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November 09 2011

Reality check: Student protest posters and placards

Student protests have been notable for their distinctive placards. Jessica Shepherd examines what messages the demonstrators have chosen and why

5.39pm:

We are going to draw the blog to a close now. Thanks for all your comments and to all those who sent me pictures of their banners and placards.

3.58pm:

'Even Thatcher didn't privatise universities'

The government's white paper is unlikely to turn state-funded universities into private ones.

Our state-funded universities are not like our hospitals; they are not part of a government department. They are separate incorporated bodies.

And while they receive less than they used to in public funds - their budget for teaching, research and buildings has been cut by 12.6% for the current academic year - they are still in receipt of £6.5bn from the government this year. Even the money universities receive from tuition fees is under-written by government.

It's true to say that the government is asking universities to act more like private businesses. It wants them to compete with each other more and it is encouraging for-profits to offer degrees. But most of our state-funded institutions are a long way off rejecting public funding.

3.19pm: Support from the US for those protesting today thanks to @ennikukka

3.07pm: Some of the banners are not really reality-checkable, but definitely worth showing... Check out this one

Channel 4 News reporting that one banner reads: "Nick Clegg broke my heart"

2.04pm:

'Fight for free education'

Perhaps in an ideal world, education would be free. But wouldn't that mean making those who never graduate pay through their taxes for those who do? Those taxes would be pretty high too - 40% of young women from all backgrounds now go to university, compared with 32% of young men.

The Green Party is the only mainstream party that still campaigns for a university education to be free. It argues that higher education could be funded through a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies, an idea suggested by the University and College Union, the lecturers' trade union.

Tuition fees were first introduced in the UK in 1998. They have steadily risen and, next autumn, universities will be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year. It seems at best unlikely that they'll go down anytime soon.

1.42pm: HeardinLondon has tweeted this picture.

Let's hope all protesters are like this one ...

1.32pm:

For those who want a bit of light relief from the more serious banners and placards ...

1.23pm: We're getting some good images of posters, placards and stickers to our Flickr group.

Here's a slideshow of the submissions so far:

1.06pm:

'Education not business, stop the white paper'

One of the most controversial parts of the government's university reforms, published in a white paper this summer, was the opening up of higher education to private colleges. The students of for-profit colleges and universities will be entitled to the grants and loans that their peers at state-funded institutions are. The worry is that these colleges will just cherry-pick cheaper courses, such as law and business, and ignore the high-cost ones, such as science and technology. The for-profits are, in many cases, "no frills" with few student facilities apart from a canteen and their lecturers often do not conduct research. The US has come a cropper over for-profit universities with some institutions under investigation for false accounting, fraud and high drop-out rates. The feeling among many is that these institutions are far less accountable than publicly-funded ones. It's bums on seats, not quality education that matters, some fear. However, it's too early to say whether the business interests of these organisations will override their mission to offer a good education.

The white paper goes before the Commons in May next year. It's probably too late to stop everything that is in it, but academics, students, MPs and others are certainly not too late to suggest improvements.

12.20pm:

'No cuts, defend public services'

Michael Chessum, who has helped organise today's demonstration on behalf of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, has told me some of his friends will be holding banners with the message above.

Are our public services under attack? The answer is most certainly yes. The coalition has told councils, hospitals and schools that they need to make cuts, but that should be to so-called back office staff, not the frontline. If organisations made themselves more efficient, by sharing services with a neighbouring council for example, they would make the savings they need, ministers imply.

The NHS is meant to have been protected. But the cuts are so deep, hospitals are having to make lose doctors and nurses.

My colleague, Denis Campbell, reported last month that among the hospitals bearing the brunt of the NHS's £20bn efficiency drive is Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals trust in Berkshire. It is considering closing or reducing services at Heatherwood hospital in Ascot to reduce its £10m debt. That could see services such as surgery, orthopaedics, scanning and children's services cut or closed. It has already closed its birth centre owing to financial problems and staff absence. The trust, which has 3,500 staff and a £220m turnover, needed an £18m government loan last year to stay afloat.

Cuts may need to be made, but the sacrifice to cut the fiscal debt is, as Polly Toynbee has written "a permanent human deficit".

11.36am: We've just created a Flickr group to help you show us your pictures of placards and posters here. Click on the link to find out more about how the group works and how to submit photos to the pool - hopefully we'll also be able to feature a selection on the blog.

10.41am: Alex Peters-Day, general secretary of the London School of Economics Student Union, has been in touch with me to say he is going to be holding a banner that says "Condoms protect students, ConDems neglect students".

There's little doubt that condoms do indeed protect students - and everyone else. But have the coalition neglected students?

