Government wants retrospective repayment hike on undergrad & FE loans – admits £9k fee system is unsustainable

UCL Defend Education blocks MP Vince Cable's offices with red boxes representing debt, during the campaign against loan privatisation which also threatened to hike up repayments

UCL Defend Education blocks MP Vince Cable’s offices with red boxes representing debt, during the campaign against loan privatisation which also threatened to hike up repayments

Ben Towse, NUS Postgraduate Committee

After years of denial and dismissal, the government has quietly admitted that the fee and loan system it introduced for undergrads starting in 2012 in the face of the mass protests of 2010, and later extended to further education (FE) students over 23, is “unaffordable in the long term”. Our protests and criticisms, derided at the time, have been vindicated, but it is a bittersweet victory. Repayments on the loans are lower than initially expected, because the repayments are determined by income, and too many graduates will be on low incomes because of the Tories’ low-wage austerity economy. Now the government wants to reduce the national debt further. So instead of going for those who can afford it – by taxing the rich and businesses – they propose to gouge billions of pounds out of students and graduates, by increasing repayments on all post-2012 loans, changing the terms students signed up to when they started their courses.

Changing the repayment threshold

The policy was buried in the recent Budget, and three days ago the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) opened a consultation. When the post-2012 loans were introduced, repayments were to taken from income over £21,000, to protect lower-waged graduates. In order to keep that threshold the same in real terms, from 2016 it was promised to rise in step with average incomes. The Tories now propose to freeze that threshold at £21k until at least 2021 – so as inflation and living costs rise, the threshold will fall in real terms, meaning repayments are increased, and lower-waged graduates who would not have expected to make repayments will now have to.

The second, less preferred option presented is to freeze the repayment threshold in a similar way, but only for new borrowers – i.e. students starting in 2016 and later. The government does not like this option because it will make it less money and that money will only come in from 2020 onwards, failing to contribute to their political target of paying off debt during this Parliament. Maintaining the system the Tories introduced just 3 years ago, and not changing the repayment terms for anyone, is barely considered an option in the consultation – it is described as “unaffordable”.

Raiding the pockets of lower- and middle-income graduates

What will the impact of these retrospective repayment hikes be? Andrew McGettigan says about 2 million borrowers will be affected. The government projects that graduates on starting salaries of £21,000 or £30,000 would repay an additional £6,100 each over the lifetime of their debt before the remainder is written off at the 30-year mark. Graduates starting at £40k, who would previously have expected to pay off virtually their entire debt before the 30-year mark, will repay just £300 more under the new system. And those lucky few starting on £50k will actually pay slightly less in total under the new system than the old one, as the increased repayments will ensure they pay off their debt sooner, before interest accumulates! So this policy directly raids the pockets of middle and lower earners, leaving the better-off largely unaffected or even richer.

The government expects to make £3.2 billion in extra repayments from existing undergrad borrowers, and an unspecified additional amount from future students. By comparison, they will make just £35 million out of existing FE borrowers, in part because these students will be repaying out of lower salaries. FE loans seem to be included in these changes not because the government has considered a case for doing so, but because it would be bureaucratically too difficult to separate them out of the undergrad-focussed loan system they were bundled into in 2013. The consultation gives almost zero attention to the effects on further education.

Crossing a line

This is not only an injustice in terms of the regressive gouging of even more cash out of graduates. Crossing this line, showing the government is willing to retrospectively alter the terms of repayment, and setting the precedent that student debt holders are a piggy bank that can be raided any time the state needs some spare cash, could have a grave effect on prospective students’ willingness to take on debt and enter university or post-23 FE study. When introducing this system, the government made much of how prospective students need not worry about taking on debt, as it would only be paid off “when they could afford it”. How are students, particularly those without the safety net of wealthy and supportive families, supposed to be encouraged to take up study and get into debt if the repayment terms can change at any time on the whim of the government? The effect on widening access could be grave.

So too could the effect on choice of courses. If the government can change repayments at any time, the pressure is on to get high-paying jobs that will pay off more debt faster, before the next government policy swerve. Why risk delaying repayments? Students will be pushed even harder to abandon academic exploration and focus only on the subjects that will net us the most lucrative jobs.

