Like many people in the UK these days, I’m so disoriented by the blitzkrieg of ‘sweeping change’ I don’t know if I’m coming or going half the time. And you don’t need to be a shrink or a conspiracy theorist to guess that that’s the point. Naomi Klein called this phenomenon The Shock Doctrine and indeed, on last night’s news – as the putative ‘implications’ of yesterday’s student protest were being drawn out – one reporter noted casually that there is unlikely to be a widespread and organised movement against government cuts because they’ve cut so much so hard and so fast, each of us will remain stuck in our own little silo, desperately holding the crumbling mortar together.

After all, we know that the human brain – including the bits that produce empathy and respond to unfairness – can only take so much. Too many floods and hurricanes and famines at once, and eventually our eyes glaze over. If the flood’s in our house, there isn’t much room to worry about the famine next door.

I certainly feel that in the arts community. With so many people confronting immediate and drastic change at the hands of a government that has taken few steps to create structures that might support a different model, it’s sometimes impossible to find the space for serious thinking about what students are facing, the challenges for disabled people who a private contractor has pronounced ‘fit to work’, or indeed anyone else in need of public assistance. This strategy makes me think of the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing, whose essential thesis was that if you get the disempowered fighting each other, they’ll never come together to challenge the status quo. Indeed, they’ll reinforce it by proving they can’t even get on with each other.

These suspicions were reinforced on BBC Breakfast this morning by The Times‘s Daniel Finklestein who announced that unless people with money care, the government won’t care no matter how many folks take to the streets. To translate: the basic values this country professes to hold dear are mere decoration, and students who think they can create change or even demand accountability from the politicians they put in power are fools and dreamers.

Blitzkrieg notwithstanding, there are still moments. I haven’t been a student for some time, but I’m nonetheless stunned by the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of a party that purports to support aspiration and claims to be building a more sustainable economic infrastructure and then attacks the one clear instrument of social and income mobility: education. If you look at which aspects of educational training are being targeted, the picture becomes more alarming albeit for different reasons. We learned this week that social sciences, humanities and arts are being hit hardest. Given the role of these disciplines in developing analytical and critical thinking skills, it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that this government isn’t much interested in critical thinking.

If you need any proof of how little influence lowly students have, take a look at last night’s Channel 4 news broadcast presented by Krishnan Guru-Murthy. His sneering contempt for the NUS president Aaron Porter was sickening to watch, and its message was clear: you are nothing. After treating Porter like muck on the bottom of his shoe for a few minutes without ever allowing the discussion to veer on to the more troubling question of education cuts, Guru-Murthy announced that he’d need to mediate the discussion with the MP Nick Gibb, since Gibb refused to address Porter directly.

Now think about it: here are people willing to debate BNP leaders and sundry other extremists refusing to talk to a student leader about a 300% tuition fee hike supported by a party that earned student votes by campaigning against it. Instead, Guru-Murthy limited his journalistic role to providing a platform for Nick Gibb to intone the mantra of ‘tough choices’ forced upon them by Labour profligacy.

The same could be said of the BBC. By focusing their investigative ire on the eruption of violence, the broadcaster managed neatly to sidestep the substantive question of tuition fee hikes and cuts to education. Just as Channel 4 had alleged that the ‘story’ was Porter’s failure to control all 50,000 protesters at ‘his’ event, the BBC chose as its central concern the failure of police to contain the violence. This is why it’s so utterly disingenuous for the media to report that violent protesters made their own behaviour the story. Protesters – violent or otherwise – simply don’t have that power. It was the media who made violence the story.

Given this abrogation of journalistic responsibility, I’ve begun wondering if the ‘blame Labour’ thesis will get more mileage than I’d originally imagined. I admit that I am no fan of the Labour party and was especially troubled by the cynical manipulations of Tony Blair in the service of his zealous fantasies. Nonetheless, I accept that the Labour government was broadly trying to make the UK a better place to live. I don’t doubt that Labour politicians wanted more people to survive cancer and more children to be lifted out of poverty, and for enlightenment values to be celebrated. Whether you think these are the correct functions and aspirations of the state is a matter of debate that’s rightly measured by success, and undeniably informed by ideological predisposition.

What is distasteful, however, is the implicit allegation that Labour did worse than fail: it acted based on malign motives. This verdict of venality bordering on criminality, invariably delivered by a shrill, over-confident and unblinking neophyte whose state-supported education helped get him where he is, is never challenged by a media driven by a Darwinian outlook (Murdoch publications), embarrassment (The Guardian, which endorsed the Lib Dems, and is now left scratching its progressive head), or its own existential problems (the BBC which has had its licence fee frozen, and is in the midst of pension negotiations.)

Before 20 October, I was frightened at the prospect of the cuts and their effect on the issues that feel most urgent to me. But nowadays a deeper fear has taken root and won’t let go. I find myself shouting into the void where debate used to be, and all I hear is an echo.

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