Last year, as part of the spending review, ministers announced they would be getting rid of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a weekly payment of between £10 and £30 for 16- to 18-year-olds whose household income was under £30,800. The allowance was ineffective at encouraging the poorest students to stay in education, ministers said. A replacement scheme of bursaries for the poorest students administered by colleges was unveiled in March, but the abolition of the EMA was seen by many as an act of neglect towards poorer students.

Under the new system of higher tuition fees, future students will owe money for longer and at a higher rate of interest than they have done in the past, but whether this can be called "neglect" is up for debate. Many graduates will actually pay a lot less per year and per month under the new system. Martin Lewis' helpful calculations show that if a graduate earns £40,000 under the current system, they pay back £2,250 per year and £187.50 per month out of their pay packet. Under the new system, they'll pay £1,710 per year and £142.50 per month.

The coalition is, in many ways, giving students more power. Universities that are successful in attracting students will be allowed to expand. This will mean universities do everything in their power to give students a good experience thereby improving their reputations. Ministers have promised students more information, such as how many contact hours universities offer.

The previous government was much more generous in its funding of universities, but it also squeezed the number of students so that many of those who wanted to go to university couldn't.

10.27am: At least 10,000 protesters will attend today's demonstration in central London against education cuts, the near-trebling of tuition fees and the government's university reforms.

As with all protests, those taking part will be carrying placards for a variety of causes. I'll be analysing what the banners and posters say. Join in below the line or contact me at jessica.shepherd@guardian.co.uk or on Twitter @jessshepherd1 or feel free to send me your own photos of posters and placards.

'Tax the banks not the students'

Banks already pay tax - it's called corporation tax and is levied on the profits they make. Disappointingly for some, there is no appetite from the three main political parties to raise corporation tax.

Is the implicit meaning in this banner perhaps "tax the bankers' bonuses"? Ed Miliband has called for a tax on bankers' bonuses, but Nick Clegg has urged for the bosses of our banks to instead "show extra sensitivity and transparency" when awarding those bonuses. It doesn't seem as if there is going to be a tax on bankers' bonuses anytime soon.

One of the other inherent messages in this placard is that students are going to be taxed under the new tuition fees system that comes into place in 2012. The government has been careful not to call it a tax, but the demonstrators holding this placard are right: it is in all but name. It is repaid through the income tax system, the amount you repay increases with earnings and you only repay it over a certain amount. However, it does end once you have repaid what you borrowed plus the interest.


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Reposted by99percent 99percent

May 05 2010

General election 2010 live blog

Andrew Sparrow covers the latest general election news and events, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg on the campaign trail.

10.52am: Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, has also been sounding off about the leaders' debates. She told BBC News:

What they have done is turn a two-party stitch-up into a three-party stitch-up and they have still silenced lots of voices that I believe the British public would have wanted to hear. When you had the debates talking about foreign policy, not one of those three parties was talking about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, which is Green party policy, not one of them was talking about international development, poverty eradication, getting rid of our nuclear weapons. A whole range of different options aren't on the table for as long as you exclude the smaller parties.

10.46am: This is excellent. We asked readers to submit some election questions - not the standard Q&A ones, but quirky, clever ones, like why is the election so male, and how did Britain end up with first-past-the-post in the first place - and Guardian writers have been answering them. I'm going to quote one, just to give you a flavour of what the answers are like, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Why do so many of the media outlets, the Guardian included, persist in the mistaken reference to the opinion polls having a margin of error, typically plus or minus 3%? These polls are carried out using quota sampling. As such, they do not have a margin of error. BigEd

You are right. To statisticians, margin of error can only apply to pure probability theory. And polls don't work on pure probability. The term has become shorthand in the British and US polling industry as a way of explaining that there is a chance the results are slightly wrong. This matters when all parties are close and the order and share affects how they are seen at an election. The Guardian has only used the phrase five times in the last two years. We'll stop, I promise.

10.35am: The phone-in is now over. Nicky Campbell concluded by asking Gordon Brown what he would do if he lost on Thursday. Brown would not speculate about that and said that he was fighting for the values he believed in.

I've got very strong views. I'm impatient to do things. I want to have a chance to build a better Britain for the future.

10.29am: A man called Alan rang in to say that he was dying of lung cancer and that the Department for Work and Pensions was forcing him to look for work. Gordon Brown said that that should not be happening. He said that he would take Alan's details and get the situation changed.

10.26am: Nicky Campbell asked Gordon Brown about Cowell's article in the Sun (see 9.35). Campbell said that Cowell likes Brown but thinks he's tired. Brown said he's not tired: "I'm energised."

He went on:

This is not an election to be decided by celebrities or by insiders or by journalists or by media people. It's the people's election. That's why I respect the fact that at the last minute there are many people ... who say quite rightly that they are undecided. And the reason they are undecided is that this is a big decision.

So why was Brown using Ross Kemp on the campaign trail yesterday, Campbell asked.

