This blog’s been a bit quiet recently, while the coalition has been at its least stable and least principled. Apologies for that.
One thing that’s emerged from the month of protest we’ve just seen is that the strangely disconnected quality that haunts the coalition is still here. Just as with bus lanes or free schools, they are swimming far above the seabed of administrative and political realities.
Paul Mason seems to be the first mainstream media source to grasp that it’s not really the tuition fees, it’s the EMA, stupid. From the Government’s perspective, it must have seemed easy - some sort of vague New Labour frippery that had the advantage of being a simple cash transfer that could be shut off at the stroke of a pen. No entangling contracts, abandoned steelworks sites, or inconvenient maritime patrol aircraft here.
It’s very critical indeed to the recipients. If you’re a London sixth-former, chances are you use public transport to get to school. That’s at least £4 a day, or two-thirds of the EMA payment (although most of the recipients will be travelling free - for how long?). Having grown up in the last education cuts era, I suspect it’s easier to get your riot on about this than it is about school budget cuts. Those manifest themselves gradually, and it’s not until the deferred maintenance has been deferred a few times that the heating fails or buckets appear under leaks. Similarly, it will probably be a while before we’re back to sharing textbooks one-between-three.
Literally grabbing back the cash, however, is a different story. It’s hated precisely for the reasons it was such an attractive cut. It’s an instant, immediate message of contempt to the recipients. Teachers worry about school budgets; students riot over EMA. It also has a neat un-feature: cutting it simultaneously with the tuition fees issue delivered that rare thing, agreement between student activists and working-class kids. Who came up with this little effort again?
Oh, it’s Gove, although you might have expected better from Vince Cable. (That last sentence is rapidly becoming the motto of 2010.)
The consequences for Lib Dems who got elected on a student wave in 2005 or 2010 are both horrible and foreseeably horrible. They’re now completely unpopular, and have been made to look both evil and ridiculous. So much so that you might have suspected calculation on the Tories’ part, an effort to drive them into a permanent electoral pact. It’s Gove, though - there’s another potential motto for the year.