What exactly are these bozos trying to achieve here?

Good god, it’s a mess in here.

*kicks skeletons of former readers aside*

I’m only picking my way back in through the cobwebs to ask, seriously now, what on earth the NUS/the Campaign for Nice Pixies Against Nasty Orcs/Labourlist/whoever thinks it’s doing by gloating over the cancellation of the London Lib Dem conference?

You total hilarious dweebs! What is up with you?! The entire party has been in open revolt for over a month, big long lists of PPCs are writing letters to Nick Clegg, there are rumours of resignations all over the place, councillors and activists are to my certain knowledge running around right this minute badgering, cajoling, threatening and pleading with their MPs to stick to the damn pledges and you know what? They were wobbling. That PPCs’ open letter was quite quickly followed by speculation on mass abstention peppered with individuals voting against.

Now, I’m still wavering on the whole question of tuition fees, and would be quite happy to go to my grave in that condition because I find the issue genuinely complex, and am continuously baffled at the number of people who don’t, on both sides. But there’s no doubt the plurality of opinion in the active section of the party is anti-fees. And now they’ve had taken from them the last big chance ahead of the vote to speechify, press flesh, lobby in person, brief an attentive media and generally make a nuisance of themselves. The students of Liberal Youth have lost the chance to square up publicly and en masse to their supposedly elders and betters and demand a hearing.

Now, it’s true that Lib Dem regional conferences are ham sandwiches and flipcharts affairs with typical attendances in the low hundreds, and the media’s rebranding of the London conference as a “summit” is the subject of much internal hilarity. Bilderberg this ain’t (and that’s why the cancellations have happened, because busting the sort of venues usually chosen for a Lib Dem regional conference is about as difficult as breaking into an envelope).  But the fact remains – you’ve just lost a day of public pressure on Clegg and you are celebrating the reduction of Lib Dem membership lobbying opportunities.

It’s hard to see how anyone who thinks this helps the anti-fees cause could possess the requisite neural co-ordination to hold up a banner, never mind be fronting a national campaign. What were you going to do at the protest, dribble on us until we got really annoyed? Political short-termism is one thing, this is pure bloody goldfish territory. Yes! We stopped the Lib Dem conference! Let’s celebrate by occupying this pinhead! Now they won’t be able to publicly debate and restate their opposition to their own leadership and be top of all the news bu-



  1. The NUS are just a branch of Labour, breaking the Libdems isnt a means to an end it is the end. They beleive we can be intimidated into giving up.

  2. My my are the LibDems actually saying that students don’t have the right to peacefully demonstrate and protest at the regional conference to get their message across.

    The police are paid to keep public order except of course when they obviously sent a message to the government by leaving Millbank totally open.

    It’s clear that when the first protesters went in there wasn’t a single copper there and I really don’t believe that was an oversight.

    1. Ha, I knew it! I absolutely knew some hard of thinking individual would come along and try to pretend that I’m saying the students *shouldn’t* be protesting. Care to point me to where I’ve said that?

      You can’t, because I haven’t. The stupidity here lies in thinking it’s a good thing the conference has been cancelled, not in protesting. As you’d know if you’d read it properly the first time.

  3. Given the NUS is a branch of the Labour party…

    “Yes! We stopped the Lib Dem conference! Let’s celebrate by occupying this pinhead! Now they won’t be able to publicly debate and restate their opposition to their own leadership and be top of all the news bu-”

    …sounds like an appropriate sentiment.

    I hope the PR ‘geniuses’ at Cowley Street have now learned their lessons about signing up to pledges offered by organisations affiliated with rival political parties. What’s that, the Fabians have something they want us to sign? That sounds a jolly idea.

  4. Excellent post. I especially liked the description of the mismatch between regional conference reality and the idea that it was a summit.

    If the NUS really want to change things, rather than make a political point, they need to work with politicians who are persuadable (or already persuaded) rather than annoy them.

  5. I’m waiting for two things:

    1 – To hear from some protest leaders who have taken the trouble to understand the proposals (which have some problems, but are inevitable in some form when 50% of people go to Uni in a shot economy).

