Tag Archives: David Cameron

Milton Friedman’s Vision for Universities

by Anne Archist

In 1955, Milton Friedman published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The Role of Government in Education’. All the major UK parties have borrowed policies from the text. It argues that lower levels of education should be funded by the state, with only “citizenship or leadership” education being funded beyond this (not “vocational or professional” education); all levels of education should be administered privately, through a system subject to market pressures.

The goal here is to ensure that education providers must respond to “consumer” demands, there is no “unfair” competition between the state and private providers, and only appropriate educational activities are funded. While recognising the difficulty of distinguishing between the two types of education in practice, Friedman holds that they are in principle separable. A key passage dealing with the latter type argues that the market ensures appropriate incentives and it is unjust for taxpayers to bear the costs while graduates reap the benefits.

“[Vocational or professional education] is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded … by receiving a higher return for his services than he would otherwise be able to command. This difference is the economic incentive to acquire the specialized training … [I]f the individual undertakes the investment and if the state neither subsidizes the investment nor taxes the return, the individual (or his parent, sponsor, or benefactor) in general bears all the extra cost and receives all the extra returns: there are no obvious unborne costs or unappropriable returns that tend to make private incentives diverge systematically from those that are socially appropriate”.

The American higher education system has led to an underinvestment in human capital, according to the paper, so easier access to capital must be provided for this purpose. However, if this easy access to capital took the form of state subsidies for students, there would tend to be overinvestment in human capital. Friedman’s solution is to provide an advance for up-front investment secured against later earnings. In the modern political vernacular “the funding follows the student”, exercising market pressures, while the system as a whole is still funded through a form of semi-progressive taxation.

What Friedman’s article doesn’t give due consideration to is the difference between training in different areas – “education” and “training” are treated abstractly. The “return” varies greatly depending on degree subject, and to a lesser extent with race and gender. All of this is obliquely acknowledged when Friedman says that “[Repayment] should in principle vary from individual to individual in accordance with any differences in expected earning capacity”, but there is no exploration of the effects.

Where does this leave arts degrees, which I presume are not covered under training for “citizenship or leadership”, and others that represent a low return compared to the current cost of education? At present, all undergraduate degree courses generally cost the same at a given institution. In some subjects the cost is already greater than the return, and this will only become more common as fees rise and graduate premiums potentially fall due to greater supply of graduates. Medicine degrees, for instance, have a huge impact on earning potential, whereas male arts graduates may not earn any more than they would otherwise, according to some studies (this varies, but there is unanimity on the fact that the arts are currently very low-payoff disciplines). If the student were to bear all the costs of such a degree up-front, they would have no economic incentive to study it. Nobody would want to invest in students on such low-earning courses so easily available capital would dry up in these disciplines; it would represent the death of the arts for all but the wealthiest.

On the other hand, Friedman wants graduates to bear the costs of their own education, so there is no reason why he should support cross-subsidisation between faculties. For consistency, arts subjects would have to be provided at a much lower cost, meaning that medicine, engineering, and similar high-cost, high-return subjects would be even more expensive than they currently are. The gulf in graduate earnings would be reflected by a gulf in tuition costs. This would avoid the death of the arts but may cause less expensive degrees to be seen as the poor person’s degree, as low-quality (‘cheap’ in a derogatory sense), or as unattractive due to evidently low returns.

All of the above is an attempt to impose market logic onto the education system. Despite our best efforts, consecutive governments are following Friedman’s paper as a blueprint – this puts us in a difficult position if we want education to be about more than individuals investing in future earnings. Not only this, but it raises the question of whether the idiosyncrasies of higher education (e.g. providers select consumers as well as vice versa, we only know what we were paying for after the transaction has been completed, etc) conflict with the neoliberal market logic that Friedman sought to discipline it to. I’m interested in that question and might write about it later, but for now I just want to leave you with this question of what further ‘marketisation’ could do in terms of differentiating courses financially, and the broader consequences that these changes might have. Any ideas are welcome in the comments section below.

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Dorries tells porkies: Don’t believe everything that you read in Hansard

by Anne Archist

Nadine Dorries has been in the headlines once again over at one of the two places that doesn’t agree with her. The interview is quite a good one, calling her out on various claims and implications she makes beyond the more obvious such as the ‘banana condom’ moment. The problem with Dorries is that her lying seems to be compulsive; one can offer no political explanation of this, it is a trait seemingly unique to Dorries among the current slew of tories that she tells obvious lies on a daily basis. She has even admitted that she fabricates the majority of her blog although she later climbed down a few rungs and suggested that only a third was “fiction”. In either case she is hardly a beacon of transparency and trustworthiness.

