‘March with us on 20 June for justice, for working people, for peace, for workers’ rights, for a living wage, a house building programme, for publicly owned utilities, and for society run in the interests of the people-not a society run for the racket of the small elite at the top’. This is the rallying cry of Owen Jones, calling people to #EndAusterityNow as part of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, this is the call to arms to a generation left bemused and angry following the unexpected outcome of the General Election. In the week since 7th May, various impromptu anti -austerity protests have erupted on the street of Britain. These protests, which began less than 48 hours after David Cameron was returned to power with a parliamentary majority, have earned an outraged reaction from sections of the press. However, in a media culture dominated by ring wing interest, it’s important to look beyond superficial prejudice and examine the wider issues at play which have driven people to the streets.
Media attention has concentrated in particular on the ‘despicable display of disrespect’ as ‘Tory scum’ graffiti was found sprayed on a war memorial commemorating The Women of World War II in Whitehall. Whilst this is obviously a disgusting act, we must also recognise the coverage surrounding it is symptomatic of a press with an undeniable right- wing vested interest. The way in which the media controls Britain can be clearly seen in the gulf between statistical opinion and reality. For instance, Britons believe that 24% of our nation is Muslim, whereas in reality the figure stands at around 5%. Similarly, people consider benefit fraud to be around 27% whereas the total amount is nearer to 0.7%. Without wanting to condone the vandalism, we should be aware that it is something that is fundamentally reversible. What will be less easy to erase, however, are the £12 billion pounds worth of cuts that the new government are considering cutting from the welfare budget.
We only have to look to case of David Clapson, the diabetic who without his £71.70 a week of JSA, could not afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Clapson’s JSA had been cut as a result of his missing one meeting at the job centre. Three weeks later Clapson died from a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body. This may seem like an extreme case, but staring forward into the next five years episodes like this will inevitably become increasingly common. Benefit sanctions such as the ones indicated by Osborne within hours of the election will serve to punish the unemployed, disabled and poor in ways that, according to Frances Ryan of the Guardian, are ‘utterly inhumane’. Surely the terrible permanence of Clapson’s case is just as despicable, no, more so, than a transient piece of disrespect like the one seen on the Whitehall War Memorial? And yet where is the coverage? The people on the streets are protesting against Anti-Austerity simply because apparently no one else will.
The protests have in some ways set a dangerous precedent-the voting was conducted fairly, and we should accept sometimes in a democracy you won’t always agree with the result. The protestors cannot challenge the validity of the vote, and it’s crucial to respect the system in which we operate. The real legitimacy of the campaigns themselves lie in the fact that they clearly illustrate that the first past the post system is broken; how can the government have the mandate of the majority of the country when the majority of the country either voted for different parties or didn’t vote at all? In terms of vote share the conservatives won 39 per cent and still managed to achieve a majority, whereas UKIP and the Green party amassed more than 5 million votes between them, but only managed to secure two MPs. Will Brett of the Electoral Reform Society has called this a ‘constitutional crisis’, especially given that only 66 per cent of the electorate turned out. Indeed, there are signs that the British public also feels that the election results have made the case for electoral reform undeniable; 30,000 people signed a petition supporting change to the voting system in the first five hours after it was launched at midday last Friday.
The condemnation of the protests perpetuates the argument that left-wing views are under-represented in the press, regardless of whether or not the Tories won ‘fair and square’ in the minds of those who voted for them. The thousands marching through Westminster chanting ‘75% didn’t vote Tory’ are protesting both the continuation of austerity measures and the evidently defunct electoral system. Yet young people on social media appear to be increasingly addressing this issue, using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to organise what should be seen as legitimate demonstrations and make their voices heard. For example, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s page on Facebook has over 30,000 likes. Clearly, despite the media bias, this is a generation that refuses to be forgotten.
OUSU has released a statement condemning a march of the English Defence League scheduled to take place in Oxford on Saturday 4th April.
According to a statement on an EDL Facebook page, demonstrators will be “protesting against the appalling revelations of another case of Muslim Grooming Gangs prying on vulnerable English children”, as well as the “lack of protection given to them by those entrusted to do so; the local council and the Police”.
Just under 500 people are expected to attend the march, including EDL representatives from Liverpool and Berkshire.
