UK students wise to attempted divide
To discuss whether education should have been the first expense to be spared, Press TV interviews Labor MP Jeremy Corbyn in London, Political Analyst Peter Eyre in Tehran and Stop the War Coalition John Rees in London:
Press TV: Mr. Eyre, were you surprised at the events of yesterday as they were unfolding?
Eyre: Not at all. I think we have to take the time back a couple of years; if you remember when Gordon Brown was in office there was a great emphasis on three words, which was education – education – education. During the run up to this last election David Cameron changed those three words into Afghanistan – Afghanistan – Afghanistan. There is always money in the pot for these irrelevant wars, but there’s no money for our future; the students are the future of the UK and therefore education should be of prime importance and a lot of poorer students are going to miss out terribly.
Press TV: Mr. Rees, much of the media branded the protestors ‘yobs,’ with quite a bit of sympathy for the royals caught up in the middle of it all – How is public opinion at the moment on this?
Rees: As always in the media aftermath the press will try and play up the sympathy for the establishment and for the police force, but as the news has unrolled today and we find one of the students bludgeoned with a police truncheon who has had to have brain surgery and the numbers of protestors hospitalized was in far greater number of police, I think the sympathy will return as it was before this demonstration to the protestors themselves.
Most kids in this country don’t want to see the destruction of higher education; they don’t want to see working people unable to send their sons and daughters to university; they don’t want to see education being returned to the sole privilege of the rich.
Press TV: Mr. Corbyn, there was the issue of security raised yesterday. Of course, the police said cattling and what else was going on was all done in the name of security to keep the majority of people safe and yet when Prince Charles’s car was attacked that caused an outcry [as] the media was saying surely Prince Charles’s car shouldn’t be that easy to attack?
Corbyn: Well, the issue really was that many thousands of students arrived in London together with many other people who supported the students in their demand for wide access to higher education. The march down White Hall toward the House of Parliament was stopped and then the police did what they call cattling, which is when they surround a group of demonstrators and won’t let them go anywhere. And the same thing happened nearby in Parliament square, which is just in front of the Houses of Parliament and people were held for many many hours. Indeed I was there 8 o’clock in the evening and people were still being cattled and a small number being allowed out. I was concerned about my own constituents and their safety.
This size of demonstrations is an indication of the concern and the anger about what is actually privatization of the university system. The government is cutting its funding to higher education from 60% to 40% and increasing the private sector involvement enormously, which amounts to privatization.
Charging fees of 9,000 pounds per year makes it impossible for children of working and poorer families to go to university unless they’re prepared to get into debt and that’s what the anger is about.
Press TV: Reading through websites and social networking sites today everyone was talking about the protests. In one comment I saw it said, ‘OK, we’re angry at the Liberal Democrats, but let’s not forget that Labor started off this process. Labor was the one that brought in and first raised the fees during their term in power.’ Is this a continuation of what was going on before this coalition even formed?
Corbyn: The concept of the fees was introduced in 1998. A small number of labor MPs including myself opposed it at that time, they were increased in 2004 to 3,000 pounds per year and a much larger labor rebellion including myself took place and they were joined in that by the Liberal Democrats and conservatives [that] all voted against it. This time all Labor MPs voted against the increase to 9,000. Half the liberal Democrats did and a very small number of conservatives; in a sense some of it is a party political issue. I think it’s fundamental that we ought to have wide access to higher education. One of the problems is there has never been free higher education in Britain. There has been a subsidy paid to what is essentially a largely independence and to some extent slightly private sector and I think we need to get a grip on that and return to the principle of universal access to higher education.
Press TV: Mr. Eyre, you picked up on this issue of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; there is Trident; parliament itself and how it’s funded and run; there’s been the MPs expenses scandal and of course there is Buckingham Palace and the royal family – their costs according to Buckingham Palace is 38 million pounds per year; experts say the real costs could be anything up to 180 (pounds per year) – Is it viable that the costs should have come from these kind of areas first?
Eyre: I think the issue with the royal family, I don’t want to get into the monarchy scenario here, but I will state that the queen is extremely wealthy and the royal family – they own most of the uranium mines around the world. A lot of people don’t understand that the original commonwealth – one foot below the surface of the Earth in all the old commonwealth countries, that surface belongs to the queen and she gets royalties – gold mine, copper mine, diamond mine or whatever.
