The not so glorious revolution

“They’re all a bunch of twats,” is how one Politics student described student protestors to me the other day. These are the words of a well-informed and politically minded undergraduate. The media-propagated caricature of students en bloc as militant anarchists, rediscovering the anti-establishment vigour of their predecessors, is, then, not wholly accurate. There is a silent majority.

Don’t get me wrong. Protests are an essential feature of a functioning democracy. As a manifestation of public dissent, as a medium of participation in civil society and as an indication that the preferences of the populace may have been misread or ignored. Indeed, simply by being permitted to take place, they are a sign that things are basically okay. Basic rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, are being protected. And so on and so forth. Our cuddly liberal inclinations are aligned here.

But, compare and contrast: the self-immolation of courageous Tunisian fruit-seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, despairing at his patently unjust treatment by a repressive regime; a roaming mob of clueless youths gleefully committing petty crime in the centre of London. The former, an inspiring paragon of self-sacrifice, a man shorn of self-respect, whose rights had been repeatedly violated, attempting to draw attention to an unjust political system. The latter, a gang providing an utterly unedifying spectacle, imbued with the cheap thrill of law-breaking, blissfully ignorant but less-than-blissfully ignorant of this fact, purporting to be furthering lofty goals, but unable to explain quite how.

It goes without saying that this not a fair portrayal of all student protestors. The vast majority take part in peaceful activities that command broad support. But they are not blameless either. Very few justify their actions in a way that is not short-sighted or partial. Instead of thinking ‘because of X,Y and Z, protesting would be the morally right thing to do’, the actions of many boil down to ‘this sounds like fun’, or ‘everyone else is doing it, so why not?’. Merely by virtue of being a student protest, moreover, almost all of those taking part will be doing so blindly. Blindly, in the sense that they do not know what they are doing or why, and, worse, they couldn’t possibly know if what they are doing is right or wrong. Protest is a way of expressing one’s discontent with the policies of the government; very few people are qualified to make such a judgement and no student is going be among them. The knowledge, wisdom, experience and judgement necessary are just not possessed by anyone still at university.

Nor, indeed, by any recent graduate. Thom Costello, not long ago a student at Oxford and living proof that intelligence is no guarantee of sound judgement, is now the leader of UK Uncut, an organisation which facilitates protests against government cuts and tax avoidance by large corporations. It has become emblematic of student activism and appears to be treated with sympathy by many. During the student protests last year, the organisation distanced itself from the pacifying noises emanating from Aaron Porter, then President of the NUS. In response to a statement by the latter criticising the violence, Mr. Costello tweeted: “Shut up Aaron Porter you dickhead.” While the English scholar seemingly momentarily misplaced his wit, the sentiment was clear. Certainly, the ubiquity of tax avoidance is lamentable. The practice borders on the immoral, the difference between a business evading and avoiding tax generally depending on how expensive an accountant it can afford. But we live in a capitalist society. Businesses maximise profit. The government taxes them within a framework of regulations. If they manage to get around these, then the government should just try harder. Tax reform is a sensible political goal. But civil disobedience is not called for.

Mohamed Bouazizi was confronted with clear and egregious injustice. We are not. Neither the government cuts nor the raising of tuition fees constitute reasons for civil disobedience. Economic and political arguments can be offered why the government shouldn’t be pursuing its current course, but none of these entail the violation of rights or dereliction of duties. There is no right to a cheap degree. Indeed, there is no right to tertiary education, period. We are fortunate to have a system of loans and bursaries, that mean some don’t pay anything at all, while all others gradually pay it back when they can, allowing us all to attend exceptional academic institutions. There can be no complaints on grounds of justice here.

That is not to say that there are no banners under which students may march. The likelihood that the UK wilfully ignores torture, the illegal war in Iraq and the refusal to condemn human rights abuses by our allies are all clear cases of the state acting unjustly. One does not need to have a lifetime of contemplation under one’s belt to complain about these. If it came out, for instance, that the government had been carrying extra-judicial assassinations of the leaders of subversive political groups, then, again, anyone and everyone should be out on the streets. But these, as far as we know, are not going on. The government is cutting back, marginally, services which are, compred to both the past and other countries, superlatively generous. This is no cause for civil disobedience.