The march, and the EDL itself, have been unequivocally condemned in the OUSU statement, which says: “On 4th April, the English Defence League (EDL) plans to hold a march in Oxford. For those who have had the good fortune to not come across the EDL before, they are a far-right organisation which demonises Islam and Muslims, whilst claiming to fight against ‘radical Islam’ which they argue has a ‘stranglehold on British Muslims’. The EDL publicly compare Islam to Nazism, argue that Islam is incompatible with democracy, and a threat to their view of ‘English culture’.
“Members of the EDL have been convicted of inciting racial hatred, arson attacks on mosques, and violence on marches. “On this march, the EDL hopes to use recent cases of child abuse in Oxford to spread its hateful message. Child abuse is a horrific crime – and it is not limited to any particular community and is perpetrated by people of all backgrounds. Abuse victims are exploited, and the unity we need to fight abuse is threatened, when groups such as the EDL claim otherwise.”
An original plan for the EDL to march in Brighton on April 18th was moved to Oxford during March following the release of a report which revealed that up to 370 young girls may have been the victims of sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire over the past 15 years.
Thames Valley Police has written to Oxford students warning them of the “potential disruption” threatened by the march, with Inspector Andrew Thompson reassuring residents that “we will have a policing operation in place on the day”, with additional officers on duty. Thompson went on to note: “As with any of these events, we have to balance the rights of those who wish to protest with the disruption that may be felt by the local community.”
OUSU’s statement continues: “OUSU condemns the EDL and its views. Muslims are a valued part of our community and the lies and violence with which the EDL target them and their faith are unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with Muslim students and residents of Oxford who may be adversely affected by the march. “We recognise the risk posed by the march to the welfare of students who are in Oxford. People of all faiths and ethnicities should be welcome in Oxford, and the presence of the EDL is a barrier to this. As far as OUSU is concerned, the EDL is not welcome in Oxford.”
According to a 2011 census, 6.8% of Oxford’s population define themselves as Muslim, compared to a national figure of 5%.
Nikhil Venkatesh, OUSU’s BME Officer, described OUSU’s statement as “a strong message that Oxford students condemn the EDL, as we do all attempts to divide our community”.
The Oxford Islamic Society has also declared support for OUSU’s position. In a statement released on Thursday evening, the Society said: “EDL’s rhetoric of hate and division flies in the face of Islam as understood by the almost 3m Britons…There are up to 500 people who are expected to attend the March so we would just like to ask anyone who will be in Oxford on Saturday to be cautious, sensible and try to stay away from the town centre if possible. Most importantly, remember to place your trust in Allah (SWT) and seek His protection. ‘A perfect Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe, and a true emigrant is one who flees from what God has forbidden.’ ”
An interfaith circle, meeting in the town centre, has been organised as a counter to the EDL march.
As the visit of Marine le Pen to the Union fades into the relative distance, the ideologies of the no-platformers, claiming to act on our behalf through OUSU, must continue to be challenged. It is outdated, indefensible and hypocritical- even more so due to the fact it is espoused in all our names.
The ineffectiveness of no-platform policies at stopping ideologies they dislike should be fairly clear. They did nothing to stop the rise of the BNP in the 2010 European elections. For all that is made of the 3,000 membership requests that followed Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, much more should be made of how many people surely watched the show and realised that the BNP was not a legitimate party of protest. Louis Brandeis was right to call sunlight the best disinfectant; it is only through exposing fascism for what it is – for giving it a platform from which to drown in its own poison – that we destroy this narrative with a healthy dose of truth.
An officer of the Oxford Union has confirmed that Marine Le Pen will be speaking on Thursday evening, despite potential opposition from OUSU. (more…)
Charitable Oxford students stood in the city centre for 27 hours straight to raise awareness of an anti-human trafficking charity last week.
The event was hosted by Just Love, a Christian student social justice group in Oxford. It aimed to promote ‘Stand for Freedom’, a national campaign to raise awareness of the 27 million people who are currently in slavery around the world.
Those taking part stood from 9am on 7th June through to 12pm on 8th June. They rotated in shifts, with one student – Izzy Morse, a first-year from Regent’s Park – standing for the whole 27 hours.
“Personally I would say what amazed me was people’s apathy about the situation; people didn’t want to be bothered about it,” she said.
“There was a good number who supported us, but also a huge proportion of people who would literally answer ‘no’ to the question ‘will you help me stop slavery and sign a petition?’. The amount of people who joked about how they wished the women on team were for sale was astonishing. People’s responses at times were scary!”