We have to stop this – and we can

The student movement must fight the threat of both retrospective and future changes to increase repayments. We will defend current students and graduates, but we won’t sell future students down the river either. Instead, all increases must be stopped, and then fees, loans and existing debt should be scrapped and replaced with free education and living grants for everyone in further and higher education. The government should tax those who can afford it instead of raiding us to bail out their economic problems.

It will not be enough for NUS and student unions to write polite responses to this consultation and wait for the government to respond. We need to kick off serious action, including protest and direct action, and we need to do so as soon as possible. The NCAFC National Committee is holding a meeting open to NCAFC members next week to discuss stopping the maintenance grant cuts, and this issue will be on the agenda too. Join us to plan the fightback.

The “Teaching Excellence Framework”: exploiting staff, raising fees and marketising education

Tory Minister for Universities & Science, Jo Johnson

Tory Minister for Universities & Science, Jo Johnson

James Elliott, NUS NEC Disabled Students’ Rep & NCAFC Disabled co-rep

Usually when governments say that something, whether students, quality, or access is ‘at the heart of the system’, that is when the student movement needs to pay close attention. Recent statements by the new Universities Minister Jo Johnson and the 2015 budget from George Osborne have confirmed this – we are not ‘at the heart of the system’, but capital definitely is.

Following in the footsteps of David Willetts’ Higher Education White Paper “students at the heart of the system”, new Tory Universities Minister Jo Johnson has announced “teaching at the heart of the system” – which seems to mean a further round of teaching casualisation, institutional funding linked directly to graduate earnings, and even higher tuition fees.

What Jo Johnson proposed is to introduce a new ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) to parallel the ‘Research Excellence Framework’, which uses a set of metrics to rank universities every five years and award them funding based on the results. This will include ‘outcome-focused’ metrics, and Johnson’s original speech included the phrase, “clear financial and reputational incentives to make ‘good’ teaching even better.”

Johnson was asked by the London South Bank Vice-Chancellor if this was to be “linked to pricing of courses”, which he evaded and refused to rule out. In the Commons, Johnson was asked by Labour MPs, including the former Blairite President of NUS Wes Streeting, to rule out a fee rise and refused. Then this week, in his budget, George Osborne announced fees would be able to rise in line with inflation at institutions with measures that, “include allowing institutions offering high teaching quality to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18, with a consultation on the mechanisms to do this.”

What does this ‘TEF’ mean?

The Times Higher Education’s John Morgan has analysed what this might mean, predicting that once the Conservatives have passed “English Votes for English Laws”, they may be in a better position to get a rise in fees for English universities through Parliament, and then those that do well in the TEF may be allowed to raise fees.

This will be set out in an autumn Green Paper, usually a precursor to legislation – and an Act of Parliament could be a sign that the TEF will be linked to a fee hike, or at least a variation in the cap. I explained how this might work for NCAFC this week.

The TEF has ramifications beyond just tuition fees, however, and is another logical step in the marketisation of higher education. The ‘outcome-focused’ metrics are likely to measure things such as graduate salaries which clearly have nothing to do with the quality of one’s education. This will hugely disfavour teaching staff who train students who go into low-paid public sector work, like becoming the next generation of casualised academic workers. It will also fail to take into account that people with higher-earning parents will go into higher-paying graduate jobs, not necessarily through good teaching but through personal contacts or early advantages in life.

What is the Research Excellence Framework, and what is wrong with it?

The Teaching Excellence Framework follows in the footsteps of the Research Excellence Framework. Described by Peter Scott, Professor of Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education, as “a Minotaur that must be appeased by bloody sacrifices”, where, “universities’ main objective is to achieve better REF grades, not to produce excellent science and scholarship”. The REF is the governments method of allocating research funding to institutions. For 2014, 1,100 academics graded 191,232 research outputs submitted to REF, where sometimes just one assessor will grade your research. The system is erratic, and unpredictable, and could see departments closing from a loss in funding. In one half-joking Guardian piece advising academics how to do well in the REF, they are told, “Don’t write a book or extended monograph: the REF makes no distinction between research outputs, so there is no incentive to undertake long-term projects. Also don’t bother with risky, visionary or imaginative projects unless you can be absolutely certain that you will get a publication out of it. No publication means no impact.”