I am less concerned by her attempts to mislead the public about where she spends her weekends and more by the complete rubbish that she spews in trying to gain support for legislative measures. You can read a lot of this in the interview, where it generally amounts to vague assertions without any evidence and vast exaggeration or fabrication of scientific research to support arbitrary abstractions (in the face of real scientific research). The particular issue that I want to take on here is one that I haven’t seen covered in the mainstream press – Dorries has misled Parliament, whether consciously or accidentally as a result of grossly inadequate research.

Hansard records Dorries as saying that: “In July 2009, a Sheffield NHS trust released into secondary schools—to children from the age of 11—a pamphlet which told them that sex every day keeps the doctor away,” and repeating “This is a pamphlet going out to 11-year-olds at secondary modern schools in Sheffield.” I have received e-mails from the producers of the pamphlet confirming that it was not distributed to schoolchildren, but was instead sold to professionals such as doctors, social workers, teachers, etc (at a price of £15 for 25, for those who are curious). The pamphlet was written for adults and consistently states that education should be ‘age-appropriate’.

Incidentally, even if it were distributed to schoolchildren, it says “an orgasm a day” (not “sex every day”) and goes on to explicitly suggest sex or masturbation. Dorries’ moral panic seems to have blinded her to the actual context and content of the pamphlet; ironically it also seems to have passed her by that the same NHS trust produces a pamphlet entitled “Nobody’s Choice But Mine” covering exactly the discussions of abstinence and peer pressure that Dorries claims are unavailable to young women. One wonders whether this wouldn’t be the ideal text to use in the abstinence-education she is trying to legally mandate schools to provide…

I can’t know whether Dorries is lying through her teeth or so monumentally incompetent that she is incapable of understanding/remembering simple things like the age of pupils putting condoms on bananas (it’s been suggested that she may have confused ‘seven-year-olds’ with ‘year 7 students’), or who a pamphlet was written for and distributed to, for instance. What we can learn from this is that we should rigorously interrogate the claims made by the government that their policy is evidence-based, or that they have seen certain things with their own eyes. I can’t help but think of the incident where David Cameron claimed to have met a 40-year-old who’d spent 30 years in the Royal Navy… And this is by no means the only example.

Dorries has been asked to withdraw her remarks and apologise for misleading Parliament and the public, but she has yet to reply. Another MP has allegedly instructed staff not to reply to certain constituents after they similarly caught him out – I won’t name anybody as I can’t guarantee the claim, but I can say it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Can we trust anything MPs say when they routinely misreport facts, fabricate statistics, etc? This isn’t just a question of cynicism and hostility to people who throw numbers around loosely – it’s a fundamental problem for our concept of democracy. Any effective democracy – one which actually reaches the right policies as a result of democratic participation – relies on an educated and informed public; much of the media and many politicians/think-tanks/lobby-groups seem intent on achieving just the opposite.

 

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A Referendum Retrospective

by Anne Archist

The overall result isn’t in yet, but it looks like the no campaign are on course for a 70/30 split victory in yesterday’s referendum. Whatever the exact result, FPTP has definitely taken the day. A substantial majority against AV will secure the tory inclination to spin this as an endorsement of the current system, and to refuse further attempts at reform. The libdems, judging by the local election results and recent polls, are more than decimated and will be in no position to put pressure on anyone for electoral reform agreements; presumably this leaves our only hope of achieving PR in the short term with Labour, among whom there seems to be considerable division on the issue (unlike the libdems), with the LRC seemingly supporting FPTP rather than just opposing AV in the referendum (they repeated false claims by ASLEF that AV “gives some people more votes than others” and their statement generally had the tone of a group quite happy with the status quo, thankyouverymuch).

What can we learn from the referendum, in retrospect? Firstly, the result was probably significantly influenced by utter lies like claims that AV would cost £250m or violate the principle of “one person, one vote”. Secondly, the hypocrisy has been staggering. Labour and the tories both use AV to select their leader, and front-benchers of both parties, as well as some rank and file members of Labour and the vast majority of tory members, supported the no campaign. There’s nothing inherently hypocritical about supporting different voting systems in different contexts, but to do so on the basis that the system is inherently unfair and undemocratic because it gives some people more votes than others (as Cameron and others did) is completely inconsistent.

