KEN LIVINGSTONE, Labour MP for Brent East and outspoken backbench critic of New Labour’s policies, has praised the NME‘s ‘Betrayed’ issue (March 14), confirming that if there is a popular movement expressing discontent with the Government’s policies, then it could force them to change course.
Speaking to NME, he said: “I think the lesson is that, just because we’ve got the youngest government in 200 years – all this ‘Cool Britannia’ nonsense – doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to do anything for young people. This government will only do what it’s forced to do. If there’s enough rebellion and pressure from below then they’ll have to take notice – otherwise they’ll just roll right over everybody. Get along there and give them some stick!
“The truth is that a lot of Labour MPs have major reservations and a lot of them are really unhappy. I would say that there’s probably only about 30 irretrievable people that you wouldn’t be able to influence. There’s a lot of people in the cabinet privately telling you that they agree with you about student grants and tuition fees. I would have thought that if you had a secret vote in the cabinet about keeping or scrapping tuition fees, then the majority would vote to scrap them.”
While no government ministers have yet responded directly to NME, they have been dismissive of the issues raised during interviews throughout the media. The second reading of the Teaching And Higher Education Bill – which will effectively end free higher education in this country – took place on March 16, the day before the budget. The bill, which Blur singer Damon Albarn has spoken out against, has now passed onto the House Of Lords. It will be given a final reading in the House Of Commons before getting Royal Assent and becoming law.
Ken Livingstone accuses the leadership of the National Union Of Students (NUS) of toeing the government line on the abolition of grants and the introduction of fees. “The NUS has been taken over by New Labour students whose prime objective is to get jobs as researchers for the government when they leave university and eventually become MPs themselves. Like any trade union, if your leadership is doing what the government wants then they’re not representing you.”
Mr Livingstone called for the Campaign For Free Education (CFE) and Rage Over Age Rates (ROAR) – the GMB campaign to fight government plans to exclude 16-26-year-olds from minimum wage legislation – to link up in a youth coalition.
“If the trade unions wheel behind the students and the students wheel in behind the right to a minimum wage for young people then that’s a really formidable alliance. The NUS was telling students that you couldn’t demand the restoration of student grants because that would be unfair to pensioners! So what happens as soon as the students drop their demand for an increased grant? The pensioners are told that they can’t have an increase either! It’s not an ‘either/or’ situation. Bringing these campaigns together strengthens them all,” Mr Livingstone said.
Student leaders opposed to plans to abolish grants and charge tuition fees have vowed to fight the introduction of the bill. “At the moment we’re planning to contest student elections and to fight at the forthcoming NUS Conference,” NUS executive member Carolyne Culver told NME.
“We’re also going to organise a demo for the final reading of the bill, though we don’t know when that will be yet. We have some sympathetic MPs who are going to speak to the whips, but since the last lobby got such a good turnout, they’ve become very cagey.”