Been having a discussion on Twitter about the student demonstration in London today (hash tag #demo2010). Having watched footage of the students smash up Millbank buildings, graffiti f*** on the walls and other acts of friendly vandalism, I can understand why public opinion wouldn’t be with students.
I’m fully in support of them – I think the proposals to raise fees by such a degree without a proportional improvement in tuition time and teaching standards are a recipe for disaster, and risk doing serious long-term damage to education in Britain.
But I also think students like to jump on a bandwagon.
I tweeted: “I wonder if all the students out there for #demo2010 bothered to vote in 2010. With the youth vote as low as it is, bet they didn’t”.
The numbers don’t lie – the British electoral turnout is poor anyway but voting is lowest among the 18 to 25 demographic. Yes, May 6 was exam season, yes, students are busy, yes, they probably didn’t get round to organising a postal vote, but the fact is, decisions are made by those who show up.
As Alex Richman pointed, if they had voted, they might still be in the same boat. He tweeted back: “People who voted for the party opposing higher fees got them into power. and then saw them agree to raise fees.”
Dina Rickman added: “Do you think voting would have helped? Tuition fees would still have gone up.”
On this particular issue, perhaps not. If the Conservatives had got an outright majority, fees would almost certainly have risen, while if Labour had won, despite their current indignation, who knows what would have happened. But in any protest – the Iraq war comes to mind – I’d hazard that not everyone involved bothered to shuffle down to the ballot box.
But that’s not the point. Political engagement shouldn’t be limited to Election Day, but it shouldn’t be limited to a Wednesday afternoon riot either.
Democracy is, philosophically speaking, a contract between representative and represented. If you don’t make the effort to choose who represents you – and I’m sure some of those protesting did – you don’t then have the right to complain when you object to what is done.