Three cheers for the students!

Wednesday's student protests were absolutely fantastic! Tens of thousands of students from universities, FE colleges and schools streamed onto the streets to defend their education and the rights of generations to come. Congratulations to everybody involved and particularly to those students at Birmingham University who occupied a university building.

The student protests are piling the pressure on our hypocritical politicians. They are an inspiration to everyone to make their voices heard.

It is a disgrace that politicians, who got their university education for free, along with a grant for living expenses that they did not have to pay back, should now deny this to the student generation of today.

Like many parents I am worried about the financial burden of sending my children to university. But there are millions of families on much lower incomes who now couldn’t even dream of finding the money to support their children’s education. These young people will be denied the chance to reach their potential.

This government is very vulnerable over the tuition fees issue. The Liberal Democrats made specific promises at the General Election that they are now going to tear up. They have to be made to realise that their political futures depend on them sticking by their pledges to oppose increased tuition fees.

This movement looks like just the beginning of a wave of protests by young people against the injustice that is being imposed on them. I hope it intensifies and spreads to every corner of the country. I will be doing my very best to support it.

Cut this PFI debt

Time and time again we are told that vital services and valuable jobs have to be sacrificed to pay off the national debt. So why are we guaranteeing to pay an index-linked £267 billion, over 50 years, to a few privileged private companies?

According to George Monbiot, this extraordinary sum is the amount we now owe to private companies that built hospitals, schools and roads under New Labour’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI). He explains that in 1997, “the Labour government gave companies a legal guarantee that their payments would never be cut”. The result is that “the NHS now owes private companies £50bn for infrastructure that cost only £11bn to build, plus £15bn for maintenance charges”.

Monbiot argues that the debts should be declared “odious” (a term used by some lawyers to describe debts incurred without the consent of the people and against the national interest). We should simply refuse to pay them.

When something has to be cut, why should the self-declared risk-taking entrepreneurs be protected? For them, it seems to be all profit and no risk.

That’s unlikely to find any favour with the government – or the Labour opposition who got us into this mess. But these companies have made enough profit out of our public services. We are entitled to ask why we should starve the NHS to keep feeding their greed.

Young people are right to strike back against cuts

The Guardian is reporting that, “Thousands of schoolchildren and sixth formers are expected to take part in a national walkout on protest at plans to raise tuition fees and scrap the education maintenance allowance (EMA).”

I expect some right-wing newspapers will make a fuss about young people taking things into their own hands. Take no notice of them. A new generation is waking up to the fact that cuts in higher education are an attack on their futures. And I applaud those young people who are fighting for education to be a right and not a privilege.

The school strikes against the Iraq war in 2003 are a great example to follow. Thousands of school students poured into Birmingham City Centre after a wave of walkouts beginning at Queensbridge School in Moseley. It was an inspiring moment.

I don’t know whether these planned walkouts against the cuts will be as widely supported. But it is just the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of young people risk having their lives blighted by cuts in education and a squeeze on jobs. They are right to take a stand.

Respect Party conference plans for a year of struggle

The annual Respect Party conference took place this weekend. The conference was smaller than in recent years. I was not surprised by that. There’s a big difference between winning elections and losing – however close or hard fought the contest. We couldn’t quite take a big step forward at the General Election, and that isn’t going to make it easy for us in the coming year.

But I do feel that Respect is shaking off the post-election blues, and there are some exciting developments in the pipeline.

The conference was dominated by discussion of the attacks being unleashed upon us by the ConDem government. It is important to understand the scale of these attacks if we are to work out how to best resist them.

50,000 marched to stop education cuts - that's the big story

The Metropolitan Police were caught on the hop when some people on Wednesday’s student demonstration took out their anger on the Conservative Party offices at Millbank Tower. I am not sure why it came as such a surprise to them.

A lot of people are going to be hit hard by ConDem cuts. Families will be forced from their homes, and priced out of their own communities. Young people will be priced out of higher education, and face the prospect of joining the growing ranks of the unemployed. Millions of people, who thought they could look forward to a reasonably secure life, will suddenly find themselves caught up in a crisis they did not create.

There is going to be anger. There is going to be bitterness. And no-one should be surprised if there is social unrest. You can’t set about casting millions of people into the economic wilderness, while dismantling the protection that comes from our welfare state, and still expect a polite response.

Upwards of 50,000 students and their supporters marched through London. That is a remarkable achievement, and shows that opposition to the ConDem plans is growing, and growing fast.

The media will be full of outrage about the trouble at Millbank Tower. And I don’t think those involved did themselves or their cause any great favour. What is needed is a nationwide movement of millions willing to protest. This will be built by winning the arguments, not by smashing windows.

But any destruction they caused is nothing compared to the damage the Tories and Lib Dems are about to do to our country. And the really big story is that tens of thousands of young people marched peacefully to defend our education system, and to show solidarity with those whose future is threatened by Tory cuts.

Labour MPs disgrace themselves in supporting Phil Woolas

Labour MP Phil Woolas told lies about the character of his Liberal Democrat opponent in order to discredit him. It wasn’t a mistake. He knew what he was doing. The judges decided it was beyond reasonable doubt that he had broken the law, and ordered the election to be re-run.

But, amazingly, Labour MPs are up in arms at the injustice of it all. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, is under attack from all sides for making it clear that Woolas would not be allowed back into the Labour Party even if he won his appeal on a technicality.

It is very revealing to observe the things that really get Labour MPs angry. The freedom of a Labour candidate to lie in pursuit of an election victory would not be top of my list of causes to fight for.

But what really disgraces Labour MPs – and the Labour Party as a whole – is the fact that the election leaflets produced by Phil Woolas were ever thought of, never mind printed or distributed.

Woolas, and the Labour Party in Oldham, circulated disgusting leaflets; propaganda that could only be read as inciting tension between communities. To what depths had Labour sunk when their election agent could say “We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don't get the white vote angry he's gone”?

This revolting attempt to stoke the flames of racism should have produced anger and dismay among Labour MPs. But no, it appears that this kind of behaviour is “all in the game” at election time.

Harriet Harman is right. Phil Woolas should have no place in the Labour Party.

The cuts won't work

"The cuts won't work - they'll just make it worse."

This, in a few short words, is why we oppose the ConDem attack on the welfare state. The attack is driven by ideology, not economics. And with every cut comes more evidence that it is the poorest who will be hit hardest.

For a simple explanation of why these cuts won’t work, and some of the alternatives, take a look at

You can win one of these T-shirts with Respect's November competition CLICK HERE for details

Toxic brew

The rise of the Tea Party is now generating considerable publicity this side of the Atlantic as well. The best analysis I have read so far is this from George Monbiot. It is a fascinating expose of how people who 'think they are fighting elite power are been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting'.

Italian Taliban

For those chasing the Taliban, check out southern Italy. According to this report from the Guardian the Mayor of one small Italian town wants to introduce fines on women wearing miniskirts and showing too much cleavage. He intends to empower police officers to make 'snap decisions' on what is 'modest dress'. Talk about giving authorisation for sexual harassment. You can imagine the joy pervy Italian cops will have with this one. It is no surprise that the Mayor is a supporter of Silvio Berlusconi, a shining example to all of us for the way he has raised standards in public life. My message to the Mayor is this; whether the hijab or miniskirt, it's a woman's right to choose.