Challenges and chances for Young Greens
England & Wales Young Greens co-chair Sam Coastes reflects on the tuition fees vote.
I couldn’t get to London for last Thursday when Parliament voted to give England the most expensive public universities in the world, but I followed the day’s events very closely. I didn’t quite believe the horrifying stories coming out of the kettle about police maliciously ignoring protesters, even laughing at the panic of many people there, often college students. Then I spoke to a friend who was there who explained how an officer laughed in response to her asking how they could stand by while their colleagues used horses to charge the sardine-like crowd on Westminster Bridge.
I don’t want to dwell on the police too long, and ultimately responsibility for the violence suffered at their hands lies squarely with the Government for seemingly enjoying the unrest that their actions are provoking. The feeling last Thursday was that of a crisis of democracy, not only had students and young people been betrayed and patronised by politicians, their right to protest was being brutally undermined. I was watching the coverage totally at a loss of what we do next in the face of such repression. Most of us will be all too familiar with the cases of Alfie Meadows and Jody McIntire, the latter I am pleased to say will be joining Noam Chomsky for his talk in Cardiff next March!
Last night I attended a teach in at my SU organised by a fantastic new activist network springing up, we heard 6 academics clinically dismantle every single link in the arguments made by the Coalition for their polices, the SU President basically admitting he’d changed his mind about a few things in the space of 2 hours. It became clear to me that the policies we’re hearing don’t even make sense internally if you look beyond face value, they’re trying to destroy this country for the sake of their rich mates.
Fees is the prime example, unless some absurdly optimistic predictions about graduate pay and the economy in general come true, the plans will cost the Government more. They won’t help tackle the deficit. It’s becoming clear to so many how mean-spirited this Government is and the need for a compassionate society.
It was this vote itself, rather than the formation of the coalition or the announcement of particular policies, that seems to have sparked a lot of members resigning from the Lib Dems. Lots is being said about a student Labour resurgence but I just don’t see it. The college students being denied access to university know who introduced fees and commissioned the Browne Review. They know the last Government made no effort to argue that education is a public good.
But going back to the police, all 3 major parties have been appallingly spineless in their silence on police suppression of protests. In contrast, the Young Greens issued this statement the day after Millbank seeking to understand rather than condemn and alienate. Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones have been excellent in supporting students in the following protests, seeking to hold the Met to account by collecting witness statements. The Young Greens have supported all the occupations and launched a petition to ban kettling, which has attracted over 1200 signatures in a week, this will be presented to the London Assembly by our Committee.
And on the day of the fees vote, the Young Greens lobbied the party to open up free membership to students and under 30s, opening our arms to the generation that wants to reclaim its future. When we opened it up, I had no idea how it would go, I was a bit scared of over estimating it, but we had 50 people join overnight and we’re now approaching a 25% increase in membership in a week. I think figure speaks for itself. The offer is still open until the 31st January, so there’s plenty more room to improve on this even more. Intergenerational justice is obviously crucial to green politics which is why we have been proudly championing the cause of the jilted generation, many of the people who keep the party going belong to it. From investing in a million jobs for the Green New Deal to building affordable housing to fighting to ensure we actually have a future, our policies have a natural appeal. And as we recognise our movement isn’t just about fees but how all the cuts will hit us hardest, only the Greens are articulating a serious alternative of investing in the economy whilst making sure everyone pays their fare share. People can see we’re not opportunists but advocating a well thought out vision for society. Many of our generation are now recognising this, the challenge now is how to engage so many new members. Off the top of my head some ideas include getting the economic arguments against cuts out there, and reclaiming the NUS to make it more responsive to the movement, along with other students wanting to do the same. I’d love to hear what people’s ideas are on this, and if you’re one of the many people who have joined in the last week, please do get in touch with your thoughts.