It’s particularly worrying that the LRC waxed lyrical about “one person, one vote”, given that Labour not only uses AV to elect the leader, but also uses electoral colleges which absolutely uncontroversially do violate that principle (in contrast to AV, which preserves it). There was less objectionable no campaigning from other sources like the RMT – while they also elect their leader by AV, their reasoning was that the referendum was a “distraction”, not that AV was fundamentally unfair. The AWL, CPB, and some others on the left will be celebrating a victory (of sorts!) tonight, but we’ve yet to see whether the reasoning behind their no vote will be borne out in practice – we can assess the help or hindrance this result gives to the cause of PR, and the damage it does to the coalition, but it’s beyond me as to how we’d establish claims that AV would have returned worse governments and so on.

We’ll never know for sure which arguments held most weight with the public, but it certainly seems hard to believe that the poll reflects a fully and honestly informed electorate. If, indeed, about 70% of the public back FPTP purely on the basis that it avoids coalitions and results in strong governments (which as far as I can see was the only argument in favour of FPTP that survives even superficial rational scrutiny), we might as well pack up and hand the country over to the tories and the NF.

Admittedly, there is a generational gap in polls; though PR looks to be even further on the back-burner now, we may see more people becoming comfortable with preferential voting systems over the next decade or two. Interestingly, this may be at least in part due to Labour policies, but not ones to do with constitutional or electoral reform; I’m thinking of their considerable emphasis on more young people going to university, and their devolution of powers.

Regarding the university issue, I’m not saying this because a population with a higher percentage of graduates is better educated and therefore better able to understand the issues – in fact, I doubt this is true except for a very few subjects like economics or maths. The reason that more people going to university could be making a difference is that universities tend to use AV to elect students’ union officers; the more graduates there are in a population, the more people we can expect to have already used AV and therefore got over the barrier of understanding how to mark the ballot correctly, roughly how the votes will be counted, etc. Devolution, of course, has given people in some parts of the UK a chance to get their head around using things other than pure FPTP, particularly in Northern Ireland, where STV is used (more or less identical from the voter’s point of view to AV).

The coming weeks and months should give us a clue as to whether PR will remain a live debate or evaporate into the murky politico shadows it crept from just a few months ago and once again evoke ‘Public Relations’ for most of the electorate. Certainly the former won’t happen on its own – it’s now the responsibility of those on the left that argued for a no-to-AV-yes-to-PR vote to lead  an energetic display of campaigning and debate that will make it impossible for electoral reform to be forgotten amongst the cuts (however much this might piss off Bob Crow), and to give a sharp rebuke to those elements that aligned with them for more conservative reasons, like the LRC.

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Law and Order?

by Anne Archist

David Cameron once said “We are the party of law and order”. Similarly, the tory general election manifesto proclaimed that “We will rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system so that people know it is on the side of … law-abiding people”.

Let’s ignore the ridiculous implications that there’s a party of illegality and chaos or that society can be neatly divided into law-abiding people and law-breaking people (I wonder how many people have never driven over the speed limit and never ignored copyright regulations and never stolen a single thing in their lives, etc). The conclusion we might reasonably reach from such claims is that the tories, and David Cameron personally, are strongly opposed to people bending or breaking the law to serve their own interests, and that they’d safe-guard legally-guaranteed rights against official abuses and corruption. You’d be entirely justified to conclude this, but apparently you’d be wrong.

There have been some interesting and worrying reports flying around which allege that the Met are going to be firmly curtailing freedom of speech on the day of the Royal Wedding. This comes from Republic:

“Campaign group Republic has sought urgent clarification from the Metropolitan Police after Commander Christine Jones suggested that republican placards seen in the vicinity of the royal wedding would be removed under the Public Order Act (POA).
Asked by journalist Martha Kearney whether police would use the POA to confiscate “down with the royal family” placards, Jones replied “There are 364 other days of the year when people can come to London and demonstrate and frankly it’s not appropriate on the day of the royal wedding for people to come to London with that intent.””

It’s worth noting that this is clearly a misuse of the POA, which includes provisions making it an offence to “[display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.” I’d say people would be pushing their luck to claim that republican placards were likely to cause ‘distress’ at the best of times (and note that the law makes no mention of context other than the presence of people likely to feel a certain way about it – so any other day of the year it would be equally illegal, provided that pro-monarchists are around, unless there’s something magic about a royal wedding that makes people more likely to be harassed, alarmed, or distressed by republicanism).

