Last week, young people across Scotland reached the end of years of schooling and were presented with their final grades. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, these results were based not on a summer exam series, but on predicted grades from teachers and subsequent moderation by examining bodies. As many as a quarter of grades were lowered, hitting working-class pupils in poorer regions and schools the hardest. Further south, A level and GCSE students are still awaiting similarly-calculated results, due for release on the 13th and 20th of August respectively. But, with individual pupils’ futures at the mercy of wildly varying school averages, the most disadvantaged students are facing even more barriers to higher education.
By Sean Meleady
While Marcus Rashford has been making headlines with the campaign that led to a government u-turn on free meals vouchers, community groups are working hard to make sure that free meals vouchers are provided to families that need them during every school holiday, not just while the Coronavirus pandemic is in the news.
Across all of the contradictory actions taken and advice given by the UK government in response to COVID-19, there is one recurring theme: emptiness. From clapping for a financially dire NHS, to confusing slogans, the government is keen to portray the national response to this crisis as a unified effort with the consensus of the public, healthcare staff and politicians. It seems a sense of morale is being treated as the antidote, rather than investing in real measures to protect the public from ill health. These meaningless gestures in place of action are costing lives, particularly of the working classes.
‘I was still standing. I’m shot, I thought, I’m shot. I reached down and touched my stomach. Blood. There was a small hole, slightly charred, in my white shirt: my Paul Smith shirt, I thought, with a pang of anguish. I’d paid a week’s salary for it in San Francisco.’
A novel preoccupied with appearances and the dark realities they can conceal, it is no wonder that clothes are a recurring theme in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. As protagonist Richard notices the gunshot in his expensive shirt at the climax, his ‘anguish’ stems less from the injury to his physical body than to the painstakingly assembled body of signifiers he has spent the novel maintaining; a ‘small hole’ through which his history, in its imperfect secrecy, is exposed.
Although UK universities boast that their online teaching provision is adequate to the current crisis, deep-rooted inequalities in the class system cause the poorest students to suffer the most. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, working-class students are faced with more challenges than usual, and are also less able to access online teaching than their middle- and upper-class peers. Despite their disproportionate struggle to engage with remote teaching, universities are refusing to show leniency with deferrals and adjustments, feigning blindness to a violently unjust class system. The response of universities to this pandemic is insufficient at best, and places those students facing hardship at an even further disadvantage.
The only way to make the word ‘politics’, that great indicator of all manner of corruption and trickery, more contemptible is to plonk the word ‘student’ in front of it. It almost feels like you‘re not pronouncing ‘student politics’ right if you do it without a sneer, or at least a shudder. Student politics has an image problem.
By Lewis Martin
In these days of marketisation and democratic collapse, it’s rare that a piece of news comes out from a university that is so fucked up it leaves me lost for words. But the University of Liverpool managed it, with the news that they’ve been handing down academic sanctions to students who cannot pay their rent.
By Lewis Martin
CW: mentions suicide.
Sometimes targeted adverts reveal to you more than you wanted to know. I’ve recently been experiencing facebook ads for Future Finance, a company that offers loans of up to £40,000 to students, with an interest rate of 17.45% APR for all the time that you’re studying. To put that in perspective, if you borrowed £7000 over 5 years, you’d have repaid a stonking £11,223 by the time you’ve paid it off. This eye watering example reveals both the current state of Higher Education financing and a frightening future that is increasingly intruding on the present.
As a child, I always looked forward to a visit to the National Museum of Scotland. An hour’s journey to Edinburgh was always a small price worth paying if it meant passing a wet weekend or day out from the holiday among dinosaurs, dioramas, steam trains and robots that could spell your name. Since then the museum has undergone countless changes, but whenever I return, I can always be certain to discover something new.
However, those trips to the museum were much more than just a fun day out. I can confidently say that they were a major formative influence for me, particularly in inspiring my love of nature. Without the influence of the National Museum of Scotland, I would not be who I am today. I can also confidently say I’m not the only one. I speak for countless others whose interests, whatever they are, were inspired by visiting trips to a museum.
by Jonathan Lee
Content warning: this article mentions racism, discrimination, oppression, and racial / cultural slurs.