Lobby  your MPs by all means. But don’t go around pushing biscuits off the shelves of Fortnum and Mason. For a start, it’s a bit rubbish, as civil disobedience goes. Find a worthier cause and do it properly.

Sean Scoltock

Reforms are not the medicine the doctor ordered

In the opinion of Dr. Kailash Chand, former member of the British Medical Association council, “this proposed bill is the biggest challenge to core NHS values.” The coalition government’s white paper aims to radically alter the organisation and management of the NHS, and shift control from the state and primary care trusts (PCTs) to GP consortia, local authorities and private companies.

Under the guise of ‘public sector reform’, the coalition looks set to continue the trend set by New Labour, removing national controls in favour of local controls and greater autonomy for patients and health professionals.

But without any formal piloting, these reforms simply will not scratch the surface of current shortcomings in patient care – instead, they will spell the start of a health service economy.

The fact is that GPs will not be able to manage the allocation of financial resources worth over £80 billion; they haven’t been trained in resource management, nor do they have the time or experience. The only option available to many consortia would be to buy in help from private companies, with the amount of money spent on good organisation being up to the individual GP practice.

The phasing out of PCTs by 2013 will move responsibility for decisions affecting the entire NHS budget from national control to control at a more local level, and it is very difficult to see how this local control could be sustainable without inequalities in NHS care. Inevitably, it would lead to exactly the sort of ‘postcode lottery’ situation that NICE was set up in order to avoid, as some consortia would provide services that others would not.

Furthermore, GPs face a fundamental conflict of interest in that they are both providers and purchasers. Should they put the needs of their patients first, or the needs of their consortium first? Are they healthcare providers, or are they accountants?

The NHS being a system within which there are finite resources and, effectively, infinite demand, the new proposals make it a clear economic advantage for a GP to not treat their patients.

Because of their new role, GPs may feel that they have to refer a patient to a cheaper provider, or prescribe a cheaper treatment, to cut costs – and to add extra pressure, the White Paper has made it very clear that “there will be no bailouts for organisations which overspend public budgets.”

What is unclear, in fact, is what would happen to the patients attending a GP practice, were its consortia to become bankrupt. How would their care be provided for?

The lack of piloting of Lansley’s proposals has thus resulted in a system that firstly lacks a safety net, and secondly has potential problems within which the old, vulnerable and those unable to travel would be most affected.

The move towards a more competitive, market-led NHS is unmistakable. Under these reforms, patients will be given the right to register with any GP, regardless of catchment area, and to choose between consultant-led teams for elective care.

This would disadvantage patients who were not able to travel far from home, or who were unaware of a GP or hospital practice providing a better service than their current one.

But more than that, this is a system designed to make GPs and hospital trusts compete for patients. It is based around the traditional, laissez-faire idea that competition breeds excellence and market forces make everything more efficient. The assumption here is that economic excellence is the only kind of excellence worth having.

This approach could well result in a greater emphasis on saving money and providing cheaper NHS services. However, the possibilities of corners being cut and patient care being compromised are too real to skim over lightly.

Angela Sheard

From Princess of Our Hearts to Common Kate

With unemployment recently having reached 2.5 million and still rising and the government provoking outrage in various sections of society for its package of savage public sector funding cuts, many politicians and pundits are hoping that the upcoming royal wedding will be just what’s needed to cheer the nation and restore some sense of national unity and harmony.

Sound familiar at all? Welcome to Britain in 1981.

The parallels between 30 years ago, when Charles and Diana were married in what was touted as the wedding of the century, if not the millennium, and today are quite striking. All right, there are one or two differences. It’s hard to imagine Margaret Thatcher and the then Liberal leader, David Steel, looking quite as cosy next to each other as Cameron and Clegg do.