Even if the placard was distressing, the POA clearly states that it is a statutory defence to show that the conduct was “reasonable”. You merely have to show that what you were doing was reasonable in order to be exhonerated in court. If we can’t get a court of law to accept that republican protest at a royal event is reasonable, we’ve got some serious problems. And why the Met would be arresting people that they knew full well probably wouldn’t get prosecuted by CPS, and wouldn’t get found guilty if they were, is beyond me unless it’s a case of politically-motivated policing. The only sensible way of interpreting the statements made by the Met, then, is that they’re going to purposefully misinterpret the law in order to prevent people from protesting. I hear no tory dissent.

In a similar vein, this article suggests that anyone seen burning the flag would be arrested under the POA (not just have their flag confiscated, but be arrested). OK, so burning the national flag might be more reasonably described as something that could cause “distress” worthy of the name (perhaps to a weak-hearted and over-emotional veteran or something). To suggest that flag-burning will be treated as an arrestable offence, however, is an utter indictment of the Met’s usual line that they “support” the right to protest and seek to “facilitate” protest. I hear no tory dissent.

There’s also reason to pause and think about the fact that Muslims Against Crusades have been denied authorisation to protest at the Abbey. Now, MAC are no friends of this blog, but the law is pretty black-and-white on this issue. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) clearly states that if a “notice” is received that complies with the regulations laid out in the act, which state what information it must contain and when it must be received, “The Commissioner must give authorisation for [a] demonstration [in the vicinity of Parliament]“.

Note the word must (I know, I’m really going slowly through these things, but I want it to be plain as day what the law actually says) – not ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘should’ or ‘can’, but “must“. So there are two explanations here – either MAC didn’t conform to the regulations when giving notice, or the Met have broken the law and denied them their explicitly-protected right to protest in the vicinity of Parliament. Obviously I don’t know which is the case, but nobody seems very bothered to find out. I hear no tory dissent.

Finally (as far as I can remember – you lose count of these things), in an interesting outburst of lawlessness, Cameron recently seemed to urge people to ignore local government regulations:

“To those councils that are asking small groups of neighbours for licences, insurance and other bureaucracy my message is clear:
Don’t interfere, don’t get in the way and don’t make problems where there are none. Let people get on and have fun.
And my message to everyone who wants to have a street party is: I’m having one and I want you to go ahead and have one too.”

Hilariously, Cameron seems to have unwittingly made a general principle out of a specific case – the quoted paragraph makes no mention of the royal wedding, so presumably applies to any street parties at any time under Cameron’s government. The whole tone of the article implies that if “red tape” or “bureaucracy” gets in the way, people should flout the rules. I wonder whether he’d apply the same principle to republican street parties faced with public order arrests… Once again, I hear no tory dissent.

So there you have it; far from the “party of law and order”, it seems that the tories under Cameron’s leadership are turning a blind eye to politically-motivated policing that bends and breaks the law, encouraging disobedience in the face of local government regulations, and generally approving of law-breaking when it suits their own purposes.

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Why Social Mobility is Shit (II)

by Anne Archist

The second lesson from our analysis of the concept of social mobility, which is much less significant but worth pointing out in the absence of its acknowledgement by the political mainstream, is that people can move down as well as up the social hierarchy. Not only this, but (in relative terms at least) every movement up is accompanied by (a) movement(s) down, and vice versa. Marx talked about one-sided ways of understanding a concept, and this is certainly something that most commentators are guilty of – social mobility is a good thing, right? After all, it allows people to end up better off than they started in life. But, of course, it also means that people might end up worse off than they started too. For everyone who wins the lottery, someone’s business collapses. For every child of a mining family that became a professor, a child of the bourgeoisie was forced to seek wages by an inheritance squandered by their parents.

Basically, social mobility is generally conceived as a matter of relations – the generally increasing wealth of society as a whole, even when distributed around the population to some extent, is not termed social mobility. People’s position improving relative to their barest physical needs is not, therefore, social mobility (on this normal interpretation of the term, at least). Rather, it is improvement relative to other people in our society that counts as mobility. I leapfrog you, leaving you no better off. Someone else takes my place, sending me crashing back to where I was before. None of this makes any overall improvement – social mobility, conceptually speaking, is a zero-sum game.

