Simon Szreter: This is a show of disrespect for the people in defence of a duplicitous government

It has been this new politics of bare-faced lying to the electorate, led by Nick Clegg, whichhas led to the level of outrage and the volume of protesters

Monday 13 December 2010 01:00

Kettling is illegal elsewhere and it certainly should be here. I speak as someone who was kettled in Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge last Thursday, one of several thousand people held for nine hours at zero degrees without food, water, heat, toilets.

The widely reproduced photograph of a youth urinating against the plinth of Winston Churchill's statue during the protest over tuition fees provides a disrespectful image, but kettling represents disrespect on a premeditated, industrial scale: degrading conditions of confinement enforcing the shame of performing one's natural functions in public. Put in the same position, where exactly would the Chief Constable have urinated?

But then no police force should be called on to defend a patently duplicitous government against its own protesting people.

The vote to triple tuition fees would have failed if 28 Liberal Democrat MPs had not allowed the scent of power to overwhelm their moral judgement. The fees hike pays for an 80 per cent cut to university teaching budgets – four times the average of other departmental cuts. Not in any manifesto, this is a nakedly ideological decision, not a necessity. It was made by a Cabinet of millionaires whose own children will never have to experience its consequences.

Solemn pledges to the electorate to do the opposite – to phase tuition fees out – which won marginal seats for the Liberal Democrats and put them into this Coalition in the first place, mean absolutely nothing, apparently. Indeed, manifestos mean nothing.

The Tory strategists believe they have discovered a kind of political alchemy. The "need for cuts" licenses any amount of ideologically satisfying destruction of our public institutions and services, while the need to work in coalition means the manifestos that each party was elected on can now be discarded and ideological policies which would never have got past voters made up on the spot.

With their perfidious votes for tuition fees, these foolish 28 Liberal Democrat traitors to their own voters have provided the strongest argument I've yet heard against PR and the free-wheeling coalition governments that result. They have spectacularly cut the ground from under the policy which was their only reason and their prize for entering the Coalition. They are now, politically, a rabble.

It has been this new politics of bare-faced lying to the electorate, led by Nick Clegg, which has generated the level of outrage against undemocratic policies which resulted in a volume of protesters arriving in the capital beyond the police's resources to control.

What sort of moral example has this set to our young people? Kettling, mounted police and baton charges, and one young person lying in hospital. We are in danger of entering a downward spiral of mutual distrust and disrespect between an ideologically aggressive but politically weak Tory government propped up by the Liberal Democrats, with the police caught fair and square in the middle.

This Coalition is founded on deceit and disrespect for the electorate. It must end. We must try again. This time the parties must tell us exactly what their coalition positions are in advance of the vote, in addition to their manifestos for sole rule. And kettling must go.

Simon Szreter is professor of history and public policy at the University of Cambridge

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