She went on to explain the cause. “There are actually an estimated 29.8 million people being held in slavery today, according to the most recent Global Slavery Index, 26% of which are children.”
“The whole time was emotionally and physically gruelling, I can hardly walk now my legs hurt so much but it was also an absolute pleasure. These people have their whole lives taken away from them so I can definitely stand for 27 hours for their cause!”
150 different groups have taken part in the wider campaign, with Oxford being invited to take part this year. Aside from physical protest, students were also petitioning, photographing people who stood, selling fair trade food and bracelets made by trafficking survivors. They were also stamping people with ‘Not For Sale’ barcodes, and some also joined in a flash mob.
Ben Coulter, a student who took part in the flash mob, said: “It was an amazing day; I think we got around 800 people to sign our petition, we had a great flash mob, we were selling fair trade goods, and just generally raising awareness about modern day slavery by talking to passers by!”
Hannah Coates, a third-year from Jesus, runs Just Love’s Human Trafficking Action Group, which has representatives across the colleges. She said: “The idea of Stand For Freedom came from the charity International Justice Mission (IJM) who send lawyers and investigators to work in many countries around the world in order to assist local police officers and legal professionals in rescuing victims of trafficking and prosecuting their traffickers.
“I think it is really important that we, as Western consumers, know that trafficked people are often used to pick, dye and spin the cotton which makes many of the clothes in our favourite shops. There is no simple solution to trafficking in supply chains but there won’t be a stop to it unless consumers demand change and improvement.”
Pheobe Scott-Green, also part of Just Love, explained that one person was always standing on the monument, either tied or gagged “to symbolise that those enslaved really don’t have a voice, so we have to speak up on their behalf”.
She went on to say: “It was just staggering how many people think slavery was abolished with William Wilberforce, which it was, but that they don’t know that despite this there are more slaves alive today than there were in the time of Wilberforce.”
Second-year English students have claimed victory after faculty bosses changed course on a plan to restrict choice over one of their finals papers.
Last week students were told they would be “randomly allocated” to a “Special Option” for one of the papers, and students at Christ Church created a Facebook group called “The Grapes of Wrath” less than 24 hours later.
It aimed to unite those “in a rage about the random allocation of modules for our finals.” Students urged fellow members from all colleges to petition the Faculty.
Only two days after this group was formed, members expressed satisfaction at the news that the Faculty would revoke the random allocation of topics, allowing students to rank their options.
The initial email from the Faculty stated that students must “complete a short form to indicate the 5 options that you feel you would most enjoy studying (these will not be ranked), and you will then be randomly allocated to one of the options that you are interested in.”
Sonia Morland, a second-year English student at St John’s, stated, “I’m really glad that they’ve listened to our comments and are now giving us a bit more choice. However, ideally we’d have even more choice (e.g. ranking 3 rather than 5 options).”
The Facebook protest group quickly grew in popularity. At the time of publication it has 164 members. Founding students rallied their “fellow grapes” to help reform “this educational crack den of corruption.”
Students notified the group that Subject and Senior Tutors from seven separate colleges, including New and St Peter’s, had listened to their discontent and filed complaints.
The second email from the English Faculty stated that, as a result of student and tutor feedback, they plan to “amend the sign-up system for this year. You will now be able to rank your choices in order of preference from 1-5.”
Katie-Rose Comery, another second-year English student at St John’s, commented, “I’m very happy that the Faculty have agreed to rank our options as we suggested, and that they responded to us so quickly.”
“Both the speed and ease with which they acquiesced suggests that it wasn’t particularly difficult for them to do, so I don’t see why they can’t have done it in the first place,” she added.
Shelby Holmes, a second-year English student at Trinity said that she was “delighted with the Faculty’s speedy response and their genuine aim to make the course better for the students.”
“Admittedly this isn’t the first time they’ve cocked thing up a bit, as last year’s email containing the coursework questions was actually missing a page, and so students’ work was delayed until the problem was rectified. Despite this I do feel that the faculty try their best, and hopefully such minor problems won’t continue,” she said.
Students are divided as to whether the new course, which contains fewer papers, means a reduction in teaching hours.
Morland stated that it was “hard to compare but it does sound like we’ll be getting pretty little teaching. I guess that’s just an arts degree for you though – I think by 3rd year we are capable of going off and doing a fair bit on our own.”
The English Faculty did not respond to a request for comment.