If we all move together, we are not moving within the hierarchy but shifting the whole hierarchy onto different ground, still intact. John MacLean said “Rise with your class, not out of it” – the working class can improve their position as a class, and can eventually abolish the very social relations that make them the working class. This should be their focus, rather than the language of social mobility that implores workers to leave their class behind them and enter the ranks of small capital or the self-employed.

It’s interesting also to reflect on the way that social mobility is measured and conceptualised by the right. This is a methodological issue that threatens to slip into the analysis of those on the left, as methodologies and underlying analytical assumptions have been known to do in the past. Here’s an example: David Willetts is concerned about the effect feminism has had on social mobility. His reasoning is that many women have been able to take opportunities that would otherwise gone to men and improved their social positions. Of course, the reason that Willetts sees this as a threat to social mobility is that he conceives of the family unit as a single, indivisible economic entity, represented largely by the ‘male breadwinner’.

If Willetts conceived of social mobility on an individual level, the improvements in women’s social mobility would neutralise the damage done to men’s social mobility, as we’ve already seen. The reason that women pose a problem in this way of looking at things is that they themselves aren’t seen as worthy of assessing individually for their own social standing. Their social standing is, largely, that of their husband. Families are becoming less socially mobile due to the fact that generally families now consist of either two people who are well off and well educated or two people who are not particularly economically prosperous and averagely educated at best.

This means that there is increasing polarisation between family units in terms of, say, education, when you average out between the husband and wife. Before you could have relied upon well-educated men marrying poorly-educated women in order to create a tendency towards the mean. It also means that families are less likely to change dramatically in terms of income and so on – if the family’s income depends almost entirely on the man’s income, then the loss of his job will affect them much more than if his income only makes up half or a third of the income.

None of this has anything to do with individual people’s chances in life, their incomes or levels of education, their class membership, or whatever. It has to do with the way that these people come together into family units, and that is what Willetts is blind to; by taking the basic economic unit to be the male-headed family, he obscures inequalities within families and the social mobility of women (other than single women, perhaps, who may appear in his metrics as a kind of abberation). Willetts also seems to confuse inequality in household income with lack of social mobility, though it’s unclear as to what exactly his reasoning is from the way he’s been quoted in the press.

Why, then, do some on the left promote this apparently right-wing goal? Arguments over what will best promote social mobility abound, claims that the cuts to education will harm social mobility come even from hardline SWPers and so forth. It makes perfect sense that David Willetts should be concerned with social mobility – presumably he thinks there’s some link between meritocracy and social mobility (which, of course, isn’t logically the case since people’s position could change due to luck, as when workers win lottery jackpots), and that meritocracy is good.

But surely the left should be making the more politically explosive points against this agenda? When tories talk about social mobility they’re talking merely about: shuffling around who’s rich and who’s poor, not eliminating poverty; increasing competition for good educational opportunities, not improving educational opportunities for all; pitting ordinary working people against each other, not building cooperation and solidarity among them.

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Why Social Mobility is Shit (I)

by Anne Archist

Everyone’s talking about it. David Willetts has kicked the hornet’s nest most recently by arguing that feminism is to blame for reduced social mobility over the last few decades, but the concept itself is in widespread usage these days, from the left through to the government. Social mobility is good, we’re told; it gives people a chance to get on in life, to do better than the generations before them. That all sounds nice, but today I’m going to tear the whole concept apart like only a philosopher can.

The kind of social mobility we’re talking about here (and that most people are talking about elsewhere) is ‘vertical social mobility’. This is the idea that people can move up or down the social hierarchy. Some people are at the ‘top’ of society (generally those who are best educated, have the highest incomes, have the most political/economic power, know the most powerful people, etc) and others are at the ‘bottom’ (the opposite), with people in various layers in between, or a spectrum stretching from one to the other. To talk about (vertical) social mobility without imagining society in this hierarchical and unequal way renders it nonsense.

So the first lesson we can take from our analysis of social mobility as a concept is that it’s incompatible with an equal, classless society. Social mobility presupposes a class divide or a spectrum of inequality; equality and classlessness makes ‘mobility’ impossible because mobility means (the capability for) movement from one point to another, and an equal, classless society is one in which everyone occupies the same social position – everyone is at the same point because there is only one point. Next time people imply that equality and social mobility go hand in hand, remember that while higher degrees of equality may correlate with higher measures of social mobility, real equality is incompatible with real social mobility.

