Bri­tain may face an­other win­ter of dis­con­tent

The howl­ing mob, ini­tially star­tled at see­ing the roy­als, shouted "off with their heads", shook the ve­hi­cle, threw paint over it and prod­ded Camilla with a stick.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Linda Heard

THE cen­ter of London was be­set by stu­dent pro­test­ers last week in­censed at the govern­ment's tripling of uni­ver­sity fees. A hooded mi­nor­ity, their faces par­tially cov­ered with scarves, smashed Trea­sury win­dows and doors, bat­tered the Supreme Court build­ing, de­faced a statue of Sir Win­ston Churchill, set a gi­ant Christ­mas tree alight, dragged mounted po­lice off their horses and at­tacked a clas­sic Rolls Royce li­mou­sine car­ry­ing the heir to the Bri­tish throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Duchess of Corn­wall on their way to a Royal Va­ri­ety Per­for­mance in Le­ices­ter Square.

The howl­ing mob, ini­tially star­tled at see­ing the roy­als, shouted "off with their heads", shook the ve­hi­cle, threw paint over it and prod­ded Camilla with a stick. Such at­tack on top-rank­ing mem­bers of the royal fam­ily is un­prece­dented and con­temptible and will, no doubt, turn many Bri­tons, who were pre­vi­ously sym­pa­thetic to the stu­dents' cause, against it.

In fair­ness, many stu­dents were shocked by the vi­o­lence shown by their fel­lows and blamed non­stu­dent an­ar­chist el­e­ments for in­fil­trat­ing what was meant to be a peace­ful protest. Oth­ers re­mained de­fi­ant telling re­porters that Bri­tons must brace them­selves for worse to come. As a come­back, the home sec­re­tary has warned that next time riot po­lice may be em­pow­ered to use wa­ter can­non to quell civil dis­tur­bance, which has never been used be­fore in Eng­land's his­tory.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials have all con­grat­u­lated the po­lice on a job well done but oth­ers ar­gue the way po­lice cor­ralled stu­dents for many hours in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures with­out food or wa­ter con­trib­uted to stu­dent anger. The po­lice have also been blamed for al­low­ing Prince Charles and his wife to drive through the trou­bled area with min­i­mal se­cu­rity pro­tec­tion in a car with open win­dows that was nei­ther bul­let­proofed nor re­in­forced.

While I con­sider the vi­o­lent attacks to be ut­terly rep­re­hen­si­ble - and detri­men­tal to the cause - the stu­dents' com­plaint is jus­ti­fied. In my day, Bri­tish stu­dents were not asked to pay a penny in tu­ition fees and they were also at lib­erty to ap­ply for gen­er­ous gov­ern­men­tal liv­ing al­lowances.

To­day's young peo­ple are faced with a dou­ble-whammy. When I started out jobs were twoa-penny in London. Em­ploy­ees could walk out of one in the morn­ing and into an­other that same af­ter­noon. I re­call that a boss com­plained about the smell of my lunchtime mine­strone soup where­upon I marched out with my nose in the air, headed off in the di­rec­tion of an em­ploy­ment agency, was sent on an in­ter­view and was at an­other com­pany's desk at 5 pm.

Nowa­days, even stu­dents with first class de­grees may wait up to a year to get their ca­reers go­ing. The last thing they need is to be­gin work­ing sad­dled with mas­sive stu­dent loans in the re­gion of 29,000 pounds or more. Young doc­tors, for in­stance, who study up to five years, could find them­selves ow­ing 45,000 pounds, which is al­most a third of the cost of an av­er­age house in Eng­land.

It seems to me to be to­tally un­fair to bur­den young peo­ple at the out­set and, worse, bright young­sters from the poorer sec­tors of the com­mu­nity will be de­terred from fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, which in a mod­ern democ­racy, should be the right of all. Dur­ing the lead­er­ship of Tony Blair and Gor­don Brown, the gap be­tween rich and poor was greatly widened and the chasm is now set to in­crease even fur­ther.

Wealthy teenagers will be able to rely on mummy and daddy to pick up the tab; those from bluecol­lar fam­i­lies will be des­tined to re­main on the wrong side of the tracks. What­ever Bri­tain's eco­nomic plight may be, cut­ting ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties rep­re­sents a false econ­omy. An ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tion is the back­bone of any for­ward-think­ing mod­ern nation. There are some things that are sacro­sanct; ed­u­ca­tion is one of them - or should be.

The UK's Cameron-led coali­tion govern­ment can't suc­ceed, said pun­dits at the out­set. The ba­sic philoso­phies of the cen­ter­right Con­ser­va­tive and the left­lean­ing Lib­eral Democrats are too dis­parate, they said. I could un­der­stand those con­cerns but didn't en­dorse them at the out­set.

Al­though stereo­typ­i­cally, Con­ser­va­tives are seen as old school tie-wear­ing guardians of the es­tab­lish­ment while the typ­i­cal Lib­eral Demo­crat is a slightly ruf­fled, pipe puff­ing, san­dal-clad, anti-war rebel, I thought that they would find ways to com­pro­mise. The prob­lem is they have - or to be more pre­cise the Lib­eral Demo­cratic leader Nick Clegg has aban­doned his firm pre-elec­tion prom­ises and rolled-over.

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