While 2011 has not been without its fair share of protests (against higher tuition fees and against the cuts more generally), we, thankfully, have seen nothing that compares with the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981. And if you think police tactics today are a little heavy-handed, consider for a moment the sad case of David Moore, who died on the same day as Charles and Diana were married, after being knocked down by a police vehicle travelling at high speed. This was no tragic accident. Rather, Moore was deliberately run down by the police who were using what they called “hot pursuit” tactics (essentially just driving Land Rovers at crowds of people) to disperse rioters in Toxteth. “Kettling” is pretty small beer in comparison.

But there is another difference. It’s really not possible to overstate how big an event the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was in the lives of the millions of people who watched it and were completely captivated by the fairytale that unfolded that day. With a worldwide TV audience of over 700 million it remains one of the most watched TV events in history (although it pales in comparison to Diana’s funeral 16 years later, which attracted a whopping 2.5 billion viewers worldwide).

And here in Britain too, it generated considerable excitement, with 600,000 people lining the streets of London to get a glimpse of the newly-weds. And throughout the country, somewhere in the region of 10 million people attended royal wedding street parties.

In 2011, the statistics tell a rather different story. Despite the efforts of local councils to make organising a street party as simple as possible, far fewer people than was originally hoped have shown any desire to re-create the scenes of 30 years ago. According to, some one million people are expected to attend street parties on the day of the royal wedding.

A number of theories have been put forward to try to explain why this number is so much lower than last time. Some have suggested the drop is a symptom of the decline of our sense of community in the last generation. Others have blamed the prospect of April showers ruining any outdoor celebrations on the day. Indeed, the national charity that helps residents stage street parties has even resorted to urging local organisers to consider postponing them until later in the year.

The proximity of the royal wedding date to the Easter weekend has also provided many Britons with the opportunity to take a longer holiday abroad without having to take too many extra days off work. One survey by TripAdvisor even found that almost one in three Britons are planning to be abroad for the Royal Wedding.

It has to be said that Will and Kate have also very consciously tried to make sure their wedding remains a fairly low key affair, for a royal wedding anyway. They have opted for the considerably smaller venue of Westminster Abbey for the wedding itself, as opposed to the cavernous St. Paul’s Cathedral where Prince William’s parents were married. And their guest list for the wedding is about half the size of Charles and Diana’s. In deference to our current age of austerity, they have asked that their guests give money to charity rather than showering them with traditional wedding gifts. This again is in stark contrast to the attitude Charles and Diana took 30 years ago, when the economy was in equally dire straits. As Diana famously put it in an interview not long before the wedding: “We’ve got two houses to fill.”

All in all then, it seems safe to say that we will see no repeat of the completely over-the-top display of pomp and pageantry and the national outpouring of joy and hopefulness that happened 30 years ago. And I don’t think it’s just because Will and Kate have picked a date in April, whereas Charles and Diana’s wedding happened at the height of summer, in late July. Besides, whatever happened to our ability as a nation to grin and bear it?

Blaming the lack of excitement surrounding the royal wedding on the possibility of bad weather sounds awfully reminiscent of George Osbourne’s rather pathetic attempt earlier this year to blame lower than expected growth figures on the snow. No, there’s definitely more to it than that.

The monarchy has been through some tough times since 1981 in terms of its popularity. Following the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the royal family’s approval rating took a major tumble, and it has taken years to recover. But it has recovered. Today both the Queen, and Prince William (though it has to be said not so much Prince Charles) are just about as popular in the polls as they ever have been. But a poll rating only tells part of the story.

The fact is that the mystique that surrounded the royal family 30 years ago has not recovered from the Diana debacle. Looking back, 1981 seems like an age of lost innocence. Too many people bought into the fairytale last time round and saw their hopes and dreams shattered when Charles and Diana’s marriage went pear-shaped in the ‘90s. Nobody understands this better than their eldest son, Prince William, and so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he has made every effort to avoid making his special day anything like the fairytale extravaganza that was his parents’ wedding.

