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Posts from December 2010

The Politics of Blah Blah Blah

Saturday 11th December 2010

You may have noticed that the tuition fees fracas has provoked a certain amount of ire on these pages. Well here comes some more.

I’ve been angered by a lot of the opposition to the increase in fees. Now, that’s not to say that I think that there are no good arguments against them, or even that I completely agree with what the government is doing. What’s annoyed me are the specific arguments that have been used by most of the opposition, led by the NUS and Labour. The repeated misconceptions, half-truths, and downright lies that have been put forward and then regurgitated by – it seems – the majority of the student population. The irrational, unreasonable, illogical attitude that’s been prevalent is the absolute worst kind of politics, yet is sadly the most common.

What am I talking about? Take the argument that fees will make it impossible for poorer students to go to university. Does this actually hold water? Well, as with the present system, the fees will be partnered with student loans. The loans are available to all undergraduate students, and cover the full costs of fees as well as living costs. Students from poorer backgrounds will receive grants to help them with their studies (and lets not forget that it’s these grants that the NUS proposed should be cut, instead of increasing the fees. Make things better for the middle classes, to the detriment of poorer students. And yet they drone on about fairness). There is absolutely no reason why anyone will be financially incapable of going to university, so when they claim this the NUS are either being massively stupid, or deliberately lying.

A further claim is that graduates won’t be able to afford the crippling debt, but that doesn’t really hold much water either. The loans are designed so that this will never be the case. Graduates repay only when they earn over £21,000 (£6k higher than the threshold the NUS propose, by the way). Above this level, the repayments are set at 9% of earnings – the same as the current rate. Additionally, it gets written off after a certain number of years. I absolutely reject the argument that this is unreasonable, especially when it’s actually more generous than what’s proposed by the NUS!

The NUS and Labour both back a graduate tax (here are the proposals favoured by the NUS). If implemented, a graduate tax would actually work in much the same way as the fee & loan system (from the point of view of graduates, anyway). In fact in many ways the government’s system is better, when things like the higher repayment threshold and the benefit of direct payments to universities – rather than to the Treasury’s coffers – are considered. Now, I’m not arguing that this is the best thing to do. In fact it probably isn’t. But to oppose the government whilst supporting a graduate tax is simply the most bizarre and inconsistent position to hold on this issue.

And yet, this does seem to be the position of a lot of people. I’m not entirely surprised at Labour; their lack of principle and their unreasonableness are well documented. But I’m so angry with the NUS, the body which is meant to stick up for students, for absolutely failing to represent their best interests.

I mean, the education system in the UK – not just universities – is broken. For instance, there was an article in the Guardian the other day about the low number of black students accepted to Oxbridge. Now, the paper implied it’s racism. It isn’t, but it does highlight an issue which is arguably even worse. That is, that kids from poorer backgrounds tend to have access to poorer schools. The education they receive is not up to scratch, so they have little chance to earn a place at a prestigious university. Unlike many, I don’t have a problem with inequality of wealth; but I do have a massive problem with inequality of opportunity. I don’t care if there are some people in society who are vastly richer than others, as long as everyone has the opportunity to try to do that.

For all their efforts during their 13 years, Labour utterly failed to improve this situation; in fact by many measures, their actions made things worse. So frankly I have no time for them or their supporters when they unthinkingly oppose all that the coalition does, and I will not abide them pretending that they are the party of “fairness”. It simply isn’t the case. As for the NUS, their opposition to fees seems to be more to do with concern for “the squeezed middle classes” than any real concern for improving access to universities. If they genuinely cared about that, they would’ve been running campaigns to change the perception amongst the worse off that student debt is bad, and they wouldn’t have opposed the grants available for those people.

There’s more to all of this though, when you consider what this debacle tells us about the state of politics in the UK. And yes, this is where I become hugely biased, but hopefully not wrong…

Next year there will be a referendum on the alternative vote, but I would wager that many of those who were present at the protests against the fees would actually support full proportional representation. Which would have the effect of making coalition governments ever more likely.

