Saturday, 27 November 2010

Reasons for Stasis

As you all may have noticed, activity here has stalled somewhat in recent weeks. This is due to a hailstorm of university deadlines, which sadly come first. These are all over on December 9th, so expect my energetic re-engagement with current affairs at sometime around then.

In the meantime, the philanthropically-minded amongst you should swing by the Irish Guards Appeal. I spotted it on Guido, and if there's one thing I take no shame in stealing and passing on it's a charitable appeal. Apropos of nothing, their regimental motto would have made a fine title for this blog:

Quis Separabit - Who Shall Separate Us

Damn straight.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Student Riots: The Ochlocratic Challenge

**Apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors in this piece. It's late and I'm using a French-configured computer. I'll try to amend it later.**

The riots and demonstrations organised by the NUS on Wednesday demonstrate what I have discovered is a remarkable bend in student thinking, at least amongst the protest class. In spite of all the high-blown rhetoric about democracy and support for PR you might find on campuses, if the motives of these people are to be taken in good faith (as opposed to imagining them to be self-indulgently enjoying being 'protestors') then many of these people must be ochlocrats.

Ochlocracy = mob rule. Sound like a harsh judgement? Consider the logic behind the 'Stop the Cuts' protests: if we get some tens of thousands of people onto the streets, we should try to use that mass to overturn the policy of a government elected by over seventeen million people. This is the logic behind this sort of protest even when you don't factor in such things as the assault on Millbank Tower on Wednesday.

Nor is this sort of thinking confined to students. When the million marchers against the Iraq war failed to change government policy, its organisers and participants were outraged. How could the government just ignore them like that? The obvious answer - that the government had been elected by many millions of people, that polling going into the war showed the public in favour and that the marchers did not confer upon themselves greater enfranchisement simply by the act of marching - never appeared to occur to them.

Student sit-ins, huge marches and political strikes all operate with this belief in mind - that a certain minority of the citizenry (who have all been able to express themselves at the ballot box with everyone else) should attempt to impose their will upon the government via coercion, intimidation or in some cases outright force. Not only is this deplorable in principle but it is also extremely counter-productive. After all, none of the cuts proposed by the coalition could possibly be worse for the country than for the government to allow the angry mob to seize the reins.

On campus, the phrase used is that students must "take democracy back into their own hands". But democracy is supposed to reside in everybody's hands - that's the point of it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Off to Brussels!

I'm heading off to Brussels tomorrow morning with the Conservative Future, in order to see the European Parliament, meet some MEPs and hit the Christmas markets. I doubt it will be fun being the only Europhile in the room for most of the trip, but I'll nonetheless try to have fun. Report when I get back.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Make Her Majesty's Prisons their own seat(s)?

Catching up on the current political state of play, I caught sight over at Iain Dale's blog and New Right that prisoner's having the right to vote was presently a running story. I don't know how I feel about this, but if it were to be implemented I'm pretty certain I don't want it geographically based, with prison potentially transforming certain seats against the interests of their law-abiding residents. Prisoners will have rather different interests to the broader population, so why not represent them differently?

Something that has always fascinated me about British politics in ages past was university seats. Could a similar model be adopted for prisoner's representation? The BBC put the prison population of the UK at just below 90,000, which could produce either one larger-than-average seat or two smaller seats. Prisoner's get representation, law-abiding citizens don't have their representative split with felons who have rather different priorities, and we all get to see what sort of candidate each party would choose to run for Her Majesty's Prisons (UK Parliament Constituency).

Mancunion Article: The State of Higher Education

Published in The Mancunion, to accompany and oppose this piece, in the issue of 10/01/11.

Real life is thoroughly blocking decent blogging at the minute. To tide us over, here is a short counter-argument I wrote for the Manchester student paper, defending tuition fees.
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Ever since the government set the target of fifty per cent of school-leavers attending university in the nineties, the higher education system has been struggling to adapt. The surge in student numbers has hugely overstretched university resources, and also raised the cost of higher education massively. Despite the hopes of the government, the graduate premium produced by a small proportion of young people going through university and into the professions was not simply conferred upon the swollen ranks of the new graduates. Instead, we have seen the devaluation of degrees and chronic graduate over-qualification and unemployment. With fierce competition in the current job market, more jobs now require a degree for a successful application - sucking more school leavers into higher education and fuelling the downward spiral.

The view I share with successive governments is that variable tuition fees are the answer to these problems. Tuition fees allow a student to decide for themselves whether or not a degree is worth the investment of time and money required, and serves to discourage people taking degrees that they don’t envision making a sufficient return – be that material or personal. In addition to covering the costs of higher education, by reducing the number of students they allow universities to concentrate their resources more effectively. By placing a tangible cost on your degree they incentivise hard work to get your money’s worth. And by staunching the flow of graduates flooding the employment market, they will help to stem degree devaluation and the graduate surplus, with its trickle down effects of raising barriers to employment for non-graduates who would otherwise be perfectly capable of doing the job.

My problem with the alternatives is that they encourage a high number of wasteful degrees, serve to penalise those who get good jobs out of their hard work and are innately unfair. Having higher education be free as it was before 1998 would be ruinously expensive and would require further tax rises on the working population, whilst a ‘graduate tax’ makes a poor return degree a risk-free option by having economically productive students pick up the tab for the rest as well as their own education. In either case, the burden of a lot of low-value degrees is placed upon the shoulders of the hard working.

There are as many definitions of fairness as there are human beings, but I do not believe that a degree is an entitlement. Nobody else owes you the right to spend three years as a student. If you value a degree enough to foot the bill for it you will, and if you don’t that is your decision and responsibility. Government grants and student loans mean that anyone who wants to go to university can do so without worrying about the upfront costs. But if you don’t think that your degree will boost your income enough to be worth paying for, you should reconsider it.

As for the commodification of higher education, it is really an inevitable consequence of trying to hugely raise student numbers. University has shifted from simply being a natural stage in the life-cycle of the professional classes to a competitive investment in your employment prospects. There simply isn’t room in the ivory towers for fifty per cent of school leavers, and there never was.