Sound like the sort of thing that university teaching could do with? No, us neither.

What did Jo Johnson actually say?

Let’s take a closer look at what Johnson actually said. He claimed his focus will be on three key manifesto pledges, which are lifting the cap on student numbers, delivering the TEF, and finally, “driving value for money both for students investing in their education, and taxpayers underwriting the system”. Johnson says he plans to, “assess the employment and earnings returns to education by matching Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Department for Education (DfE) education data with HMRC employment and income data and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits data.”

This will likely mean that the outcome-focused metrics are all about graduate earnings and employment. A ‘good teacher’ is no longer someone who enriches your understanding of a subject, or enhances your critical thinking, they are now a glorified careers service – and their success will be measured by your paycheque.

Johnson also talked up the National Student Survey (NSS), a continued irritant for education workers who are pitted against one another in a quantitative survey. These kinds of metrics hurt workers in education, facilitating their exploitation, as quality of education is not something that can be polled, quantitatively measured or bottled up and weighed. These bogus metrics are then used to justify redundancies, funding cuts, and drive workers to striver harder and harder to ‘outperform’ their colleagues, fostering antipathy and a competitive spirit among staff that divides them.

What is particularly damaging is the repeated references to the Competitive Markets Authority, and polls conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which seem to indicate students are increasingly thinking of themselves as consumers buying a product – and that their teachers must be graded on their ‘customer service’.

Unsurprisingly for such an ardent Thatcherite, Johnson notes, “competition will also be central to our efforts to drive up standards”, a continuation of a policy which has seen almost half of academics pressured into giving higher grades and struggle with unmanageable workloads.

While paying lip service to the notion that, “education is about more than just wage returns”, Johnson went quickly back on course by reminding students that, “it is also important to remember that higher lifetime graduate earnings provide benefits to society – including higher tax revenues and faster and fuller repayment of student loans.” Johnson has redefined ‘education as a public good’ to mean ‘work hard for the bosses and pay off your debts’.

There are further references to making sure higher education matches the needs of big business, including the very explicit statement that, “we are not yet rising to the challenge of ensuring that enough young people are choosing courses where there are skills shortages and strong employer demand”. While this technocratic, business-led approach to higher education is not dissimilar from what Labour were offering before the general election, Johnson may outline in more detail what this means in his Autumn Green Paper.

Then comes the final explanation of what his ‘TEF’ will look like. In a mission to “drive up standards in teaching”, Johnson will, “stimulate a diverse HE market and provide students with the information they need to judge teaching quality”. This explicit marketisation will give students indicators of which course suits them best, to be provided by his TEF. In neoclassical market economics, ‘pricing signals’, are required to indicate a product’s worth. Demand goes up, so does the price. Given this (unexpectedly, and probably deliberately) failed in higher education with so many institutions charging £9,000 straightaway, there is of course nothing to differentiate between – except for things the government wouldn’t imagine we would value, such as the course content, who’s teaching, the location and any number of other, non-monetary factors. Part of Johnson’s justification for the ‘TEF’ thus appears to be that it will help you, as future students, pick your course. Kind of like a Which? for HE, but where the poor performers face job cuts and closures.

Reassuringly and honestly, Johnson finishes by reminding us that this TEF, “goes with the grain of our reforms since 2010 and aims to accelerate positive changes already underway in the sector.”

Most worryingly, Johnson then talks about ‘incentives’, and says that they will be published in the Green paper in the autumn. What better way to make potential applicants aware of what the best institutions are than by allowing those universities to ‘price’ themselves somewhere above the current £9,000 cap? And what better way to reward such ‘teaching excellence’ than to allow those (likely already very rich) institutions to bring in more cash though higher fees? It’s a win-win for the bosses, and a lose-lose for students who pay more and the staff who are pressurised.

What are the politics behind this?

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which universities sits under, is in financial trouble. They have to make the same austerity commitments as other departments, and in 2010 that meant replacing all the lost funding from central government (the grant for humanities teaching was all but abolished) by trebling fees. Higher fees, and the move by almost all universities to charge the maximum, has meant that huge amounts of public money are having to be loaned out to an increasing number of students – 45% of which is expected to not get paid back. This has created a huge strain, and led to the move to sell-off student loans.

