Saturday, 9 April 2011

When the Porterhouse Blue comes to Westminster

In the excellent Channel 4 TV adaptation of the Tom Sharpe novel, "Porterhouse Blue", the deferential College Porter Scullion, played by David Jason, reveals what in 1982 was seen as the ultimate scandal: a British university was selling university places for money!

How times change, when we hear this week the apparent "news" that nearly every English University has put its  fees at or near the new, trebled maximum of £9,000 per academic year, to the apparent shock of the Con Dem Government. It seems no one mentioned it too them - or, rather, they truly were deaf to the protests of students that were so violently suppressed by the authorities last autumn on the streets of London.

The Government is now clearly panicking on two fronts - there is a wealth of evidence that, contrary to all their platitudinous assertions, the new fees policy is deterring potential students from applying for courses. Nil points for social cohesion and mending "broken Britain".

Secondly, and far more galling to this regime of neo-conservative financial pygmies is the prospect that the Government won't be able to afford its own policy! Sound strange when we've heard so much funding is being slashed from Universities, including public support for the humanities - apparently pointless subjects like History, English, the Arts - being reduced to absolutely nothing, zilch, not a penny?

Well, in the debt-ridden world of contemporary students, the Government is committed to lending them the cost of their fees up front, expecting them to pay it back, with interest, through most of their working lives. But it has to find the money first, and with so many Universities taking the increasingly incompetent Vince Cable at his word and charging the maximum permitted, the Government's bill is soaring. It had banked on Universities charging an average of £7,500 per student - not the 20% higher rate that is emerging.

Hence the panic this week.
Scullion: the Nick Clegg of Porterhouse?

Of course, they were warned, but they ignored their opponents, preferring to cast honest young people as bloodthirsty anarchists and revolutionaries. We face the surreal prospect that British Universities are increasingly enrolling more and more overseas students with the cash to help them survive, while the hysterical rightwing press, who supported the Government's policy changes, carp on about too many foreigners in UK educational establishments. Meanwhile, with India now emerging as a new world superpower, its well-regarded Universities are offering British students degree courses which will cost them 40% less than going to a UK establishment. Even the Mexican President has offered sunnier university options at lower than the UK cost to British students - immediately after talks with Clegg.

So well done to Vince and the Cleggeron. If there is any advertisement more clearly speaking against Coalition Governments, its this hybrid Lie that passes for the British Government. They are dismantling our Welfare State, our NHS and our education system piece by piece allegedly to save us from a non-existent economic catastrophe. The levels of outright dishonesty are beyond belief.

But of course, just as Scullion ends up as the enfeebled puppet of the Establishment in Porterhouse Blue, so the Liberal Democrats have sold their souls out even faster than they have sold the country down the river. As the Dean says in the final scene to the stricken Porter-become-Master, "Master may not have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he will certainly die with one in it."

And die they will, starting with the elections on 5 May. And deservedly so.

On the day Parliament debated the new fees regime for English Universities, thousands of young people and their supporters demonstrated peacefully in London. The only significant casualty of the day was student Alfie Meadows, who was left brain damaged after being assaulted by a police officer who has never been identified. Watch the horsemen cometh on this video, see the fear induced on the faces of British citizens asserting their right to stand and protest. This is Liberal Democrat Britain. I hope they are proud of themselves while they still can be.

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