The thing about coalition governments is that they involve compromise. That means that the parties involved may not always be able to do everything they said they would in their manifesto, and in fact may have to support stuff they oppose in order to get stuff they like. Over the last few months the Liberal Democrats have seen this happen quite often, to the extent that it seems that Nick Clegg has been elevated to the level of a sort of hate figure. The Lib Dems are lambasted for selling out, for backing things they didn’t support in their manifesto, and mostly for propping up Those Bastard Tories (and by the way, the persistent insistence by many that the Conservative party are evil toffs who take great delight in fucking over the poor and who only care for themselves… It’s stupid. Mind-numbingly ignorant, and hugely tedious. It’s so childish to pretend that those you disagree with are in fact out to do bad. Ever thought that they want to make things better too, just that they disagree with how to do it?)

Well guess what? That’s the price of coalition. The Lib Dems are compromising, yes. But so are the Tories. There really is a lot of good stuff being done by the government (and bad stuff that’s not been done!), that’s been influenced by the Liberal Democrat ministers. That’s meant Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reneging on some manifesto commitments.

As it is, people have chosen not to recognise this. Coalition government – especially in an economic climate such as this one – is nuanced. It requires people to look at the detail, to be pragmatic as well as idealistic. It’d be great if we could make university free, charge no taxes to anyone, and give everyone a mansion set in acres of gardens. But sadly we have to live in the real world, to balance conflicting needs to come up with a solution with the best compromise. Unfortunately our political discussion seems to have dissolved into extremes; into black and white, us and them. The forces of good against the forces of evil. This inability or unwillingness to accept compromise is pathetic, divisive, and ultimately damaging. And looking at the student protests, that’s what’s pissed me off so much.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 3 Comments

A Quick Recommendation

Thursday 9th December 2010

The Wire. Not many people seem to watch it, or to have even heard of it. Which is a real shame, because it’s absolutely brilliant. There’s nothing particularly original I can say about it, so here’s an old clip from Screenwipe about it:

It’s not an easy watch, by any means. The dialect and slang is sometimes difficult to understand, and you have to really pay attention to what’s happening in order to understand the show. There’s no dramatic background music to highlight the significant moments, and no convenient characters who ask questions purely for exposition. But give it the attention it deserves and you’ll find a thoroughly intelligent, complex, and utterly compelling show.

Posted In: TV Tagged: | 2 Comments

It Could Only Happen in F1…

Thursday 9th December 2010

At the start of the 2010 season, 3 new teams entered F1. One of these teams decided to call themselves “Lotus”, in honour of the team founded by Colin Chapman that competed in F1 (and other forms of motorsport) between 1954 and 1994, won 13 championships and introduced many of the innovative ideas that shaped the technical aspect of the sport.

They’ve had a reasonably successful first year, and for 2011 they have signed a deal to use Renault engines (which have just won the championship in the Red Bull). The team have also announced that the livery of the cars will echo one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Team Lotus Renault’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

All very good, and all very simple, yes? Perhaps not…

Renault have owned their F1 team for about 10 years now, but since the story of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, they have been steadily withdrawing from the sport. Last year they sold part of the team to a private investment firm. This year, they’ve sold the rest of their stake in the team to the Lotus car company, which was founded by Colin Chapman to support his racing ambitions. Group Lotus want to expand the company, increase their model range and sell more cars, and so they want to get back into motorsport for the marketing potential. So they’ve bought into the F1 team, which will keep Renault engines for next year.

The deal was announced yesterday, and they also announced that the cars would run in one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Lotus Renault GP’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

Two Lotus-Renault teams. Both with basically the same livery. Excellent!

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | No Comments

WTF?

Thursday 2nd December 2010

At the European Grand Prix in Valencia this year, Mark Webber had a pretty hairy accident. He ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, and flipped.

Not good, but he walked away. This sort of thing is an occupational hazard for racing drivers, really.

Anyway, here’s a video by a crazy person:

I’m not sure if it’s fake or not. It looks real (she’s got lots of other similarly weird videos on YouTube), and I think it’s hilarious. I especially like the end, where she just stares at the camera with the crazy eyes for about a minute. Nice.

Posted In: MotorsportRandom Tagged: | 4 Comments