As students across the country brave freezing temperatures and the threat of legal eviction to make a stand against the complete destruction of fair access to education, Nick Clegg has once again displayed stupendous arrogance and prejudice in what The Spectator describes as a “gloriously condescending” letter to NUS President Aaron Porter.
Instead of showing some respect for the seriousness and legitimacy of the protesters and addressing them as a group, he begins with “thank you for writing to me about your right to recall scheme”, making it clear that his letter is only in response to Porter’s own missive, and that he would not otherwise have any reason to address the movement.
Once again he utterly fails to acknowledge the perfectly legitimate concerns of the protesters, completely glossing over the fact that the government is withdrawing all financial state support from universities and axing the crucial EMA support system for low-income college students. Instead he heavily implies that student protesters are ignorant of the real implications of the proposed system, suggesting that many of them will in fact be better off.
In the most patronising terms (he addresses the president as ‘Aaron’ rather than using a more respectful term of address as one would expect in such a letter), he effectively accuses student protesters of being over-zealous and misinformed, and has the outrageous cheek to suggest that Porter himself has been irresponsible in encouraging their indignation. He pompously reminds Porter that “all of us involved in this debate have a greater responsibility” to contribute to the shared aim of helping students from disadvantaged areas get to university. That, it seems to me, is exactly what Porter is trying to achieve.
Clegg actually has the temerity to write off student protesters as ignorant, riot-happy yobs who do not deserve to be taken seriously and will not change the course of government decision making, yet simultaneously to suggest that Porter, the very leader of the movement he is so derisive of, has a ‘responsibility’ equal to that of he and the other cabinet members to support the government in its policies. He sneeringly mentions that he is sure the protests will continue “after a new funding system is introduced”, heavily suggesting that they will have no impact in preventing the rise in fees from going ahead. This is echoed in his hugely condescending final paragraph, where with the air of a benevolent yet vastly superior uncle patting a silly little boy on the head he magnanimously assures Porter he is not “trying to stop you continuing to campaign for what you believe in, even after Parliament votes on these proposals”.
The terms of Clegg’s letter could not be more ridiculous when contrasted with his own comments during the election campaign. Whilst he urges Porter to understand that the coalition government has prevented Liberal Democrats from implementing their own tuition fees policy, this does nothing to negate the crashing conflict between his passionate former statement that the student fees constituted an unacceptable “deadweight debt” and his current stance that almost trebling this figure is a good idea. Even more laughable is the juxtaposition between his promise that his party would “resist, vote against, campaign against, any lifting of that cap” until they saw “tuition fees removed”, and his remark in the letter that the current plans to raise fees to £9000 are “in line with our fair, progressive values.” Not even the majority of his own party seem able to agree with him there, with an open Liberal Democrat petition this week urging Clegg to realise that he has utterly abandoned “the policy of the party as a whole”.
As if all this weren’t bad enough news for Clegg, the well-respected think tank Million+ and consultancy group London Economics have put the final nail in his coffin this week with a report suggesting that 65% of graduates will be up to £20,000 worse off under the proposals than in the current system. This is in direct opposition to Clegg’s desperate attempts to argue that “the majority of students will actually be better off” under the new system, which he does not appear to have been able to back up with any solid research.
As support for student protesters and occupiers floods in from as far afield as philosopher Noam Chomsky in the United States, and singer Billy Bragg, as even Vince Cable considers abstention from the vote, as the protests show no sign of abating, and as even his own party calls on him to come to his senses, one cannot help wondering what leg Clegg can possibly think he is standing on now.