BIS are now being asked to find another £450m of cuts from somewhere, hence Osborne’s cuts to maintenance grants, and making universities rather than the state responsible for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) from 2016/17.

Now in order to provide some relief to the Vice-Chancellors and the sector, Johnson is throwing them the promise of some extra cash (in the form of higher fees) if they jump through the hoops in his new TEF. If institutions offer the right courses for business (in other words, fund science at the expense of the humanities), and students play ball by looking to pay off their enormous debts, then everyone at the institution will win the reward of a tuition fee hike.

How does the student movement fight back?

We need to start fighting now against the potential threats, not wait until the government explains things in more detail, by which time it will be too late. This has always been a failure of the student movement and often the NUS, in playing the waiting game and merely ‘consulting’, when it should be protesting and picketing. We need to get the word out quickly that this is bad news, and defeat the Green Paper before it is even published. That means mobilisation, linking students’ unions up with UCU branches, and building for the national demonstration in November.

We must present our alternative which is democratic control of teaching, in the interests of students, communities but also teachers and workers themselves. When the government consult, we must simply tell them they are wrong as loudly as possible, not try and get a seat at the table.

There may well be attempts to integrate students’ unions and the NUS into the process of drawing up this system, and running it, in order to give a sheen of legitimacy and make ‘students as consumers’ feel ‘empowered’ by the TEF, like we are finally getting our ‘value for money’ by reviewing our teachers. We should be totally opposed to this.  The fundamental basis of these policies is anathema to us – they can’t be fixed so they must be smashed – and the stance of the student movement should be no collaboration. Just as UCU is advising its branches to not comply with the Islamophobic Prevent programme (which is also the Conference policy of the NUS), our SUs should not contribute to the implementation or governance of this system except to say it should be stopped outright, that we reject markets in education, and that we will not be tricked into thinking these policies empower students.

“Students and workers, unite and fight” is not just a slogan, but a principle. The government that is going to raise our fees and cut our grants is not only the same that is cutting staff pay and introducing metrics to discipline the workforce – but these policies are inextricably linked. We must fight them both, together.

#FUCKTHETORIES LIVEBLOG

18:54 – Protesters in Liverpool are blocking the road!

18:50 – In all the kerfuffle, forgot to mention that UKIP’s ONLY MP, Douglas Carswell got caught up in the march and had to be escorted away by police. Lol.

18:35 – After being split into two groups and herded around the City for a bit by the cops, both groups seem to have reformed in Parliament Square. There seems to be an overlap of the student demo and the People’s Assembly demo at Downing Street.

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18:12 – While the London demo continues in full swing through Victoria station, protests in other cities are kicking off too.

18:01 – Chants of “Who killed Mark Duggan? You killed Mark Duggan” at the police down Victoria Street now. Sirens blaring, flares being thrown.

17:40 – The police just unsuccessfully attempted a kettle, protesters back marching down Whitehall past Downing Street. The conch shell is still going.

17:32 – The livestream showing cops being really violent toward one man. One policeman just pushed a woman trying to leave a kettle so hard and hit two other people in the face in the process.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 17.31.41

17:28 – Aaaaand we’re off! Aaaand someone is blowing through a conch shell. Absolutely massive turnout.

17:23 -

17:20 – Speeches have started. We’ve also found a livestream here which is kind of worth watching. We can sort of hear the speeches but we’re not sure who is actually making them. But the crowd seem to be enjoying them?

16:40 – Reports of a second arrest at Trafalgar Square, reportedly in connection with the Class War demo which happened earlier today.

16:37 -

16:27 – One arrest has been made already. Updates to follow.

arrest arrest2

Photos via Jonathan Bigger on facebook.

16:16 – Looks like the PoPo are sweeping up protesters before the march has even started to “prevent potential breach of the peace” #ClassicPoPo. Apparently they’ve been following Class War around all day. Get in touch if you can do arrestee support.

