Lies and the ‘politics of consensus’

Posted on November 11, 2010

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Nobody should condone the violence that marked yesterday’s demonstration against increased tuition fees, as I heard several people do.

Yet it is clear that, just as a handful of hooligans taint ordinary football fans, those protestors that went too far were in a minority, with most of the 50,000 or so people that took to the streets of London there to protest peacefully and make their voices heard. It is a shame that the main story to emerge from the demonstration was that of violence and criminal damage, rather than the really shocking story of a significant proportion of the electorate being continuously lied to by a party of government.

Harriet Harman, unusually, had it spot on when she savaged Nick Clegg at PMQs for being led astray by the Tories, mocking him for performing a U-turn on his much-trumpeted anti-fees policy. Labour may have introduced the fees in the first place, but it is Clegg and his party that have made the most political capital in the past by opposing fees. And, in a move that destroys Clegg’s previous credibility as a practitioner of “new politics”, it is Clegg and his party that will pay the price for their betrayal of the students.

I have often criticised the Liberal Democrats on these pages since the election, mainly for the sacrifice of their political souls in order to become a party of government. But in an abandonment of their opposition to tuition fees, thereby betraying a sizeable chunk of the people who voted for them in the first place, the party has crossed a line and taken a change of direction that it will never be able to undo. It is yet to be seen if backbenchers will back the plans, but the behaviour of the party leadership in adopting the Tory agenda is cynical and misguided. Many who have voted Liberal Democrat in the past, including myself, will never do so again.

On last night’s Newsnight, Simon Hughes attempted to turn the spotlight on the behaviour of a few protesters rather than that of the government. This seems to have become a policy of the Con-Dem coalition. He argued that the politics of protest were not appropriate, and that people should seek to influence policy through debate. The forum for this debate is supposed to be the House of Commons, where Hughes and the rest of his party, who failed to win enough votes to govern alone, have meekly surrendered their values to the Conservatives, who failed to win enough votes to govern alone. Only Labour, hypocritically and opportunistically, is standing up for what is right in this instance. When a policy such as this is foisted upon the nation by a minority governing party and their turncoat coalition parties, with protests condemned as riots, one has to fear for the state of our democracy.

One thing is for sure, we haven’t seen the last of such protests. As the cuts begin to really bite, people are sure to take to the streets to make their voices heard and defend their services.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics