers and able rebutters to take a break from buttering crumpets over the fires of their parliamentary skill and try to actually convince a majority of the country to genuinely support something.

Keep it up, The Kids, cause blow me if it isn’t starting to look like it’s working.


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