    2 – NUS reform a couple of years down the road when it has blown over. Somehow I don’t see protest groups entitled to Govt funding and a compulsory membership sticking for very long, somehow.

    1. inevitable in some form when 50% of people go to Uni in a shot economy

      Except that’s not true, and never has been. The number of students graduating has remained fairly constant at 30% of 21 year olds for the last 15 or so years:
      “Put down that wrench!” – Damned Lies: Student Participation Rates and HE Funding

      The problem is that the total number of people of that age has been rising (I would have been 21 in 1995, I knew at the time I was in one of the smallest years demographically for awhile, it fell a bit more then started rising after my sister was born in ’79)

      The problem is the mid 90s expansion of universities that took place during a trough in total numbers, the target of 50% was always a made up silliness that was never going to be acheived by degree studies alone (and not initally meant to be, although they changed that as time went on)

  6. The NUS is not in charge of these protests. Aaron Porter is widely despised by the student movement and has even described himself as spineless in a desperate attempt to save his own career, local unions have acted to sabotage many of the days of action (and are for the most part currently refusing to help out in providing transport to London for the 9th, knowing full well that they lost control of this movement on the 10th) and union buildings have more than once found themselves the target of direct action in some cities. The fact that the NUS has become little more than a branch of Labour and a training ground for future Labour MPs (usually the worst of the lot, Porter follows in the footsteps of Woolas after all) is the reason for its utter irrelevance to the student movement, not the reason for some bizarre machiavellian attack on the LibDems.

    The student movement really doesn’t have any leaders. There are a bunch of groups vying for that title, but none of them have managed to get a purchase. There are organising groups in every city, in most universities, in many sixth forms and even a lot of schools. Some of them are co-ordinating, some of them aren’t, some of them are affiliated to national campaigns, many are pointedly refusing to affiliate. More than this, once they hit the streets the organising groups have very little influence on how things go – the street militancy is being driven mostly by 6th formers and school kids new to protest and incredibly angry.

    I’ve been amazed by how few LibDems seem to understand this. The Tories get the idea of a social movement that hates them and that they need to crush to get what they want. They’ve done this before after all. Every LibDem comment I’ve read or heard just can’t get past the idea that this must be some dirty trick from Labour, or at best, the ‘loony left’.

    Guess what, it’s not. People hate you and they are not prepared to stick to the ‘proper channels’ to express that. You don’t get to be the nice guys anymore, sorry.

    1. I think I probably was being unfair in the first paragraph lumping the NUS in with the Campaign people who were quoted in the article. I’ve no idea who the Campaign are. Loony left? Could be, but I’ve never said so. Labourlist it’s fair enough to cite, I think, because they did have that quote up in a post with their gloaty bit too. Otherwise, I haven’t mentioned Labour. I certainly haven’t mentioned the “loony left”, whoever they are.

      In fact, to repeat myself, I’m more concerned by the general idiocy of people, *whatever* their precise political shade, thinking it’s a *good* thing that a lobbying opportunity got missed. I’m tolerably certain that’s the post I wrote. Generally, I can’t shake the feeling that you’re carrying on a conversation you’ve had somewhere else with someone else. Quite conceivably within your own head.

  7. Indeed – those that think this is somehow a victory for the anti-fees movement are sadly deluded. If anything, stories on the BBC about venues cancelling meetings because of fears of rioting is going to harm their cause.

    @ EcoJon – it was the venues that cancelled, not the Lib Dems. I’d have welcomed the opportunity to meet and debate the issue with some protesters. Students have a right to protest, and should do (although from comments I’ve seen in the media I do wonder how many have a complete grasp of what’s being proposed). The small core of hard left ‘revolutionaries’ however, don’t achieve anything by turning up and breaking windows.

  8. @ Mike – but demonstration is a “proper channel” and should be encouraged. Criminal damage and violence are not – no matter how “angry” you might be.

    Regardless of the actual power of the NUS or the hard left, they are both trying to advance their agendas here (eg where were the NUS in 1996-7, 1998 and 2004?), and they’re both willing to mislead to do so. That is worthy of criticism.