What I do want to bring out into the forefront and the students really should listen to this very carefully, and politicians including Jeremy, is that I myself and a couple of whistle blowers in England have revealed to the Serious Fraud Office massive fraud taking place at corporate level and in the private sector with politicians also involved in this massive fraud at the highest level and we’ve named and shamed quite a few of them in all parties.
We are talking about billions of dollars ongoing every year totally unchecked and the government is doing nothing about it. There is a massive bank there to draw down on which is called the proceeds of crime. If they were really serious about bringing the economy back into balance then that’s what they should be attacking, that’s where they should be getting the money from and not from the poor people of England and in particular the students.
Press TV: Mr. Rees, this does go in essence to the crux of the matter. The students are saying hold on a minute there’s a financial crisis, it had nothing to do with us, and many of those out on the street would still have been in high school when that financial crisis broke out. They’ve seen the big banks being bailed out; they see the establishment in the UK being funded for by the money they’ll be making when they are eventually working, and they don’t feel it’s fair to have to pocket the burden.
On the other hand, when we’re looking at the country, is it really realistic to get Buckingham Palace to fund themselves or to stop Trident or to not spend money on security – Aren’t these the things that bring the UK status in the international arena?
Rees: The one thing that can very quickly destroy an economy in the modern world is if it doesn’t have a first class higher education system. Long after the nuclear weapons would be commissioned, we would still be dependent on a higher education system, which they now seem intent on destroying so I don’t really think those arguments are effective. What the students have done is before these protests many people were however begrudgingly, however reluctantly going along with the government view that there was no alternative. What the students have done is massively popularize the argument that we’ve heard rehearsed tonight – the banks should pay, the Trident should be cancelled, the rich should pay higher tax, the royal family is an unnecessary luxury; all these things are now far more widely debated than they ever were before. The students took the kind of action that they have taken. They have altered the political landscape in Britain. They’ve made the argument about the alternatives much more widely canvassed, much more widely discussed than they ever were before this happened and that’s a terrific achievement for the young people to have made.
Press TV: Mr. Corbyn, how much of an impact have they really made. The young people, many of whom we (Press TV) were speaking to when covering the protest live, said they voted for the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats hasn’t brought the change that they promised. Does it matter that 10,000, 100,000, a million people come out into the street, does it really make a difference? Many of those protestors were saying they had lost trust in the political system because we voted for someone we thought was different, but as soon as they got into power they fell straight in line with the status quo.
Corbyn: John is right that the student actions, the occupations and the process with the support of many other people have changed the whole political atmosphere and debate. The government might have managed to win the vote yesterday, but they run it without any honor. They run it by chicanery and they run it by deception. And the Liberal Democrats are the ones who at the moment are paying the price, but they’ve also by the protest, by their actions, raised the debate.
For example, Vodafone Company has made an arrangement with the government in which it does not pay a very large amount of tax that it apparently owes to the government from its business operations. That income is roughly the equivalent of the entire income that is received at the moment from student fees. We’re talking of billions of pounds of unpaid tax and so the argument from those of us against the cuts are putting forward are 1) is that you collect the uncollected tax from the big corporations and close down the tax loopholes overseas mainly and 2) we introduce a transactions tax for the huge financial transactions that take place between countries – at a very low level and that indeed would ensure that we did not have to make social cuts in expenditure. Additionally, my view would be to cancel the Trident nuclear missile system because I think nuclear weapons in anyone’s hands are wrong and immoral. And 3) withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Press TV: The question, and I’ll reiterate it Mr. Eyre, – the Liberal Democrats talked about Trident and of abolishing it; however, when they got to power, they didn’t. Is this a case of these political groups go back on their word or is it a case that they simply can’t, once they’re there, their hands are tied and they can’t take these steps. Are these really solutions we’re talking about?
Eyre: Historically we all know that politicians make promises to their electorate in order to get office and as you’ve rightfully said, a certain percentage of those promises go by the wayside the minute they take office. In this case this is a very unusual government coalition and you can see there is a distinct weakness on the Liberal Democrats side in not having the authority to move forward one of the big issues that they manifested, that they would not put up the student fees.