Some people will be confused by the previous paragraph – generally more equality means more mobility, but the most equality means the least mobility? How can that be the case? Something that might illuminate the previous paragraph is the idea of multiple-peakedness; this is important in understanding certain aspects of politics. The idea is that not everything works as a linear improvement in a particular direction. It’s not true, for instance, that everyone who votes for the most right-wing party would vote for the second most right-wing party as their second preference (an assumption, incidentally, that seems to be underlying much of the AV debate at the moment; maybe I’ll talk about this more in a further post).

Suppose that a working-class voter is minimally class-conscious; they realise that free markets are just a route to the rich getting richer at their expense, and they know that they have a certain common interest with fellow workers in a similar position to themselves. They may also be racist or generally nationalist and short-sighted, however. That is, they may not be internationalist and may not understand their common interest with immigrant workers. They vote BNP because they see the BNP as a party that will fight for the native working class, will oppose free market profiteering, etc. Ignoring the question of how accurate this perception is, it doesn’t therefore follow that they would vote for UKIP or the tories as their second preference. Perhaps they’d vote Labour or even support the Socialist Party or something of the sort.

This is multiple-peakedness – the line on a graph that represents their preferences doesn’t have just one peak and descend in a straight line from there, but actually has a peak at each end. In this instance it’s probably double-peaked, with a gradual descent down from the far left towards the tories but then a big peak at the end representing the far right. In other instances there may be more than two peaks separated by troughs of varying heights, etc. Now we can apply this idea to the relationship between equality and social mobility; it may be that in, e.g. conditions present in Western European style broadly social democracies, equality and social mobility are correlated. This doesn’t imply that they will correlate in other conditions (other sections of the graph, as it were). After all, if a society is too polarised, mobility will be all but impossible too – social mobility is going to be low for slaves, for instance! – but if a society is equal enough then social mobility is going to be conceptually impossible altogether because there is no room to ‘move’.

While we’re on the subject, don’t forget the transformation of quantity into quality in terms of understanding the relationship here… This is the thing that Engels repeatedly explained in terms of water changing states – as water heats up (a change in quantity of energy), it eventually reaches a point where it boils (a change in quality of state). It could be that social mobility improves up to the point that it just becomes a socially/politically meaningless concept because there is little relevance to moving within the narrow constrains that a society that is basically equal. I’m not concerned here with laying out a strict analysis of the relationship between the two variables across the whole range of possibilities, but it seems pretty clear that at the extreme of total equality, social mobility is utterly non-existent. As I’ve said, social mobility presupposes an unequal, class-divided society.

Part II coming tomorrow…

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Stop using the phrase “Big Society”!

by Edd Mustill

Don’t worry. This isn’t one of those over-long and fairly vacuous articles about how the left needs to find language that is “more inclusive,” “less dogmatic,” and so on. I just want to quickly comment on a couple of issues around language and slogans that have been bothering me recently.

1)Stop trying to “reclaim” or “invert” the phrase “Big Society”

If you’ve been on a protest recently you’ll know what I’m on about here. Lot’s of people are carrying placards saying things like “This is what your Big Society looks like.” Even today some UKuncut actions were billed as “the Big Society bail-in.

Stop it. I can see what you’re trying to do. David Cameron supposedly wants people to take control over aspects of their life, and that’s what we’re doing by protesting, so you see, this is our version of the Big Society. But stop it.

The Big Society is a vacuous phrase. You can’t give meaning to it by inverting it or treating it ironically. Engaging with it only legitimises a concept that no-one, even inside the Conservative Party, really takes seriously.

Yes, let’s talk about our class taking control over aspects of society: Our version of the Big Society is called socialism. Can we start to talk about that instead?

2) Aaron Porter is definitely a scab

Since the Second Great Chasing of NUS president Aaron Porter in Glasgow, a certain attitude has been floating around along the lines of: “Let’s not make this personal. We don’t want to resort to personal attacks and bullying. Some of the language used against him has been too strong.” And so on.

I’m sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to make our criticisms of Porter too personal, for the political reason that the problems in NUS go far beyond his personal role and lack of leadership.

This said, he is obviously a scab, and we should call him on this. There is a dispute occurring in British universities over fee levels and funding. He is ostensibly the leader of the students’ union. However, his role has been to attempt to subvert the radical action of students. He has decried and dismissed radical action, his has implicitly made false allegations against his political opponents, and has presided over an NUS leadership which has abandoned the fight against higher fees in stark terms.

“Scab” isn’t a word that should be thrown around lightly, but it is entirely appropriate in Porter’s case.

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