Richard Roberts

The Malcontent On: Celebrity self-obsession

I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering addict. It’s still early days and there will be many dark moments along the way but I’m proud to say that I’ve been off the celebrity gossip for a week.

Like all dangerous things, celebrity gossip makes us feel good. While trying to self-medicate online, I discovered that it’s an instant stimulator of endorphins similar to chocolate. Indeed there was something quite thrilling about having an actor or actress, musician or sports star that I quite liked, someone whose life was full of success and glamour and to be honest a bit different to mine, who I now felt like I knew a tiny bit better thanks to some patient and shameless paparazzo who had spent all afternoon hiding in a bush.

Sure, a lot of it was inane. ‘Gossip’ could usually be summed up as somebody recognisable from TV sitting at a basketball match, walking through airport arrivals or simply having a meal. A lot of it was also very awkward and quite possibly illegal:

Paparazzo: Where are you headed to today?

Demi Lovato (teen Disney Star):  Where are you headed to today?

P: I’m right here, I’m all here for you baby.

DL: My dad’s right here.

P: Oh, sorry.

There was a strong sense that in our admiration of these people, we could not help ourselves annoying and pestering them in return for that feeling of association, no matter how trivial, with their amazing lives. I was getting high off the stuff. Then the game changed.

Now I can’t help but feel that it’s the celebrities who are annoying and pestering us in return for attention. And as hypocritical as it may sound, I’m feeling hounded and I don’t like it. The parallel rise of what I call the axis of evil (talent competitions, reality shows and social networking) changed the face of celebrity, and more than ever we are inundated with that hated term “people who are famous for being famous”. Every day we are faced with talentless, self-centred and ultimately boring people shouting about themselves to anybody who will listen: “I don’t eat pasta anymore”, “I’m back on the market boys… I could be re-married next summer!”

The final straw for me came when I read about someone called Kim Kardashian who announced to the world in an exclusive to US Magazine that she waxed her forehead: “If you look at pictures of me from even three years ago, I had two inches of baby hairs on my forehead…I’m obsessed with hair removal”. It was at that moment that I realised three years ago I didn’t even know she was alive, that I didn’t care about any of this and I had collections in less than a week that I hadn’t started studying for.

Alistair Luca Renton

Much more than just an angry man

Nigel Farage is a curious character. Amiable, yet bellicose; seemingly conservative, yet actually rather radical and possessor of a campness that contrasts oddly with his laddish penchant for cigarettes, booze and, on occasion, strippers. These contradictions help make him hugely entertaining, allowing him to sit comfortably in both the political arena and alongside the likes of Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You.

They also explain how he manages to generate so much media coverage. Although it doubtless doesn’t do any harm that he produces rather lovely soundbites – professional politics is “the bland leading the bland” whilst UKIP versus the coalition a battle of “rhetoric versus reality”, it is still surprising just how recognisable and popular he is as representative of a party perceived to be single-issue. He seems to be regarded in a similar light to Boris Johnson – charming us into forgetting his foibles.

And yet, just as with Boris, it is all too easy to dismiss him as an amusing but largely irrelevant jester in the court of British politics. As I talked with him it gradually became clear that beneath the humour, beneath the friendliness, lies a man just as willing to scheme as the career politicians he so derides.

As Farage noted, UKIP’s recent success in the Barnsley Central byelection comes at a time when they’re gaining support from the Lib Dems in the crucial 18-24 demographic. Although it is unlikely that UKIP may, as Farage claims, usurp the Lib Dems to become the third party of British politics, it seemed this was his reason for agreeing to an interview – it was an attempt to evangelise to new found supporters. He repeatedly stressed how attractive UKIP was to students – “we believe that if the local pub in Oxford wants to have a smoking room out the back they should be able to do so” – and was keen to emphasise UKIP’s libertarian strand.“We’re the only party in British politics which genuinely wants the state to play a smaller role in our lives, and I do think that the libertarian element of UKIP is what’s attracting younger voters”.