Brown said that Kemp had been helping the Labour party for years. But Kemp would accept that celebrities should not decide the election, Brown said.

10.13am: While the Brown phone-in carries on, here's a statement from the Green party leader, Caroline Lucas. She is attacking Nick Clegg for a comment he made in the Financial Times yesterday about electoral reform not being a precondition for coalition talks with the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats have made a huge noise about being the party of change but when it comes down to it all they really are is the party of changing their minds. It's common knowledge that the Tories don't want electoral reform. Any coalition negotitations that don't set out electoral reform as a deal breaker will lead to five more years of the same old system and it's the voters who will suffer.

The FT suggested that Clegg had changed his tack because last week he said the electoral reform was "an absolute precondition for renewal in this country". But yesterday, in response to the FT story, Clegg insisted that he was not being inconsistent. He said that he still believed electoral reform was a precondition for renewal, but that he had never spelt out any conditions for the talks that might take place between the Tories and the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament.

The Green party press release also says that two polling firms, YouGov and ICM, are predicting that Lucas will win in Brighton Pavilion.

10.05am: Nicky Campbell challenged Brown to defend his handling of the banks. How many Canadian banks needed to be bailed out, he asked. Campbell answered the question himself: none. Brown said Canadian banks were not international.

10.00am: A caller has just tried to get Gordon Brown to endorse tactical voting. He said that he was a Labour supporter, but that he lived in Cheltenham, where Labour does not have a chance. The Lib Dems hold the seat with 39.4% of the vote (in 2005), the Tories are just behind with 38.7% of the vote and Labour is trailing on 11.8%. The caller asked if Brown wanted him to vote Labour or Lib Dem tomorrow.

Brown would not take the bait.

I would like everybody who's Labour to vote Labour.

But Brown also said there was "an anti-Conservative majority in this country". He said the Tories went into the election expecting a coronation but found they had less support than they expected. Nicky Campbell told Brown that he had a coronation when he replaced Tony Blair in 2007.

9.46am: Nicky Campbell reminds Gordon Brown that he is being filmed. And he tells listeners that David Cameron did not accept an invitation to appear on the programme.

Brown says an emergency budget from the Conservatives would put the recovery at risk. He says he thinks there should have been more policy debate during the campaign.

Campbell asks about Gillian Duffy. He says that Brown said he would take responsibility in his Citizens UK speech. But when the Duffy incident happened, Brown's instinct was to blame "Sue". Which is the real Brown, Campbell asks.

Brown says he took responsibility after the Duffy incident.

I have said I take responsibility. I have always said when I make a mistake that I have made a mistake.

9.37am: Gordon Brown is about to start a phone-in on Radio 5 Live.

9.35am: I've mentioned the main stories in the papers already (see 6.59am, 8.33am 8.51am). Here are some of the others worth noting.

In the Sun, Simon Cowell says that he believes David Cameron is "the prime minister Britain needs at this time".

And the Sun says Labour's Harriet Harman and the Lib Dems' Lynne Featherstone would ban Page 3 girls.

David Miliband tells the Daily Telegraph says that Labour is about to get "the most New Labour parliamentary party ever".

The Daily Mail joins the tactical voting craze. It's urging people to vote tactically against Labour and it lists 65 seats where Mail readers could keep Labour out by voting Tory, Lib Dem or Plaid Cymru.

The Times says Vincent Cable has donated £14,000 to the Liberal Democrats.

Sue Cameron in the Financial Times says training for new MPs will start on Monday.

9.15am: Is there anyone in British politics with a better turn of phrase than Alan Johnson? This is what he was saying about the Lib Dems earlier on the Today programme.

The Liberal Democrats are on a slow puncture and the air is coming of the tyre. Whether enough of it will come out by Thursday, I don't know.

Johnson said that people liked what they saw of Clegg three weeks ago but that since then he had become "a bit grating". Johnson went on: "He's been trying the same tricks in every television debate and it gets a bit wearing."

The home secretary also said that David Cameron was "arrogant" because he thought he was going to win and that Clegg was "arrogant" because he thought he would be able to pick the prime minister.

8.51am: If George Osborne becomes chancellor, he may have to have some difficult conversations with Treasury officials. The Treasury spends a huge amount of time preparing the budget "red book", the vast document that contains all the figures about tax, spending and the state of the economy. But Osborne has just described it as rubbish. "The red book is largely a work of fiction," he told the Financial Times in an interview today. He said it included over-optimistic growth forecasts and hidden pension and public finance initiative liabilities.

8.47am: I've just been a Press Association account of one of David Cameron's overnight stops. Cameron was asked if the visit was a stunt. He replied:

I'm here with the emergency services. They work all night, I'm perfectly happy to work all night. Call it what you want.