“If the Welsh are striking over hunger, we must fill their bellies with lead” are the famous words Winston Churchill never spoke, about sending in the Lancashire Fusiliers to put a swift end to the 1910 Tonypandy miners’ strike.
Though he never advocated firing on the miners, he did send the soldiers to the picket line, and was definitely still an imperialist, eugenically-minded war criminal. The only reason the quote is mistakenly attributed to him so commonly is because it is so utterly believable. It typifies the contemptuous colonial attitudes held by the man himself, and the English parliament, for the Welsh and the working class.
Wales was England’s first colony – the template for later British imperialism. Many of its basic strategies were forged here in England’s closest and very first colonial asset, before being exported all over the world.
by Alex Powell
The number of students starting at UK universities has increased dramatically in recent years, despite a slight fall recorded this year, and is set to go on increasing as universities increase their intake. The government has heralded this as an example of the increasing availability of higher education to students coming from working class communities. However, we have to ask what impact the increase in student numbers is having on the quality of education provided by universities.
by Lewis Martin
This week, former education minister Lord Adonis decided to reopen a debate that was seemingly long-dead. During a report to a House of Lords Committee, he stated that the decision to allow polytechnics to become universities 25 years ago was “a very serious mistake”. This problematic claim reveals the real views of someone who has lately been seen as posing significant challenges of the higher education sector’s issues.
CW: mentions sexual harassment
A teacake and a portable phone charger. Unlikely objects to trigger a tirade against the state of academic practices in the UK, but here you are, about to read one anyway.
by Lewis Martin
Back in March, the MinoriTory government announced the idea of running fast track two year degree courses in the hope of saving students money. Last week the Times Higher Education supplement revealed that surveyed students from lower socio-economic backgrounds would be more likely to take this option up if it existed. Could the Tories’ apparently hare-brained scheme in fact be justified?
We’ve just got through the new Tory annual tradition of having the nation vote on internal party issues and having the result batter the incumbent Prime Minister. And, whilst the result is somewhat bittersweet with comedy boob-patting socialist Jeremy Corbyn – aka ‘the future liberals want’ – tearing chunks out of the Conservative mandate, we are still left with a government formed of a crypto-nationalist, sexist, and regressive party and an actual nationalist, sexist, and regressive party.
The truth of the matter is that no one was sure what would happen before the election, or during it and now we’re on the other side it’s only fitting that British democracy remains chimerical, confusing and dare I say it, unstable (take that May!). As such I’d like, as I do every fortnight, to say a few words about the current position of the Arts.
by Toby Gill
When Theresa May announced her snap election, I was travelling across Japan. At the time I was spending a lot of time on a variety of very slow trains (the famous bullet trains were somewhat beyond our budget). This gave me a lot of down-time to ponder my electoral choices, and consider which way I should vote. It also gave me a lot of time to read the latest tome of modern history I had picked up: Martin Pugh’s State and Society; a social and political history of Britain since 1870. It is not a politicised book; it markets itself as a rigorous work of academic history, designed to introduce new undergraduates to the period – a task it performs superbly.
However, this is a politicised book review.
by Hannah Rose
Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit—aka Sh!t Theatre—are Generation Renters living in Windsor House on the Woodberry Down housing estate in Hackney. Their digs are dirty, cramped, noisy and downright dangerous—thankfully, the pigeon netting saved one of them from a fall off the balcony (which, incidentally, is covered in pigeon shit).
The kitchen is “fucking disgusting,” not to mention expensive at £1200 a month. This however, is the standard experience for thousands of London dwellers who have no hope in securing affordable, safe housing in England’s capital city. In Letters to Windsor House, Louise and Rebecca crack open a window and shine a light on the London housing bubble via this renegade piece of political theatre—a stimulating medley of storytelling, reportage, video, and Oliver inspired songs.