What I would like to add is that when the world economy collapsed this was no accident, it was a very well planned orchestrated move by the new world order, a lot of people don’t want to talk about this word, but politicians do use it all over the world. It is a fact; it was well-orchestrated; companies were intentionally collapsed, the banking fraternity was involved, the city of London, Wall Street etc, and this massive fraud that I’ve referred to allowed the elite to go through the carcasses of all these companies and banks that they’d collapsed, picked out the lucrative bits and the wayside, the toxic assets, were then passed on to the poor people in taxes and in this case the students are getting it full on and it’s totally wrong. There is plenty of money out there; the students should not have to incur this penalty.
Press TV: Well Mr. Rees, Mr. Eyre picked up on the crucial word ‘the elite’ and that’s really what we were getting yesterday from those protesters and students. And they weren’t all students; there were a variety of people there on the ground. That’s what they were talking about, the elite in society whether it be the Queen or Prince Charles or the politicians or the millionaires and business owners – they are the ones getting off cut and dry. But just to bring in the government’s position on this, they’re saying we actually ‘No, we’re opening doors here; we’re giving people more choice – by upping those fees we’re giving the universities an opportunity to get better education to you as a student’.
Rees: Well, I don’t think many people believe that. They look at the government and see that out of the number of cabinet members of 29, some 18 of them are millionaires. They know when they look at these people that none of their families, none of their children, nobody they know will suffer a single moment’s worry about unemployment or have their house removed or suffer from their children not being able to get into higher education – they know that they’re not in it with us. They do things that there is a sharpening class divide, they’ve been through a generation now where the gap between the rich and the poor has widened and at the end of that process they’re told that they’ve got to pay even more. It’s not surprising that there is a very intense dislike for the establishment and a great distrust of politicians. It is not a question of individual policies here, the Liberals stood on a left of centre platform at the election so the majority of voters in this country voted either Liberal or Labor or for some other left of centre party. The left of centre majority among voters, but we’ve got a very right wing government and that’s why there is a crisis of the democratic system, not just on this individual issue, but on the whole raft of austerity measure that the Tories are trying to bring forward. The Tories and their politics are a minority view in this country and that’s why there’s a political crisis as well as an economic crisis in Britain.
Press TV: Mr. Corbyn, Mr. Rees picks up an interesting point there. There is that division if we look at the voters, the majority did vote for the centre-left parties. Going forward then, given the way this coalition is constructed with the two extremes do you think it’s going to fall apart? Nick Clegg came out and said all Lib-Dem MPs are going to vote for this Bill, we’re all united and really the results show that that’s not the case.
Corbyn: Paddy Ashdown , the former Liberal democrat leader came out with an utterly bizarre statement saying ‘we are all going forward together as one group abstained, one group voted for and the other voted against the Bill’, and two others weren’t even there at all, they were away at the Summit in Cancun. So the Liberal Democrats have gone from a position as John says of being a sort of left of center alternative in the general election in which they got 23% or 24% I think – they’re now down to less than 8% in the opinion polls and disappearing fast.
They have brought into office an extremely right wing conservative-led government, which is dismantling the welfare state, which is privatizing services and creating higher levels of unemployment after making half a million public sector workers redundant. Nobody in the majority voted for that particular strategy. And so yes they did survive yesterday with a very small majority on this particular issue; they’ve got other issues coming up e.g. the cuts in housing benefit. Many issues coming up in which they’re going to be in real trouble.
At the same time, a hugely politicized anti-cuts movement understands what this shock doctrine is about and is opposing it and so I think there’s going to be an awful lot of political debate developing in Britain and an awful lot of protests as people seek to defend what has been in many ways quite successful education and welfare state that has provided opportunities that were not provided before. It’s not perfect, it’s not as good as what I would want, but at least there have been some quite important principles there such as the National Health Service well worth defending.
Press TV: Mr. Eyre, final comments – How do you see now the student protest movement going forward? Do you think it will gain momentum or it’s just going to fizzle out as the public get a bit aggravated with them?
Eyre: It certainly won’t fizzle out, I’m sure they’ll gain strength from this and I personally believe they should get in touch with their counterparts in Europe who are also now ending up in this same situation and by an EU effort I’m sure that this can be turned round.
You mentioned about opening doors – for Jeremy Corbyn who’s listening – we have suggested to the Serious Fraud Squad that they do a raid on ‘Lonrow’ in the Cadbury Schweppes building in Barbary Square where there’s a lot of illegal fraud going on there on a massive scale and also 22 Arlington Street, which is conveniently located next to the Ritz. This is where the corruption is – where all the money’s going out of this country and those two addresses alone could probably pay for the fees we’re talking about with the students.