    Generally speaking, I think liberals (small ‘l’) would encourage discussion and reflection in politics, whereas closing down political meetings is the politics of the extreme left and right.

  9. This really is tripe. The protests planned weren’t official NUS protests.

    Students are angry with us as a party, and until we show them we’re doing more to hold our leadership to account then they will see us as ‘all as bad as eachother’.

    The party attack on NUS is disgraceful. All this, “where were you in 2004” business is just sensationalist. If you cared to check you’d know that the campaigning by NUS brought Blair’s labour majority on the fees vote down to just 5 votes! We worked with NUS as a party back then.

    I’m tired of trying to defend my party in government on this issue because I don’t even believe myself – and I don’t think many of you on here do either.

    If we were so proud of the ‘progressive’ elements then why are our MPs being made to vote on them seperately by just being made to vote on the fee cap on Thursday?! We’re being royally screwed over here.

    I for one can’t bear to see my party, with proud policy on investment in education and free tuition, go through with this. I look at my membership card with fear whereas before I was proud. When my membership expires later this month, I shan’t be reneweing. I will not be joining or supporting any other party but I hope I can re-join the Liberal Democrats once a new leadership is in place, even if it means losing heavily at the next election (which I think we have to face up to).

    1. My post: “Why are these idiots suggesting it’s a good thing that a lobbying opportunity has been cancelled? That’s really stupid!”

      Me in a comment: “Yeah, actually the NUS aren’t really culpable for this bit of idiocy, are they, because the actual quote I’m objecting to comes from these Campaign people.”

      Booster: “These protests weren’t organised by the NUS! Why do you keep asking where the NUS were in 2004!”

      Um. What?

      How many times do I have to spell this out?

      I am not commenting on any protests. I am not commenting on 2004, or our relationship with the NUS therein. I am attacking the idiotic idea that it is a Good Thing that a conference has been cancelled. Because it *is* an idiotic idea. It doesn’t make a whit of difference to me who holds that idea. It’s still stupid.

      Why not go and offer your comment on a blog post where someone has actually made the arguments you say they have?

    2. It was me who brought up 2004 – so not exactly a ‘party attack’, although I stand buy it (I was involved in the protests in 1997/8, so actually I do ‘care’ thanks). The NUS may not be in control of these protests, but they are trying to use them to further their agenda, which is partisan; especially given the NUS’ plan would actually involve lower earners paying more!

      MPs are voting on the fees cap seperately because that’s they way the legislation is organised – the fee cap is contained in an SI that just contains the fee cap.

      Personally, I would think it better to stay and fight inside the party for what you believe, rather than resign/fail to renew. Alix’s point – which I agree with – is being proud of stifling debate by causing a conference to be postponed is not a good thing. Especially as the conference would have probably resulted in more lobbying on this issue.

      Btw, I am perfectly happy to defend this as a coalition compromise. Given that both Lab/Cons support raising fees, do you (a) sit on your hands and achieve nothing as a 100% Tory policy is voted through, or (b) engage; get involved, try to make the proposal as good as you can, at the price of voting in favour?

      The reason fees are going up is because only 23% of the electorate voted Lib Dem. I blame those who voted Labservative.

  10. Alix, I wondered where you had gone; welcome back.
    Again I write mostly as a tiny attempt to get some gender balance in the comments. A dozen or so boys again and difficult to recognise any girls.

    You say ” But there’s no doubt the plurality of opinion in the active section of the party is anti-fees…..”

    There you have it. No one has asked the party membership as a whole; I find in discussion with my local branch members that most:
    #think Conference is dominated by
    these young would-be alpha
    males who get unsustainable
    resolutions through,
    #Taxpayers should not shoulder
    the whole bill to fast-track some
    youngsters to higher earnings
    while others still pay tax above
    £7-10K to help to maintain this
    inequality. Unfair!.

    My personal applause is especially for the 40% of students who study part time and currently have to pay up front.

    Elizabeth, (local branch secretary)

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