One Nation Under The Bullingdon Club

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October 9, 2012 by Jake Cantona

Clive Stafford Smith, fearless champion of justice and first change bowler for Mapperton Marauders, wrote an excellent article recently on student loans[1]. One of his central points was that it was the excesses of his and older generations that had brought about the iniquitous system of financing education through loans.

Student loans started to appear in the UK in 1989. I know: I was, belatedly, entering higher education that autumn and applied for one for the full amount: a whopping great £400. The loan was introduced gradually as a way of migrating from student grants and was the tail end of the erosion of financial safeguards for students. The right to claim unemployment benefit out of term and the right to housing benefit had already been removed (frankly, students today must be amazed that such rights ever existed). The remnants of the student grant were abolished in 1998; loans to cover tuition fees were also introduced in 1998 – and have been extended in scope since then – to finally remove any pretence we had in this country to equality in education.

So, as Stafford Smith points out[2], a generation that benefitted from generous provision for higher and tertiary education seeks to deny that benefit to this generation. Elsewhere, a generation that was emancipated and decriminalised through David Steel’s abortion bill similarly seeks to restrict the freedom of choice for this generation.

Above all, a generation that enjoyed greater opportunity for social mobility wants to pull up the drawbridge on this one.

Tom Pride notes that[3] David Cameron is renting one of his family homes, allegedly for £6000 pcm, while living rent-free in state accommodation. There’s nothing inherently wrong, as far as I can see, with this, but it does act as a rather neat illustration of a lot of what is wrong with the upper echelons of the Tory party. You can’t fault the industry and enterprise of people such as Cameron, George Osborne or, man-of-the-hour par excellence, Grant Shapps when it comes to generating wealth on their own behalf, and it would surely be an excellent thing if they could harness that and apply it for the benefit of the nation they purport to govern.

The frustration is that they appear to view government as an opportunity to further their own interests, rather than those of the vast majority of people that they were ‘elected’ to serve.

Arguably, taking a long view this is merely the resumption of Thatcherite policies after a long intermission in which we all enjoyed a sybaritic lifestyle at the taxpayers’ expense, but for all Thatcher’s fault, of which let’s face it there were many, she did come from a provincial background, untainted by privilege. Her father was a tradesman – one of the few things she had in common with Ted Heath – and no matter how cock-eyed a view she took on the relationship between the individual and the state, she did at least have some experience of life outside the nursery walls.

We’ve heard a lot about Disraeli in the last week or so after the ‘Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Milliband’ performance at the Labour Party conference. What is pertinent about Disraeli’s observation was that he was, from a patrician and privileged position, attacking the 19th Century equivalent of the free marketers and entrepreneurs[4] who scrambled to wealth and power on the backs of the labouring masses and tended not to care about the poverty left in their wake.

So what we are looking for is not a nation that is, in Cameron’s contemptuous opinion, like East Germany, but one in which children do not have to rely on food banks to eat, in which the sick can die without being forced back to work and one in which lessons on austerity are not handed down like scraps from the tables of millionaires. It is not, as Cameron and Osborne might suggest, the politics of envy: it is the politics of equity.

[2] “Many of my generation benefitted from a free university education. I suspect that large swathes of those who later voted to create the student loan programme paid nothing. On a primary level, then, this is a great swindle on the youth of Great Britain: it is not a matter of making them pay the cost of their own education; rather, they are paying off the debt accrued by my generation. It is a tax on the young and poor to pay the debts of those who are older and richer.”

[4] Interestingly, mostly Liberals in those days

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