Friday, 26 February 2010

Student Churnalism

This week I had an article printed in the comment section of The Cambridge Student (TCS). I was writing about the importance of a left-wing challenge to the three main parties at the next election, and in so doing, mentioning Martin Booth’s Socialist candidacy in Cambridge.

Put frankly, my article was butchered by the editors. I can live with this. I’m used to articles being changed, cut down, or rejected outright. What I want to focus on is the political nature of the editors’ decision. What they did was take out not only my endorsement of a candidate, but even any mention of Martin’s candidacy and the existence of TUSC nationally. The reason they gave was that, as a neutral newspaper, they couldn’t print any article that endorsed a particular candidate. This is clearly rubbish. No readers will equate one article, by one writer, in one issue, with the endorsement of the whole paper.

In the student press, as in the grown-ups’ media, the main parties get free coverage all year. In fact, one of the first things TCS printed this academic year war a full page given to Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative representatives to explain what their parties would do for students this year. No other, much more active political groups on campus were given the same opportunity. Fine, that’s the editors’ prerogative of course. No-one would argue that it amounts to an “endorsement” of the main parties. But neither is it neutral or impartial.

Student newspapers can be playgrounds for aspiring journalists who write in the same style, about the same issues, and with the same tired arguments that we read in the comment and opinion sections of national newspapers. One blogger for the online version of Varsity, Cambridge’s independent student paper, has illustrated this point well in a couple of recent articles. Firstly, during the recent referendum on NUS affiliation, he likened the leaders of the “No” campaign, who were opposing the NUS from a fairly left-wing standpoint, to early-90s Tories Norman Tebbit and Roger Knapman. This is either deliberately misleading, or a desperately poor analogy, presumably designed to show off the author’s knowledge of big-boy politics. Either way, it’s bad journalism. Secondly, in an otherwise interesting article, he described James Purnell, who recently announced that he would be standing down from Parliament, as “one of the foremost thinkers of the centre-left.” The tired media cliché about Purnell’s supposedly towering intellect can be debunked by a quick glance at this confused and pointless article he wrote for the Guardian. As for “centre-left,” ask anyone who has been affected by his Thatcherite welfare reforms.

I don’t expect student journalists to be particularly good at writing, still less have time to produce earth-shattering investigative pieces. Everyone is learning, of course. But surely showing some imagination, and not producing pale reflections of something I can read in any issue of the Guardian, could stop us all unwittingly getting on the train to Hacksville.

TCS has a self-selecting editorship. In contrast, many other student union papers have their editors elected by the student body. This is a better system, but the idea that student papers must be neutral permeates here too. The Facebook group for one of the candidates running for editor of The London Student wants the paper to be “impartial at its core” but “support student campaigns.” A neutral paper which supports certain campaigns? First one to square that circle wins a prize.

Student papers could choose to be weapons in the fights students wage in their own interests, against their university managements and against the government. They could choose to seek out the less-known views and stories. They could choose to take student politics on its own terms rather than treating it like Westminster-lite. Activist journalism doesn’t mean distorting or ignoring facts. It just means using them for something more worthwhile than a nice liberal academic chat about the nature of representation or what John Stuart Mill said about something-or-other.

To be honest though, I’m not holding my breath.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Can You Believe This Guy?

So a senior Tory MP has lambasted us paupers for not understanding the hectic life of a create of Westminster. Nicholas Winterton, Tory MP for Macclesfield, says MPs need to travel first class on trains to get work done, and so they don't have to mix with the "totally different type of people" one might meet in standard class.

He's right about the peace and quiet though, Last time I was on a train on the Midland mainline, someone had had the bright idea to make three out of eight coaches first class. There were about half a dozen people in each of those three and the rest of us crammed in like sardines. Now I wonder if any of them were MPs.

Believe it or not, Winterton has been on the Modernisation of the house of Commons Committee for the last few years.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Statement from the Executive Committee of the Kicking Hazel Blears in the Face Party

The Kicking Hazel Blears in the Face Party (KHBFP) was set up in 2009 in the wake of the expenses scandal at Westminster. Our aim was to kick Hazel Blears in the face from a revolutionary Marxist angle.

Last week's news that the Hazel Must Go! campaign have selected their candidate for the general election is a significant step forward for anti-Blearsists everywhere.

While this campaign omits face-kicking from its programme, the Executive Committee of the KHBFP have decided that we are willing, in the name of Left unity, to dissolve our organisation into the wider campaign.

We are concerned that ambiguities in the name Hazel Must Go! might embolden revisionist ideas. Sections of the working class might think that we just want Hazel Blears to 'go away', 'stop bothering us' and so on. Such demands are utopian under capitalism. Hazel Blears is an inevitable product of the capitalist system. A kick in Hazel Blears's face is a kick in the face of the bourgeoisie.

The KHBFP has always been wary of substitutionism. We cannot pretend that our few dozen boots can replace the action of the millions of boots of the working class acting as a class. We adopted the slogan: “If you want an image of the future, imagine a boot stamping on Hazel Blears's face, forever.” We cannot hope to achieve this with our current numbers. We would get very tired. But once the masses and their boots move into action, there is no limit to what we can kick.

In the spirit of co-operation we advance some practical ideas for the campaign to take up:

In response to the closure of Corus on Teesside, Middlesborough's football team recently wore Save Our Steel t-shirts during a match. We propose approaching Manchester United, themselves labouring under the heel of a Yanqui imperialist oppressor, to use training balls with a picture of Hazel Blears's face on them. The symbolic gesture of Hazel Blears being kicked in the face will not be lost on the wide layers who want to see it happen for real.

