UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Clegg – A Self Propelled Journey into Humiliation

British politics always follows certain patterns. First they get elected, and then they throttle the expectations of those who elected them. Then the justifications start. From posing as the party of the righteous the Lib-Dems have reached new depths of hypocrisy in a surprisingly short time.

Think back to Blair, then Brown. Now we can enjoy the same spectacle from Nick Clegg. A Tory in Liberal clothing, his party spent much of the last five years criticising Labour from the left, though on some grounds that was not difficult. For sections of the press like the Guardian, that, combined with the so-called Clegg effect from the X-Factor television political debates, was enough for them. The country was advised in the editorial columns to vote Lib Dem, to vote for real change.

Well the Guardian got their wish. When the Tory landslide didn’t materialise, Cameron needed a prop to legitimise his old Etonian coterie, and his spiritual younger brother was only to happy to give it to him. After a weekend of “tough negotiations”, the so-called Con Dems were born. “Tough negotiations” would imply that that Clegg’s party was extracting concessions. From the results so far, it would seem to be nearer to the truth to suggest that the only decisions being made were on the spoils of office: - a case of never mind the politics, who gets the country residence? Tuition fees were deemed disposable. . It was a useful selling point pre election to garner the student vote. Having made it into power, the promises made to those voters were expendable.

So the justifications start- as usual the exclusive interview in the Saturday press with a chosen newspaper, again the Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/dec/10/nick-clegg-tuition-fees-vote

Then he hit the broadcast media this week again with his excuses. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11935176

To quote the man himself, “We will have to explain to the public over and over again that this is not driven by so ideological zeal .The idea that this is driven by some libertarian drive to destroy the state is completely absurd”. His problem is that the public is judging his party by their actions rather than the stories that they feed to the media. On higher education it is not just students who are forming their own conclusions as Clegg and his acolytes support the Tories as they ravish higher education.

He was questioned on this very issue at the Lib-Dem conference in September 2009 by his own members and he was definite in his answer then. Would the Lib Dems lose their student support base if they abandon their promise to scrap tuition fees?

Clegg said there is "no question mark" about the commitment of the Lib Dems to scrapping tuition fees.
"The only question mark is about when we can afford to scrap tuition fees. It would cost £12.5bn over the course of a parliament to deliver the policy.

"None of us know precisely yet what we can afford." It is right to "level with" students and explain that they have to be realistic.

Latest evidence however is that even as he was making these statements to his own party, he was expressing “doubts” in private. Well, leaders having contempt for their members is hardly anything new and Clegg now claims that there is no alternative to devastating cuts in the budget for higher education and a tripling of tuition fees for undergraduates attending English universities.

Most commentators have argued that the changes envisaged will lead to the marketisation of higher education, negatively affecting prospective students and leading to educational decisions being determined by finance. Only the rich need apply, limiting both wider participation in the higher education system and hindering social mobility. That seems to be an argument endorsed by Charles Kennedy, ex leader of the same party and incidentally, a former student leader when at Glasgow University, in the days before either tuition fees or student loans.

As a party the LibDems have always been a curious mixture of progressive social reformers and free marketeers. Clegg and his so called orange book Liberals have been arguing for the shift to a more pro market, less regulative agenda for some time, more choice and competition in public services, and the protection of the citizen against the “nanny state.”

It is an argument familiar to any one on the left and for anyone who needs a refresher course, then check http://www.adamsmith.org.uk/, the website of the Adam Smith Institute, an extreme right wing organisation. This is precisely the sort of message that they put out. For the Smith Institute, the state is always the problem and the solution is always to cut it down.

So Clegg and Cable (who warned during the election campaign that early action to tackle the fiscal deficit could choke off the recovery) have signed up to the most brutal programme of cuts since Thatcher was in power.

So what has Clegg to say to those who face losing their jobs because of the Government actions? That would be our members? Nothing.

Does he decry those who advise the poor to accept food parcels? No.

Does he censure those who tell mothers to recycle and use hand me downs? No.

Does he even know that the education policies being pursued by this government will condemn generations of working class children to third class education? No.

All is right on Planet Clegg.

What does he say on Cameron?

“He and I didn’t know one another but (we are) incredibly relaxed that we have come at this from different points of view but with respect that we have constraints and priorities”.

Two public schools boys who went to Oxbridge before family connections gave them the break into media/ public relations/ business and then the political class that they always aspired to, sit down and indulge in mutual self congratulations.

That’s politics people, but not as we know them. All’s right in the City, and all’s right with the world.
Meantime in the real world, more protests will take place, not just on tuition fees. We’ll be there.