By Lewis Martin
This month Oxford University, in conjunction with the Sutton Trust, launched a summer school aimed at attracting more “white, working class boys” to the university. While this has received praise from some sectors of society, it does not address the real reasons why working class people (not just boys or men) are not attending universities like Oxford.
by Robyn Banks
“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer.”- Mikhail Bakunin
There’s a new buzzword in the air. We are now living, it is claimed, in a post-factual or post-truth society, where facts no longer matter to the general public. At face value it seems like a bizarre claim. But while politicians and the media have always lied to the public, if you consider the audacity of the lies of the last decade in contrast to the sheer number of tools available to us to find out the truth, you begin to see the point.
There’s something darkly comical about Michael Sheen’s intention to abandon acting in favour of defeating the far right. An esteemed actor, deeply immersed in the world of theatre and art, jetting off to Port Talbot to tell working class Welsh people, caught up in a wave of revolt against the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’, what to do. It couldn’t be any more counter-productive if the embodiment of this elitism, Tony Blair himself, had made the journey — although I suppose someone who has played him is good enough.
by Tara Debra G
“Flags don’t build houses”, said Jeremy Corbyn last year, criticizing Scottish nationalism and the SNP. Well, no, they don’t, but neither does an unelectable party, so swings and roundabouts really. But he does have a point: nationalism as a political framework doesn’t inherently support leftist values, or the working class, or is particularly anti-capitalist.
In fact, the strongest argument I hear against Celtic nationalism from the English left is that it doesn’t solve the foundational economic equality at the heart of class oppression in the UK. I’m a Welsh nationalist and I agree. But the left shouldn’t care about Celtic independence because it’s intrinsically anti-capitalist, because it’s not that – the left should care because leftist ideals should encapsulate anti-imperialism.
We live in turbulent times. Just months after Britain decided to leave the EU, as well as the recurring popularity of Australian anti-immigration pundit Pauline Hanson, it was now America’s turn to tread down a similar right-wing path — this time by electing everyone’s favourite media darling, Donald Trump, as President.
As President. Of the United States. Oh how far we’ve sunk.
But is there actually a rational reason for wanting to elect a racist, scare-mongering serial womaniser out of sheer desperation of the times we’re living in? Or maybe there are other things everyday people are getting fed up of as well. Perhaps people have even become jaded with liberal culture as well. Nowadays it is often a shallow parody of its former self. It’s often hollow, intellectually-sterile, idealistic, immobile and sometimes even commercialised in the media.
By Robyn Banks
I’m in the break room at work choking on my out of date sandwich. I’ve just been informed by two of my colleagues- good, down to earth working class people who probably think I bang on about my degree too much- that Boris Johnson is a “lad”, and I have no idea what to say. But none of us have any money, I want to shout. And he wants us to have less! Before I can respond, the conversation moves on to laughing about his hair, which is much more tolerable. Later, as I complain about Trumps victory, I am told that all I want is for “everyone to sit in a circle and hold hands”.
Globalisation has generally been unkind to the young. Yet, as a demographic, we took its side in the EU referendum. Because ultimately the union has positively shaped our culture, as global business, and academic ties, bought international communities together all over Europe. This type of integration has profoundly enriched the way of life in the metropolis. But it would be incorrect to think that people all over the country are benefitting in the same way, because this level of cohesion is politically disallowed from crossing beyond the city confines. Indeed, the impact of globalisation, and the nature of integration, has been overwhelmingly detrimental elsewhere in the country.
by Emmanuel Agu
Perhaps not in its inception, though undeniably, the climate change crisis is one of race. The protest today launched by the UK chapter of the Black Lives Matter (BLMUK) stands as a call to arms in opposition of worrying statistics of the UK’s Influence on both global climate change and the local effects — highlighting the disproportionate nature of these adverse affects on communities of colour in the west and world wide.