His other explanation for UKIP’s recent success was more conventional, arguing that the EU has sparked a “sort of backlash, people are feeling more British, and they are certainly feeling more English too. Nobody really called themselves English 25 years ago and now they do.”

But he appeared willing to do more than just preach to attract students, he seemed willing to change his message. In a 2009 interview, asked by The Guardian who his political hero was, he replied Enoch Powell. Yet when I asked a similar question he claimed Margaret Thatcher, who, although not a student favourite, is certainly less toxic than Enoch Powell. And he went on to deny that UKIP were working in the legacy of Thatcher. “I don’t think we can characterise UKIP as a conservative party as such,” he insisted. “I think what we call UKIP now is a radical party of opposition in British politics”. This was a man determined to appeal to his new-found supporters, to ensure he didn’t alienate those who once voted Lib Dem.

In fact, the only time Farage seemed remotely roused was when I posited that their recent success was a result of student anger at the Lib Dems. “Every time UKIP gets a good vote we’re told it’s a protest vote,” he thundered, “the Lib Dems have been nothing more than a protest vehicle for donkeys’ years, and they’ve built themselves up.” The contradiction is revealing. Although he later insisted that not everyone who “votes UKIP is a Mr. Angry… a lot of people vote for UKIP because they see us as offering positive policies, they see us actually believing in things,” he appeared to have let slip the true UKIP aim – to use the protest vote to build themselves up into a serious contender in the British political scene.

This would be a much easier task if they weren’t so focused on Europe. Whether talking about banker’s bonuses, his confrontational style or the budget, Farage always found a way to manoeuvre the conversation back to the EU. Although understandable – euro-scepticism is UKIP’s raison d’etre – you feel that if Farage is to achieve his aim, if UKIP are to overtake the Lib Dems and not just exist as a protest vote (at least in general elections), then he’ll have to widen their focus.

When they do stray away from Europe, UKIP appear unconvincing. A flat tax rate, the abolition of inheritance tax, scepticism over anthropogenic climate change, and defence of the banking industry are unlikely to sit comfortably with the electorate. However much Farage may want to have the media focus on other elements of UKIP’s policies, he is lucky they don’t, since they are not the populist crowd-pleasers the public have come to expect from the party.

None are as passionate about Europe as Farage, or as willing to constantly challenge the status quo. The desire with which he wishes Britain were “not stuck in some backwoods of a European Union run by people like Herman Van Rompuy” is unquestionable, as those who have seen clips of him attack Mr. Van Rompuy can attest. Although some are dismayed by Farage’s pugnacious style representing us in Europe, he is unrepentant: “Surely when your democracy is being given away, when everything your country has ever stood for is being given away, is being trampled on, surely it’s quite right to stand up and say you’re not happy with this?”

This belligerent rhetoric typifies Farage’s approach to the EU. To him, Europe are our rivals not our allies. He views international affairs through a historic paradigm, proposing that “through organisations like the Commonwealth, we still have a role to play in the world”. And he applies a similar approach to that mythical notion of ‘Britishness’, which he proposes lies very much in our culture, sourced from “the independence of our judicial system, the basic principles as laid out in Magna Carta, and developed over time, and the fact we used to believe in democracy so much we were to die for it.”

And yet as much as Nigel Farage is a man very much in love with an idealised past, he is also clearly at home in the present. A smarter politician than his convivial demeanour makes him appear, he is trying to shape UKIP into a more rounded political party, to allow them to seize the opportunity offered by the Lib Dems’ current decline. Whether he succeeds, only time will tell, but however unlikely it may appear, one thing’s for sure: just like his idol, Farage is not for turning.

Hamish Birrell

Blues royally welcomed in Rajhastan

It is often said that it is impossible to provide a fitting description of India. Its enormity, beauty, cultural richness and economic disparity make it unlike anywhere else in the world. The one ever-present, unifying entity is cricket. Cricket in India is a religion. There is simply no other way to describe it. To go there to play cricket is therefore an experience that no amount of advice or research can truly prepare you for.