16:07 – 

15:52 – Here’s a handy guide as to what the #QueensSpeech actually said, in case, like us, you couldn’t bear to hear an unelected lizard in a crown tell us how our lives are going to be ruined for the next five years.

15:01 – Protests due to start in 2 hours in London, Liverpool, Leeds and Coventry. Cops already deployed in London with vague news that 2 people have been detained from protests earlier today. If you are marching, stay safe and remember to look after each other. Write down the number of the Green and Black Cross on your arm (07946 541 511) to ring in case of your arrest, and read their advice for protesters here.

popoPhoto via Jonathan Bigger on Facebook.

Here’s an article from The Mirror with a bit more info about the two arrestees. They were apparently released at about 2PM. We also get a cheeky mention in here, but with a new acronym (NCFC). Cheers.

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13:00 – Today thousands of people will be marching across London to protest the official opening of Parliament, where the Tories will form a government.

The new Government is going to try to: smash the welfare state by £12bn, privatise the NHS, raise tuition fees, decimate local services, make strike action illegal, scapegoat migrants, worsen the housing crisis and to crush all dissent that stands in their way.

The wave of resistance starts now.

Follow this live-blog throughout the day for updates on the demo in London, and if you’re there remember to tweet things to us @NCAFC_UK or using the hashtag #FuckTheTories. Happy demoing!

NCAFC Calls Mobilisation Over Debt: Organise in your area now!

demo

In June, the government announced plans to sell off student debt to private companies. Because there is so much student debt, it is unprofitable to own, so to sweeten the deal, the government is considering upping the repayment rates. This would be the equivalent of a huge and retroactive stealth hike in tuition fees, all in the name of an exclusive, market model of education.

In an open letter, we have explicitly targeted the LibDems and demanded that they rule it out: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/13/nick-clegg-universities-direct-action

NCAFC is calling for national and localised action against the sell-off of the student loan book. On top of direct action, NCAFC will seek to create a new coalition of social movements and trade unions to fight the sale of the student loan book by mobilising students, workers and graduates.

What can you do?
• Call an organising meeting on your campus around October 1st, the day when our deadline for assurances runs out. NCAFC London has already organised one here:http://www.facebook.com/events/168905169966158/
• Plan embarrassing stunts and disruptive direct against your local politicians – Lib Dems and others – if they fail to declare that they are against the debt sale and the Lobbying Bill
• Tell the companies who fund the Lib Dems to stop funding them
• Make sure that you and any organisation you are involved in joins the new coalition against the loan book sale. NCAFC will be calling a meeting in the coming weeks

The Facebook event for this mobilisation is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/212736578888544/

Whatever you get up to, please let us know so we can publicise it, by emailing the NCAFC national committee on [email protected], same goes for if you need help or resources!

NCAFC Solidarity Action With PCS Union Budget Day Strike

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is encouraging students to get involved in the national strike of PCS Trade Union members on Wednesday 20th March (Budget Day), as hundreds of thousands of Civil Service members take action against Government attacks.

Civil Servants in PCS who are overwhelmingly low paid, have had their pay frozen for the past four years, which is the equivalent of a 20% pay cut over that time. In addition, pension contributions have increased, the pensionable age has been raised to 68, and recruitment freezes in many Departments has meant huge understaffing and resulting pressure on existing workers.

The Government is also attempting to remove or erode a raft of terms and conditions for civil service workers (those who work in services such as Tax Offices, Jobcentres, the Home Office, the courts, and many more) that have been fought for and won by the unions over the years, including leave entitlements, sick pay, ability to job share, childcare provision, promotions, and attendance management (i.e. disciplinary procedures over sick absence). For more information on the campaign, please see the PCS website.

The NCAFC supports the PCS strike and the plans it has for upcoming further action including a walkout on the 5th April. NCAFC is encouraging its members to organise solidarity visits from universities, schools and colleges to local picket lines. If you aren’t sure where your local picket line might be, please post a comment below or on our Facebook event and we’ll do our best to find out for you.

There are also Budget Day rallies in many towns and cities. Find out about your local rally here.

We are asking NCAFC activists to sign this statement to show their support. Write your name below and we’ll add you in.

Next Wednesday members of the PCS union which represents 250,000 civil servants and commercial sector workers will be taking industrial action.