On Friday June 23rd 2016, millions of us woke up to the rattling reality of a momentous decision: the pound had plummeted to a 31-year low, our young people had lost the right to live and work nearby abroad, and oh yes – the UK as we knew it was now officially in a state of civil conflict. But this isn’t going to be another article about how we should respect the people who voted Leave – though of course we should – nor one that commiserates upon how we’ve tragically lost touch with the ‘underprivileged and disadvantaged’ of us, for the simple fact that it is the sole circulation – and indulgence of – such statements that is fanning the right-wing heat blowing an insidious hole through our country.
by Chris Jarvis
Britain’s EU Referendum was a messy, unpleasant affair. Events that took place, the way campaigns were run, the rhetoric of certain advocates on both sides taught many lessons about the state of Britain. The referendum, and its subsequent result, have served as an amplifier for some unsettling and disturbing aspects of our politics and society – from racism and xenophobia, to the desperation and disaffection felt by people and communities across the country. All of these have had substantial coverage and comment in the press, as politicians and columnists have lined up to blame anyone and everyone – the political class, migrants, the Leave campaign, Jean Claude Juncker, Tony Blair.
by Olivia Hanks
Theresa May’s indication earlier this month that she will reintroduce selective schooling has reignited the debate on ‘social mobility’. Tory backbenchers believe the secondary modern system (or the grammar school system, as they insist on calling it) was good for social mobility, but various reports support the opposite view, that selective schooling entrenches inequality. Of the tiny percentage of children from working class backgrounds who attended the old grammar schools, two-thirds did not manage to achieve three O-levels.
by Emmanuel Agu
Classically, a university education especially one of Russell group or Red-Brick standard universities has been marked as a distinction of class mobility, we know that the those in the upper percentage of wealth in this country are typically high academic achievers. Factually that merit of class distinction has belonged disproportionately to white men; though due to a long legacy of educational reform and positive action to break down these barriers, the goal of societal equality is ever more obtainable.
As Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator states: girls are 30% more likely to go to university than boys, and that BME students remain on the top end of university admission statistics; facts that deserve much celebration as they have been attained largely without positive discrimination quotas. Yet to one who chose to who see facts at only the surface level of the wider situation; this state of affairs only upsets him. He calls on the plight of the ‘white working class men’ espousing rhetoric concerning feminism “becoming detached from equality” and should instead reach to that of bridging the between women and working class men. Similarly in national focus on the BME attainment gap Nelson states, “In spite of all we hear to the contrary, this is a pretty good country in which to be young, gifted and black.”
When I think back on my time in grammar school education, it is not with entirely fond memories. I was a working class, BAME student, whose parents were working tirelessly to make sure my educational needs were catered for — be it my uniform, school trips or even paying the annual school fund. Even so, little could be done on their part to protect me from the overly-competitive nature of the grammar school system; an educational structure that paraded itself as a diverse and inclusive market only out of an innate self-fulfilling prophecy to produce a particular class of intellectuals.
It is this underlying vision for education that further widens the gap between the lowest earners in Britain and those that are at the top. The division of children at the age of 11 to test their intelligence further predates to a privileged notion that intelligence is hereditary, and if not, that it can be bought.
by Elliot Folan
Six years ago, as a baby-faced 16-year old, I remember sitting in two different meetings within a few months of one another. In one of them, a youth magazine I was working on was told that its funding was being cancelled because of the incoming government’s spending cuts. In the other, I sat in my first local Green Party meeting as activists, fresh from losing overwhelmingly in their target ward, talked about traffic lights and solar panels. The contrast between the two meetings — one a reminder of the impact of politics on everyday life, the other a completely oblivious talking shop — strikes me to this day. Though the party initially struck me as directionless, I stayed until 2014 regardless: I believed in the Green Party’s vision, and I hopped around my city (and the country) looking for ways I could help. I explained away inefficiency, poor practice and a frustrating lack of strategy because I believed in the cause. But at the end of it all, the Green Party ended up gaining no seats in 2015.
I relate this story because, as a 22-year old who’s now in the Labour Party, I see numerous people doing exactly the same thing that I did in my teenage years; except rather than doing it with a party, they are doing it with a single man — Jeremy Corbyn.
by Mike Vinti
Content warning: mentions racism, rape
Well, that’s it folks, it’s official. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and one step closer to wiping out all sentient life on earth, sorry I mean one step closer the US presidency. It’s been a pretty terrifying week watching the Republican National Convention, even on this side of the Atlantic, and the hate levels are only set to rise as the human whoopee cushion begins his flatulent rampage towards the Whitehouse. Now, it’s been clear for sometime that the Republicans were going to have a cloud of methane with a wig floating on top for their nominee, however all the pomp and plagiarism (looking at you Melania) has got us thinking about what music should play in a presidential election, particularly one with such apocalyptic overtones.