The squad, led by Raj Sharma (OUCC Captain), was bolstered by 3 old Blues in the form of Jamie Dalrymple (former Blues Captain, Middlesex, Gloucestershire and England), Neil Kruger and Willem Klopper. Arriving in Mumbai, there followed 6 matches in 11 days, against some of the best club and professional sides in India. It was therefore by no means a disgrace to have only won two.

Playing in foreign surroundings is always challenging, but as numerous England international sides have shown, playing on the sub-continent is something else entirely. The fierce heat and the slow, turning wickets are certainly a long way away from the rain and indoor nets that we had been practicing in during the winter. The squad, to their credit, seemed to adapt very quickly.

The first match was a Twenty20 against a Global Cricket School XI. The match was played in an open park in the middle of Mumbai, right by the old colonial law courts. Very quickly there was a crowd of a couple of hundred gathered around the boundary, clearly expecting a show. And they weren’t disappointed, as skipper Sharma treated them to an aggressive 102, aided by 25 from Dalrymple and 31 from Olly Richards. Paul Higham then claimed three wickets, and Robin Thompson four, as Oxford registered a 50 run victory. The opposition were clearly quite shocked to have lost, and it was no surprise that the match manager promised a much stronger team for the return 50-over fixture a few days later.

There then followed two defeats, one to Bombay Gymkhana and another to the much strengthened Global Cricket School, who had brought in a couple of Mumbai State players. Against Bombay Gymkhana a 15 year old, touted as the “new Sachin Tendulkar” having just scored 400 runs in a school game, helped the hosts reach 225. Oxford finished 58 runs short, with Willem Klopper scoring 58. Against GCS, again at the Oval Meidan, with some very good opposition bowling, Oxford managed just 128. A spirited fielding performance, and tight bowling from Sam Agarwal, Alex Scott and Thompson meant the GCS only won by two wickets.

The following match was against the Cricket Club of India (the equivalent of the MCC) at the old Indian Test ground in Mumbai. Tight bowling from Jonathon Lodwick (4-43), Sharma, Don Gordon and Scott restricted the hosts to 239. In reply Oxford put on 90 for the first wicket, and were cruising before a flurry of wickets. But some late hitting from Klopper, 41, and Lodwick, 37*, set the stage for Gordon. The opposition captain, who had been keeping, came on to bowl the last over, with Oxford needing three to win, but with just one wicket in hand. Having tried to confuse the batsmen by bowling a mixture of legbreaks and offies in his warm-up he proceeded to bowl medium pace. Not to be perturbed though, Gordon late cut the skipper for 4, and Oxford won a famous victory by one wicket.

The next two games will probably  be remembered more for the standard of the opposition rather than any individual performances by the squad. Against a notional Rajasthan XI, which was essentially the Rajasthan Royals minus their international players, and on a dead deck, Oxford were well and truly beaten. The highlight of the day perhaps being Shilpa Shetty’s comment about the nature of the last batsmen’s shot to get out. After a 4am wakeup to travel from Rajasthan to Delhi, the final game of the tour was against Delhi University. Needless to say a squad deprived of sleep was always going to struggle, but against a couple of India U19s playing on their home turf it was all over fairly quickly.

Aside from the cricket we were extremely fortunate to be hosted throughout by the Rajasthan Royals, attending a number of functions with them, as well as a dinner at the British High Commision with the Oxford and Cambridge Club in India, and a dinner reception at Mohit Burma’s. All-in-all it was an incredibly successful tour. The Tabs toured last year and failed to win a single game and so while only winning two out of six may not sound that impressive, it must be remembered that we were playing in alien conditions on a pre-season tour, against sides hailing from probably the strongest cricketing culture in the world. On behalf of the team, I’d once again like to thank Nomura, the Rajasthan Royals and William Frewen for their support in organising the tour, and for allowing us to embark on an experience that I’m sure none of us fortunate enough to have gone will ever forget.

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