Fees, Lib Dems and Political Islam: The Real Concerns on Campus

Article excerpt

Labour's problem in 2010 was politics and not just policy-bow we understood (or didn't) our relationship with the country, how we were organised, the internal culture, the retreat to a narrow base and even narrower appeal. It is true that "good policy makes for good politics", but renewal demands that we address fundamental issues of how we do politics.

Good politics is not about tactics, opportunism, squaring circles and cutting corners. It is about opening up a dialogue of respect, engagement and action with people that informs us as it inspires them. So when Ed asked me to take Labour's message to Britain's university students, I was enthusiastic.

In truth, I didn't know what to expect. One of the university professors we contacted told me: "We're quite surprised you are willing to venture into the lion's den." I didn't see it that way. I am linking Labour Students with the Movement for Change to campaign for a living wage for university employees such as cleaning and catering staff--real issues.

Liberation campuses

After five visits to talk with as many as 2,500 students at Kent, Durham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Birmingham universities, here are some early impressions. They are not scientific or unbiased--but they are real.

First and foremost, it is impossible to talk to students and not be reminded that university is one of the great social and economic liberations of our age, and that British universities are a great global resource. Students arc, in the main, enjoying the experience. And they are coming to Britain from around the world. When I spoke in Birmingham about my visit to Gaza, up popped a student who was from Gaza--so it is not just the obvious places. Our universities are a microcosm of the global village, so government plans to restrict the number of students attending British universities are met with bafflement.

Second, the idea that students couldn't give a damn isn't true. We organise my meetings through politics and international relations departments, but also widen the net. So physics students (thank you, Hannah) ask about prosecuting war criminals, just as politics students (thanks, John) can ask about ethics. And because this is an open conversation not a political meeting, I would guess that there are not just Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens in the audience as well as Labour supporters, but also a majority of undecided voters.

I do a 20-minute conversation with a professor, then a question-and-answer session with the audience. They don't want a lecture. This section of the population wants a reflective engagement with big issues.

Third, fees are an issue - people don't like them and are worried about debt. I get a question on fees at each meeting, but these young people have more to talk about. Perhaps it will be different for the [pounds sterling]9,000 generation starting next September. …