On Saturday 9th I took part in the Anti-Racism and Anti-Austerity March in London, and it was during this event that I met two lovely young ladies of colour – one was Irish-Palestinian by descent (whose parents were both Catholic and Muslim) and the other was a Moroccan-French Muslim. It seemed rather fitting that, on this day, I chose to march against creeping racism in post-Brexit Britain alongside other people of mixed heritage.
For a long time, I have been a strong supporter of a so called ‘#Lexit’ from the EU, rejecting both the capitalist stance of Cameron, and the mainstream xenophobic leave campaigns. Nearly all discourse surrounding a Left Exit of the EU is dominated by Liberal Remainers, who ignore the genuine voices of the working class which is tired of decreasing living standards and austerity measures across Europe.
On May 28-29th, the Black Students Conference happened in Bradford, where black student delegates across the country congregated together in the conference hall of Bradford Hotel.
We listened to BME activists and journalists discuss about their own experience of oppression, institutional racism, and the hard, arduous path that led to Malia Bouattia’s victory as the first black female president-elect of the NUS. This included renowned journalist Gary Younge, who delved upon the progression of black activism and condemned the forms of racism existing in right and leftwing media. Younge later received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
We went through rounds of motions and amendments. We voted for our new committee members, including the Black Students Officer, now Aadam Muse. Most contentiously, we debated about political blackness and its relevancy or outdatedness within the movement’s campaign structure.
As someone who prides themselves on coming from a Black, working class background, I can honestly say that my attitude towards wealth, especially inherited wealth is not as big a deal as many may think. I am fully aware that an institution such as university is a privilege, which in itself brings together people of different backgrounds and different experiences in their upbringing. That in part is what makes the experience of being a student all the more interesting — being invited into a world unbeknownst to you.
In that respect, university life is a microcosm of our society: people of differing economic status and political alliances co-existing (for the most part). As I said, my attitudes to wealth are largely unaffected, but I cannot deny that I have noticed that attitudes towards wealth from students who come from a ‘privileged’ background, often come with the feeling of shame.
by Chris Jarvis
Last night, my Facebook timeline erupted. It’s customary for this to happen every once in a while, typically following an international atrocity or a major political event. Instead, this time it was in relation to the news that beloved Norwich music venue The Owl Sanctuary is set to close its doors at the end of January. Waves of solidarity swept across the internet, with the venue’s lengthy, emotional and angry announcement on their Facebook page being shared more than 2,000 times within three hours. Friends, musicians and fellow Norwich public spaces all joined in to stand with their venue and condemn its closure. I couldn’t express my rage.
I went to see ‘Suffragette’ with a lot of mixed expectations. I’d heard the reviews weren’t that great, my mum described it as ‘slow’ and there’d been criticism for the lack of BME women in the film (zero). There were also issues of Carey Mulligan’s accent and the fact the film was advertised as having leading roles by herself, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter. These may seem like minor points, but they reveal deeper issues beneath their surface.
For a political analyst who swears by the idea that only parties on the centre-ground can win elections, Labour may just be about, to coin a phrase, to write the most-signed suicide note in history. Jeremy Corbyn, an opponent of the Blair-Brown ‘modernisation’ project and staunch advocate of socialism, is the front runner to become the party’s new leader, with odds that started as 100/1 becoming so short that Paddy Power has already paid out bets made in his favour over three weeks from the announcement of the result.
by Mike Vinti
Earlier this week it was announced that Virgin Money will be putting out a series of credit cards bearing classic Sex Pistols iconography. The reaction to this has been pretty much universally horrified, as well it should — but really, what did everyone expect?
