Every now and again people try to explain the level of political apathy in the general public, without considering that politics is so fucked up and compromised that anyone with any amount of decency and intelligence can’t follow the news without developing a harsh and corrosive anger that is not good for you, long term. For weeks now I have been getting stories on my Twitter timeline along the lines of ‘Then the horses charged and I thought: that’s it, I’m going to die’. (Laurie Penny: ‘There is blood on my face, but not all of it is mine’.) Much has been said about the papers that splashed on a minor royal scare while men were being dragged out of wheelchairs and beaten senseless. I have nothing to add to that.
Clearly the nine grand raise was just the end of a generational endurance. If you were born in 1980 onwards you may as well not exist as far as the political class is concerned. Live with your parents, get ripped off by the cowboy private rental market, work in call centres to keep Cheshire pensioners on the golf course. Then the assault on the campus. The last redoubt of independence and play. Under these circumstances, what did the National Government expect? Nick Cohen: ‘But a tripling of the upper-limit to £9,000 and a slashing of the tuition grant to universities by 80% was not even an exceptional measure to cope with an exceptional financial crisis. It was an act of political extremism; a raw display of the power of the old over the young.’
The practical arguments against the policy (we are now the only OECD country beside Romania that is not increasing its investment in higher education) have been lost in a wave of hate for the Lib Dems. Cleggmania has become Clegg rage. I remember women telling me in May that they’d fallen in love with the Lib Dem leader after his TV debates performances. Now they burn his effigy in the streets. It’s understandable of course. Nick Clegg ran a passionate and persuasive campaign that appealed to the disillusionment people felt with the two main parties. Seven months later the new politics ends in the spectacle of schoolchildren charged by mounted police in Parliament Square.
As Alastair Campbell points out, Clegg has a strategic place in Cameron’s plan. He draws the fire. Cameron wants a Tory majority at the next election – and it could be just months away as far as the bookies are concerned. He wants to govern alone. Let Clegg take the shit. ‘You may remember the other day I asked when was the last time David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Gove or David Willetts were out there really having to defend their policies? Even today, it is still the Lib Dems who are feeling the greatest heat, and the media seem to find divisions within the minority coalition partner more interesting than the actions of the big boys… we should never lose sight of the fact that this is a Tory government driving a Tory agenda in the hope of recreating a Tory Britain.’
You have to raise a smile at the incoherencies of the Lib Dems as they try to spin their way out of the trap. Yesterday party president Tim Farron told the Guardian that ‘we as a party still support the policy of moving towards the abolition of fees and I suspect that we will have something like that in our next manifesto.’ Sorry, Tim? You ran on a platform of no fees, then raise fees in government, and now you’re going to run on no fees? A party with this much confusion over policy isn’t fit to run a parish council.
My MP in Fallowfield is a Lib Dem called John Leech. He was elected in a working class constituency with a large student population mainly because he was against the Iraq war and tuition fees. His majority is not great and the fees issue could destroy him. Leech voted against the raise and has claimed credit for salvaging transport projects from Gideon’s axe. He’s a canny operator compared to most Lib Dems, but I imagine there have been tense words and delicate positioning with his colleagues in Westminster. At some point you have to take a stand, especially in dark and chaotic and interesting times. Even the best operators can only spin for so long.