They are demanding a 5% pay rise to compensate for the real-term pay cut of the same amount over the past 5 years of civil service pay freezes, an end to the attacks on public-sector pensions and Terms & Conditions and for increased investment in the welfare state.

The government claim they have to continue to cut civil servants’ salaries and pensions in the same way they’re cutting welfare, healthcare and education to pay for the deficit. As student activists we’ve heard this story before and we won’t fall for it.

When they make tax cuts for millionaires, refuse to clamp down on corporate tax evasion and relish in making the top richest people in the country richer to the tune of billions of pounds a year then it’s clear to us that there is the money, but that their priority is to make sure the wrong people get it!

As with previous disputes, the NCAFC extends its solidarity to the strikers on Wednesday and supports the continued campaign PCS members plan to wage against the government’s austerity agenda. We believe that the this agenda, under the guise of ‘tough choices’, represents an attack on working-class people and students the likes of which we have not seen before for a long time. Part of the reason they can get away with what they are doing is down to the fractious and weak reality of the workers movement, and the unambitious and sometimes cynical nature of labour and student movement leaders.

We urge local students anti-cuts groups to visit their local picket-lines (Jobcentres, tax offices, local DVLA sites etc.) and if you are a student in or around London to attend the strike rally 12 noon–2pm at Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Bring banners, placards and noise.

Michael Chessum, President of University of London Union, NCAFC NC and NUS NEC
Rosie Huzzard, Sheffield College, PCS DWP Sheffield Branch Young Members Officer and NCAFC NC
Matthew Reuben, Royal Hollway, NCAFC NC
Thais Yanez, Birkbeck, NCAFC NC LGBTQ Officer, Trans* Place
Hannah Webb UCLU Community Officer, UCLU External Affairs and Campaigns Officer elect
Max Crema, Edinburgh University Students’ Association Vice President Services
Edmund Schluessel, NUS Wales NEC
James McAsh Edinburgh University Students’ Association President
Beth Redmond, Liverpool John Moores University, NCAFC NC
Arianna Tassinari, NUS International Students Committee
Liam McNulty, Unison Higher Education, London Young Labour Campaigns Organiser (pc)

Royal Holloway calls for Philip Hammond to resign over homophobic comments

Students protest against Philip Hammond

Last night, Royal Holloway Students’ Union (SURHUL) passed a motion calling for Philip Hammond to resign from his posts as both defence secretary and MP for Runnymede and Weybridge.

The proposers were NCAFC LGBTQ rep Jack Saffery-Rowe and Joe Rayment, who were both present in the meeting in which, among other comments, Mr Hammond said, when asked why two people who love each other shouldn’t get married, replied “Well, we don’t let siblings get married either”.

The motion overwhelmingly passed after half an hour of heated discussion.

Part of the motion called for the motion itself to be proliferated through student and liberation networks. And so, we hereby publish the motion and hope that those who agree with it propose it at their unions. Only through collective action on this can we call Mr Hammond to account on his blatantly homophobic comments made on the 25th January.

 

Motion to call for the resignation of Philip Hammond MP

This Union notes

  1. that Philip Hammond, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, met with two members of this Union on Friday 25th January ahead of a talk he gave at the university on defence for the Politics and International Relations Society.
  2. that at that meeting he made numerous homophobic arguments against the forthcoming same-sex marriage bill, which will be put before Parliament this month, including comparing the relationship for a same-sex couple with that of two siblings.[1][2]
  3. that when later questioned on whether he said this, he has admitted to doing so.[3]

This Union believes

  1. that any two people who love each other and are committed to each other should be allowed to marry.
  2. that marriage is a right, not a privilege, regardless of sex, race, gender or ability.
  3. that homophobia is never excusable.
  4. that elected officials are in the public eye and so comments like the ones Philip Hammond made are not only appalling in themselves, but moreover promote homophobia in all its forms.