From the start the Sex Pistols were more about the image than integrity, they swapped Glen Matlock, the band’s only songwriter, for Sid Vicious because Matlock wasn’t punk enough; they let Malcolm McLaren run the show so long as they got paid, and last time anyone even thought about Johnny Rotten was when he did those fucking butter adverts. Virgin Records was the home of the ‘Pistols following their split from EMI and released the bands only studio album to date, the only thing shocking about the new credit cards is the fact it took them 30 years to come up with the idea.
Now this isn’t to say that the Sex Pistols are without merit. Or that you shouldn’t be disgusted by the prospect of some yuppie Richard-Branson-wannabe popping into his local branch of ‘Champagne and Fromage’ to buy some brie with his new ‘Anarchy for the UK’ credit card. But can we please let go of the idea that punk begins and ends with Johnny Rotten and co?
by Chris Jarvis
Almost immediately following the realisation that Labour had lost the General Election, various figures within the Party’s parliamentary ranks began licking their lips at the prospect of ascending to positions of leadership. With the dust largely settled, there are four announced contenders for the impending power struggle — Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, and Liz Kendall, with Tristram Hunt all but announcing his candidacy on Question Time this past Thursday.
Although they vary in style, the minority of prominent issues and in the degree to which they purport reactionary views on welfare and migration, all of these candidates are firmly placed on the right of the Labour Party, both within parliament and outside of it. None of them are proposing a radical separation from the political trajectory the Labour Party has been on since the establishment of the New Labour project.
by Freddie Foot
The dismal election results are not only apparently a victory for ‘blue collar conservatism’ but potentially also Blue Labour or a renewed variant of Blairism. Two of the initial favourites for the leadership of the Labour party, Chucka Ummana (who has now removed himself from the contest) and Liz Kendell, are Blairites, and the media has been a flood with Labours failure to connect with ‘aspirational’ voters and business.
Labour seems to be moving to counter what is admittedly a genuine threat of Blue Collar Conservatism driven by collapse of organised Labour and a relatively socially liberal Conservative party. This leaves a (by no means new) gaping hole fit for a truly progressive movement.
by Katherine Lucas
Since its formation in 1993, UKIP has prided itself on its anti-system rhetoric.
Under Nigel Farage’s wisdom, UKIP has latched onto fears about immigration, and in doing so, has done enormous damage to the working classes. Put simply, inciting racial tension is in no way beneficial to a social group that includes people who come from all over the world.
Perhaps it should be of little surprise that a party run by a former inner-city London stock broker do not have the interests of the working classes at heart, but that is certainly not in line with his promises. Through exercising ‘divide and rule’, Farage has injected tension among those who previously stood a better chance of securing change through collective action.
by Mike Vinti
Last time round we focused on the explosion of hip hop taking place across the UK, this week we focus on the UK Rap scene’s mainstay: Grime.
Grime initially took off in the early 2000s thanks to pioneering production and vocal stylings of artists like Skepta and Wiley, whose invention of ‘Eski-beat’ birthed grime as we know it. Characterised by double-time rapping and generally sticking around 140 bpm, grime is hip hop’s faster, louder, and often far more hype cousin. Unfortunately, I was eight years old in 2002 and subsequently missed out on a lot of ‘OG’ grime. In better news however, after a lull in which the closest thing to grime you’d find on the radio was Wiley’s rather ill-considered attempts at pop, grime is back. With it comes a wealth of fresh, young, talent, raised on the genre’s roots and unafraid to experiment.
by Mike Vinti
Debate has been raging in the US over issues of cultural appropriation in hip-hop and popular music, particularly with regard to the roles of white artists in a traditionally black genre. This debate is a vital one and has highlighted many of the inequalities present between black and white musicians, actors, and other cultural figures. British culture faces its own issues around appropriation and representation, not just of race but of class. The relationship between class and culture in the UK has always been a complex one. From tales of working class hardship by the likes of Charles Dickens and Alan Bennett, to the idolisation of that landed gentry life by the likes of Mumford and Sons and the plague of imitation artists that followed their break into the mainstream, class undercuts British culture as much as it does day to day life.
In the past decade or so however, the evolutions in music and culture driven by the working class have been side-lined in favour of sanitised replicas, stripped of any comment or reflection on the socioeconomic factors that bore them.