A speaker tour with Tony Benn (“I didn't fight in the war for Hazel Blears to be able to go around without getting kicked in the face”) and Billy Bragg (“Not many people know that the original English flag was a red St. George's cross – over Hazel Blears's face”).

A poster campaign. “Hazel Blears: the face of a rotten system.”

We expect similar announcements soon from the Why Doesn't Hazel Blears Fuck Off and Die Alliance, and the Salford Anti-Blearsist Peoples' Liberation Organisation.

Forward to victory.

Yours with solidarity and steel capped toes,


Sunday, 14 February 2010

TUSC takes shape

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition for the general election is beginning to take shape.

Let's have a look at a couple of newly confirmed candidacies.

The updated list of candidates on the TUSC website includes some of the seats the SWP are intending to stand in. Maxine Bowler will be standing in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, against David Blunkett. Importantly, the BNP's Mark Collett, subject of the Channel 4 documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, will be standing in the same area. Collett openly expressed admiration for the Nazis and virulently homophobic and racist views. There's no doubt that, in Brightside, one of the most working class constituencies in the country, the BNP will be trying to promote itself as pro-worker, a sort of 'Old Labour' for white workers. The need to directly combat this propaganda and prevent the BNP from gaining a foothold in working class communities is one of the most important reasons for TUSC to stand.

The Hazel Must Go! Campaign in Salford and Eccles has voted to affiliate to TUSC, and their candidate David Henry also has the backing of the Green Party. It appears that David has had to resign from the Greens as a technicality, in order to stand under a different name, but they are still backing his candidacy. This is an example of a broad campaign to get rid of a particularly hated MP, but of course it is not just motivated by personality. The campaign's affiliation to TUSC gives it a clear left-wing, pro-working class orientation.

It is not yet clear whether candidates in local elections will be using the TUSC name, or keeping the name of the constituent organisations.

More details on TUSC campaigns as and when!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Junk Mail

Recently we've received through our door a couple of election leaflets from the Lib Dems and Labour. You know the type. The ones that have titles like newspapers, and dates on them, to make it look like they're put out regularly rather than just appearing whenever the parties want your vote.

Nothing from the Tories yet. But then, as the Lib Dems' Cambridge Herald reminds us several thousand times, it's a “two horse race” between themselves and Labour in Cambridge, with the Tories a distant third. They include the obligatory bar charts in case we can't work out what this means. The Lib Dems always do this. In Sheffield Graves Park ward, where they have a comfortable majority, they constantly tell us that “only the Liberal Democrats can beat Labour here.”

Well, yes. You already have. Well done. What have you done for us lately?

Amidst the uninspring localist waffle, the Lib Dems do take the time to remind us, what with this being a town with a few students in it, that they have “reaffirmed” their commitment to scrapping tuition fees. Good to know it was only the leader of the party who wanted the pledge scrapped last Autumn, then.

Moving on from the Yellow Tories, the Cambridge Rose is keen to show what a dynamic, campaigning organising the Labour Party is. Of course, to do this they have to distance themselves from the government. Gordon Brown is mentioned a grand total of once, as the candidate praises his plan for a pathetically low tax on financial transactions. “While the bankers got rich,” local Labour candidate Daniel Zeichner teaches us, “We suffered.”

Yes indeed. And of course, placing the financially sector at the centre of the economy, or rather placing the economy at the mercy of the financial sector, has been Labour Party policy for a long time. But let's not dwell on that, Zeichner pleads. Or even mention it. Labour's “top priority” is fighting the unemployment that their policies created in the first place.

I'm convinced.

And what does Zeichner have to say about a Parliamentary system mired in scandals?

“I don't agree that politics in Britain is broken. Where else in the world do senior politicians attend local meetings, come knocking on your door or sit in your kitchen to talk through the issues?”

I feel a warm glow inside.

A glow of rage.

Both parties are playing the we're-the-best-ones-to-beat-the-Tories game, and neither of them are telling us anything new. Just more bland platitudes about how they're working hard for us. Of course this sot of political language is designed to keep people's expectations incredibly low, so when whoever wins inevitably fucks us over, we're not too disappointed about it.

Fortunately there will be a Socialist candidate in Cambridge, putting forward a genuine alternative.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Occupation against cuts at Sussex University

It seems that an occupation has begun at Sussex Uni as part of an anti-cuts campaign there. The initial statement of the occupiers reads:

We have occupied the top floor of Bramber House, University of Sussex, Brighton. There are 106 of us.

The decision to occupy has been taken after weeks of concerted campaigning during which the university management have repeatedly failed to take away the threat of compulsory redundancies and course cuts.

We recognise that an attack on education workers is an attack on us.

The room we have occupied is not a lecture theatre but a conference centre. As such, we are not disrupting the education of our fellow students; rather, we are disrupting a key part of management’s strategy to run the university as a profitable business.

They’re occupying everywhere in waves across California, New York, Greece, Croatia, Germany and Austria and elsewhere – and not only in the universities. We send greetings of solidarity and cheerful grins to all those occupation movements and everyone else fighting the pay cuts, cuts in services and jobs which will multiply everywhere as bosses and states try and pull out of the crisis.

But we are the crisis.

Profitability mean nothing against the livelihoods destroyed, lost homes, austerity measures, green or otherwise. We just heard we’ve increased ‘operational costs’ – they’d set out the building for a meeting and now they’ll have to do it again

We’ll show them “operational costs.”

Occupy again and again and again.



-All the occupiers of the 8th of February.

More info at the Stop the Cuts blog here and the local Socialist Party blog

Friday, 5 February 2010

TUSC website launched

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has launched its website for the general election.

The site includes the Coalition's policies and an initial list of election candidates.

Check it out here.