For Our Generation it’s the Greens or it’s Nothing
Our generation has taken a beating. Where the Thatcher government waged a thinly disguised class war, our generation has been under attack for the past 13 years. The anger we’ve seen from young people on our streets is an anger driven by the knowledge that we’ve been abandoned. We’ve been abandoned by a political class that has cynically chased the votes of older generations and the money of the super-rich. Something had to give. And our generation are giving more than ever before, as Shiv Malik and Ed Howker have pointed out in their excellent book “Jilted Generation”. The class war waged by this government is only superseded in vicious intent by the generational war.
It’s come as quite a surprise to many of us that the Liberal Democrats were so quick to sell us out. They’d posed as a party for our generation. They’d offered a penny on income tax for education, they’d marched with us against the senseless war in Iraq, and they’d heard our fears about tuition and top up fees. They moved their campaign for our votes up a gear in the 2010 election, where all their MPs signed a pledge to vote against an increase in fees.
But it’s all come very nastily unstuck. As soon as the Liberal Democrats had to make a serious decision, they turned on us. Nick Clegg had the hubris to insist that protestors needed to “listen and look before you march and shout”. As if students didn’t realise how badly they would be harmed by the government’s proposals. The idiotic MP John Hemming insisted tripling fees was ‘fairer’. It was clear whose side the Liberal Democrats were on. And it wasn’t ours.
Labour have been quick to leap on the Liberal Democrat folly. They’ve positioned themselves as the friend of students. I’m quite sure they’re both right and sincere in their campaign to retain the Education Maintenance Allowance. But their position on fees for tertiary education is largely opportunistic. Of course there are genuine figures on the left of the Labour party, like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn that have and will always be on our side. The vast majority, however, lined up to vote for fees in 2004 when Labour went back on a pledge not to introduce top up fees. Labour commissioned the Browne Review which led to the trebling of fees.
In 1997 I was amongst those who understood that the move to charging tuition fees was opening the door to exactly the situation we now face. I was told by Labour activists at the time that this was the end of the process. Since then we’ve had a wide variety of Labour supporting NUS Presidents, who with the honourable exception of Kat Fletcher, have all failed to stem the tide of privatisation in Tertiary Education. Some have tacitly supported it. We’d now have sustainable funding for Universities. I think it’s fairly obvious that that was totally incorrect.
Labour has persistently granted universal benefits to older people. That was the right thing to do, and we should support it. But if we as a country can afford as a country to give winter fuel payments to people living in a second home in the south of Spain we can afford to pay for education.
And I’ve heard people say that we can ‘retake’ the Labour party so many times that it’s become entirely unbelievable. Every time the leadership changes, those who really want equality trumpet the new incumbent as someone who can ‘really change the Labour party’. With Tony Blair that ended finally and utterly ingloriously in Iraq, with Gordon Brown in the quasi-Fascist ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. Who knows where it will end for Ed Miliband, but choosing the appalling Phil Woolas on the front bench when he had no need to do so wasn’t a good start.
The SNP similarly promised to cancel student debt and to make grants to new home owners (many of whom will be of our generation). They delivered neither. While there are many nationalists who value our generation and they did take the relatively small step of cancelling the graduate contribution it doesn’t go far enough. When it came to priorities, they found money to freeze Council Tax (a promise that wasn’t even in the SNP manifesto) and abolish bridge tolls, instead of cancelling student debt.
Greens have a core ideological commitment to the welfare of future generations. We have a belief in transforming the economy – which demands investment in education. We are a party whose core belief in building a better future requires better education, and a parity of welfare provision between the generations.
We need to act as a generation. We need to create a political force, we need to make a difference at the ballot box. And the Green Party offers the only way to do that. To paraphrase, for our generation, it’s the Green Party or it’s nothing.