This Union mandates

  1. the President and Vice-President (Communications and Campaigns) to publicly call for the resignation of Philip Hammond. This should be done by:
    1. writing a blog post to be publicized on the website.
    2. publishing this blog in the Union’s media outlets.
    3. to write a letter on this issue to the Prime Minister.
    4. to adapt this motion as a model motion to be sent to other Students’ Unions around the country, using the NUS Jisc email, the NUS Zone and Liberation email lists, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the London Liberation Network, ULU and other student networks.
    5. the Vice-President (Communications and Campaigns) to write to NUS and request that they publish this model motion and an explanation on their website.

 

Proposed: Jack Saffery-Rowe (Campaigns sub-committee)

Seconded: Joe Rayment (Union Chair), Jamie Green (VPComCam), Oli Rushby (Student Trustee), Tom Harris (Academic Affairs Officer), Rose Walker (Campaigns sub-committee)



[1] http://anticuts.com/2013/01/25/philip-hammond-homophobia/

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/jan/28/philip-hammond-gay-marriage-incest

[3] On Radio 5Live’s Breakfast show on 31st January http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01q98mj/5_live_Breakfast_31_01_2013/

 

 

Royal Holloway activists confront homophobic minister

Philip-Hammond-protestActivists involved in NCAFC at Royal Holloway have confronted Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, over his comparison of homosexuality to incest.

The story has received a lot of coverage in Pink News, the Guardian and the Telegraph.

NCAFC stands for an education system that is free and accessible to everyone. This isn’t just about money: it’s about a bold, radical new vision of education. To win it, we have to confront and oppose bigots and homophobes on our campuses.

Jack Saffery-Rowe, one of the NCAFC’s LGBTQ reps who ambushed Hammond, said:

“The comments he made on the Tuesday were blatantly homophobic. We felt that as fellow students at Holloway and LGBT activists, we had to take the opportunity to confront him on this issue.

“The comments he made, particularly about comparing the love in a same-sex couple and an incestuous one, showed his true colours.”

For comment and press contacts, email [email protected]

Human rights are “a silly game”, according to defence minister Philip Hammond

Philip HammondTonight, over sixty people took part in an LGBTQ rights protest at Royal Holloway University against the Tory Minister for Defence, Philip Hammond, who is also the local MP for Runnymede and Weybridge. Hammond was giving a talk on his defence policy at the university. Hammond has in recent days made his opposition to same-sex marriage public, and has previously voted against many gay rights bills including the repeal of Section 28.  Present at the protest were activists from NCAFC-affiliate the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance, representatives from the Students’ Union, student societies including Amnesty, Labour and LGBT, local members of the Young Greens, and from Workers’ Liberty, staff members, and a delegation from the neighbouring college’s NUT branch.

When the planned protest gained momentum, the minister’s aides agreed to meet two students to hear the protestors’ grievances. I was one of them and the other was Union Chair Joe Rayment. We questioned Hammond about his opposition to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, and he responded that the bill would “redefine marriage” and appealed to its ‘tradition’. We responded that marriage, like many civil institutions, had hardly remained static, and that regardless equal rights should trump tradition. Hammond objected to religious groups being forced to marry same-sex couples, ignoring that the bill does not do this – and that religious opinion about same-sex marriage ranges from conservative opposition to support (for example from the Quakers), and has changed over time as well. He claimed that Maria Miller’s ‘quadruple lock’ of exemptions is not “robust enough” – in other words, does not do enough to limit same-sex marriage.

Hammond suggested that civil partnerships were sufficient, and we stated that for many people marriage was an important religious, or cultural, event, and that civil partnerships represented an ‘equal but separate’ divide in the law. As I wormed through his incoherent excuses, his homophobia surfaced. when questioned why I shouldn’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple, he brushed the question aside as a “silly game” talking about human rights. And when asked why the state should be allowed to say who can and who cannot have their relationship recognized by the law, he retorted that you wouldn’t allow “two siblings who loved each other to get married”. He equated the love of a same-sex couple with incest*. This is the bile that the right-wing of the Tory party are pushing: the Victorian maxim that anything other than love between a man and a woman is as invalid as incest. He then abruptly left our meeting for his talk discussing Britain’s defence strategy and latest arms deals, pausing only to call use juvenile as we refused to shake his hand.