Cameron was also asked if staying up all night was the equivalent of last-minute exam revision. "Well it worked for my finals," he said. (He got a first.)

8.33am: The Times publishes an interview with Brown today. The prime minister seems to have been in a curious mood. In the interview, he accused the Times (which has endorsed the Conservatives) of being biased.

We have figures that stand up to scrutiny and I'm afraid that's just the way life is. Once The Times has made up its mind to go in a particular way, then I don't think the evidence is necessarily the substantiating factor.

It also sounds as if he pretended not to know who the children's secretary was.

Some of his colleagues at the top of the Labour party have been making noises about tactical voting: Lord Adonis and Peter Hain, for example, have made overtures to Liberal Democrat voters. Ed Balls, in particular, has voiced his sympathy for Labour supporters who might be tempted to vote Lib Dem where such a vote could keep a Tory out.

When this is put to Mr Brown, he says: "Ed who?"

8.24am: Is Michael Gove a banana? You must decide for yourself. The shadow children's secretary posed the question earlier today on the Today programme.

We know with proportional representation you cannot be certain that the party that gets the most votes, the party that is the most popular, forms a clear and decisive government. If people vote for the third party, for Nick Clegg, in this election, what they are doing is succumbing to a sort of blind date politics .... The voice is seductive, but when the curtain slips back, after having voted for Nick Clegg, you don't know who you are going to end up in bed with. You could have Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, or David Miliband as your prime minister. If that's democracy, I'm a banana.

Gove also claimed that the Tories would change the voting system to make "every vote count" and to make it "fairer". He was referring to the Tory plans to cut the size of the House of Commons. Gove said this would produce a fairer system because it would ensure every constituency was the same size. Under the current system, there is considerable variation.

8.07am: Alan Johnson, the home secretary, has just been on the Today programme. He said he thinks Labour can win.

I am absolutely convinced we can come through tomorrow with a majority.

He also paid lavish tribute to Gordon Brown. He described Brown as "the single biggest reason why this country did not go into the euro" and he said Brown "has done more to tackle poverty, both in this country and internationally, than any other leader I can think of".

David Cameron was on GMTV earlier. He explained why he had been campaigning through the night.

I never believed this election was going to be easy. I mean, elections are meant to be a challenge. The British people don't hand you the government of the country on a plate. Quite rightly, they are making us work for it.

Cameron hasn't gone without sleep entirely. According to the Press Assocation, he has been "grabbing some sleep in the back of the bus" between visits.

6.59am: David Cameron has been campaigning through the night. But has it impressed the voters? Like Cameron, my colleague Steven Morris never sleeps. He's been on the road early today and he heard a couple of truckers discussing Cameron's all-nighter at the Taunton Deane services on the M5. He's just sent me this:

"That Cameron was up all night, good effort," says the one.
"We do that every night," says trucker two.
"When is the general election anyway?"
Informed that it is tomorrow trucker two says he might vote if he gets up and will probably vote BNP.

In the papers today, tactical voting still dominates. In the Guardian Patrick Wintour says that Tony Blair has rejected the suggestion that Labour supporters should vote tactically against the Conservatives.

Speaking on a day when several cabinet ministers suggested that Labour voters should cast their ballot for the Liberal Democrats in some seats, the former prime minister set himself against the tactic, and was contemptuous of Nick Clegg's party and its claim to represent real change. He described the Lib Dems as "the old politics masquerading as the new", and said their entire history as a party showed them incapable of facing up to hard choices.

Voters, he said, should follow their instincts. "It is simple," he told the Guardian. "Vote for what you believe in. If you think their polices are good, vote for them, but if you don't, don't. The Lib Dems are not going out to people and saying 'vote Labour' – they are trying to take seats off us."

The Times carries an interview with Gordon Brown in which Brown says much the same thing.

The prime minister has rebuffed cabinet colleagues who suggested that Labour supporters could back Liberal Democrat candidates where such a vote would keep out a Conservative.

Instead, he told The Times that he wants people to vote Labour regardless of the state of play in their constituency. "I am asking people to vote Labour because I want to get the maximum Labour vote."

And the lead story in the Daily Telegraph says the Democratic Unionists are willing to enter a coalition with the Conservatives if Cameron does not win an outright majority.

Mr Cameron became the first of the main party leaders to visit Northern Ireland during the election campaign on Tuesday.

He indicated he wished to give Northern Ireland politicians ministerial positions — and see the province play a key role in the "mainstream politics" of the entire country.

There were two polls overnight. ComRes gave the Tories an eight-point lead over Labour, and YouGov gave the Tories a five-point lead. They both showed the Lib Dems clearly in third place. I'll post more details later, but you can read more now at UK Polling Report.

I'm leaving for Westminster now and I'll be posting again at some point after 7.30.


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