As he did so, he was greeted by protestors’ chants of ‘Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right’, ‘Hey,( hey), ho, (ho), homophobia’s got to go’, ‘Say it loud, say it clear, bigots are not welcome here’, ‘Unequal rights? We don’t buy it: we remember the Stonewall riots’, and ultimately, ‘Fuck off Philip Hammond, you homophobe’.

We plan to continue the campaign, having a variety of talks, film showing and action-planning meetings arranged for LGBTQ History month, and will visit Hammond’s surgery to continue protesting. NCAFC LGBTQ caucus will publicise and support any action confronting homophobic politicians, and urge you to organise them too.

Jack Saffery-Rowe

LGBTQ rep (open place)

(Demo photos to follow)

*EDIT: This post was written directly after the meeting with Philip Hammond. We were not allowed recording equipment in the meeting itself and so had to jot down what he said directly afterwards; this was complicated further by the mindset I was in directly after Mr Hammond refused to tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed to marry whom I love. When originally writing this I omitted the details concerning Mr Hammond’s comparison of same-sex marriage with incest. Though he did’t use the word ‘incest’ but strongly implied that you wouldn’t let siblings married. Joe asked “What right does the state have to tell two people who love each other that can’t get married.” he replied”Well, you we don’t allow siblings to get married either”.

Guilty of being a sensible and well behaved protestor

On Thursday I was found guilty of being a “sensible and well behaved protestor” at Fortnum and Mason on March 26th. My court case was meant to go on until November 30th. However, the prosecutor’s case collapsed on Monday. Thankfully the swift end of the case gives me a lot more time to take part in the mobilizations for November 23rd   and November 30th.

Despite being found guilty I am incredibly grateful for an excellent defence by committed lawyers who were willing to work on the legal aid that was not granted to all defendants. They managed to cut up a weak prosecution in court. The trouble is in our immensely unjust and bias justice system. Most don’t get access to fair representation and a competent defence.

Perhaps it is true that judges can’t be pressured into convicting, but more often than not they don’t need to. “Hang em high” magistrate can be found all across the court system, convicting without evidence on prejudice. The magistrates’ system is a farce: in September a magistrate sent me to prison for ten days, without being found guilty of anything, before an appeal got me out.  A guard in prison who had worked in the service all his life told me he could “weep with shame” the system was so bad. Fundamentally its existence is the ultimate breech of the right to be trailed by a jury of our peers. The system works, that one man and usually one white man often a volunteer with no legal training is handed the power to convict and sentence on his own prejudices (though in our case, we had a district judge).

At the same time as we have made system that has ample opportunity to create injustice, such the conviction of me and 9 others today. We have stripped away from most the chance of a successful defence. Legal aid has been basically destroyed, I earn £14,400 pounds per annum I have little savings, despite the fact that court costs add up to between £10,000 and £20,000 pounds I don’t qualify for the legal aid. Thankfully a good lawyer wanted to represent me anyway. In prison I met dozens of people who didn’t get a lawyer, who were not granted legal aid and were then sent down by a magistrate.

We are spending millions going after peaceful protestors like myself, the cost of the prosecution, arrest and trial of the Fortnum and Mason protestors will likely come out to be well over £100,000 pounds a similar figure to the costs spent pursuing the peaceful Brighton Ukuncut protestors. Even more is being spent on repressive “total policing”, 4000 officers in a ludicrous operation were on the streets of London for November 9th.

The government is not interested in stopping violent protests but, rather protests themselves. We must start to show more solidarity to all protestors who are being victimised by state authorities. Frank Fernie spent months in Jail for, in anger, throwing a balsa wood stick at a line of full armoured riot police hardly act that showed intent to harm. Did we do enough for him? He was singled out and sent down by a justice system that wants to smother our movement.

Getting a letter in prison from a stranger in solidarity reminds you, you have done nothing wrong that you are there for a reason. Send a letter now to prisoner you can find address here. Don’t get put off of taking direct action, it is after all the only thing that works. We must win and if we want to win we must take risks. Me and the other Fortnum and mason defendants, will see you on the streets and at the next Ukuncut actions

 


National demonstration – 29 January 2011, London

The first parliamentary vote might have gone through, but this is not the end! That is why, in the absence of action by NUS, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has called a second national demonstration in London, on Saturday 29 January. [Read more…]