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The student voice has made itself irrelevant

Friday 11th March. A freshly-purchased bagel plummets to the ground, its owner’s mouth agape with shock, as a motorcade of two black Jaguars and three police cars comes to a halt outside Bramber House, at the University of Sussex, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary manoeuvres herself from the back seat of the Jag, the door held open by her chauffeur.

Her trademark steely expression belied by a contrite posture, she looks rather silly with East Slope her backdrop, rather than the Palace of Westminster.

With a hurried, underhand gesture, she signals her chauffeur, and he obliges, handing her a large megaphone. Taking several steps backward into the middle of Refectory Road, she holds the megaphone to her mouth, inclines her head to look toward the roof of Bramber House, and, her voice now amplified, she addresses the coven of students gathered there, the patches of red felt affixed to their jackets quavering timidly in the early-spring breeze.

This is the Home Secretary speaking. Please leave Bramber House immediately. Your gallant occupation of a centrally-heated, minorly consequential university administration building for two nights has captured hearts and minds the length and breadth of the country, and, as a result, the Home Office has decided to ignore the repercussions of setting such a precedent, and will now agree to your demands: Luqman Onikosi will not be deported, and we will turn our immigration policy over to No Borders Sussex. Oh, and something about tuition fees…”

Or perhaps not. The neutral bystander, however, might be forgiven for thinking this to be the realistic aim of this latest visitation of hobbyist protest to plague Sussex.

I call it a plague because of its aesthetic similarities to the bubonic variety of the aforementioned: rancid spots of black and red invade the body and the campus, before eventually taking the nerve centre by storm.

One can only express the deepest sympathy with our mediaeval ancestors that the similarities did not extend to efficacy; there would have been so much less suffering if the Black Death had given up after two days as well.

**

The point remains a valid one, though, however creatively I choose to make it: what exactly is the point? First, the occupation of Bramber House, and, second, the protests in London last weekend over David Cameron’s tax avoidance demonstrate to us exactly how irrelevant the student voice has become.

Valiant though both causes are, the University of Sussex still hasn’t released any kind of statement in support of Onikosi, and, even if David Cameron resigns, it won’t have anything to do with the Rainbow Coalition of the Eternally Aggrieved who descended on Whitehall last weekend, demanding his resignation, and ending up just having a rave instead.

The success of protests rests crucially on winning over the support of the public at large, and the public at large have never cared less about what students think or say. What’s more, this motley crew of fair-weather fools have only themselves to blame.

First, a caveat: I am not speaking out against protest. No, protest has a vital part in any society, and our great democracy is built on the blood, sweat and tears of a thousand protests, from the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, to the million-strong march against the Iraq War in 2003.

Governments remain scared of popular protests, as they threaten to coalesce public opinion against them in a manner whose expediency is matched only by its ferocity. I am speaking out against counter-productive protests, and the problem is this: student protests aren’t popular, and so the Government doesn’t care.

Let’s look back to the mass protests of last May, after a majority Tory government was returned for the first time in 23 years. I said it at the time, and I say it again now: What were they protesting against?

There was a democratic, free and fair election. All sides had the opportunity to engage with voters, get their message across, and ask for the electorate’s support.

The answer is, of course, that the protesters just weren’t happy with the democratic result. How dare the electorate spite them by voting for the Conservative Party? How dare they deny them the pleasure of watching David Cameron unceremoniously ejected from Downing Street? And so they took to the streets, their technicolour parade resembling a cross-section of the gobstopper most people watching wanted to shove in their mouths.

They threatened MPs, and defaced war memorials, all as part of a protest supposedly to actually capture hearts and minds.

This is not the behaviour of a serious protest movement committed to winning over public opinion; this is the tantrum of a few ideological idiots who didn’t get what they want.

Storming round, chanting “anti, anti, anti-capitalista” while you throw heavy objects at the police is no way to get the moderate public on your side, especially when they think students have it pretty good anyway; it just makes you look like a toddler in a hoodie, in dire need of a smacked bottom and 10 minutes on the naughty step.

We saw this spoilt and entitled attitude again, in their vicious and vituperatively abusive reaction to the brave article of my colleague in contribution, Lucy Williams. Was it offensive? No. Was it as aggressively vitriolic as this piece? No.

Its only crime was to disagree; to call their occupation counter-productive; to breach the bubble of their self-enforcing delusion, with the hurtful dagger of cognitive dissonance, and tell them what they know deep-down anyway, that their hobbyist protest achieved absolutely nothing, except demonstrate to all and sundry that Onikosi’s campaign is backed by the sort of people who don’t mind interrupting the work of others for two days, and can afford to do nothing for those two days themselves.

Watching them trudge dejectedly down the stairs on the 11th March was a very odd experience, as they sung “Power to the People” like the victims of a moral outrage on par with the historic Trail of Tears. Yeah, right – maybe if the Trail of Tears had ended in cosmopolitan Brighton.

Of course, the explanation for this is that they don’t really care. From tuition fees, to the Prevent strategy, to tax avoidance, our crop of scandalised, self-identifying socialists really couldn’t give a toss.

They enjoy the edifying veil of victimhood, as they’re mostly so privileged that they’ve never been able to wear it before they met so many others so keen to engage in this charade. As long as it’s exciting, it makes them feel like they’re part of a nascent revolutionary movement, and sufficiently left-wing to justify invoking the name of HRH Caroline Lucas, they’ll turn up in droves, invigorated by the prospect of a day of making noise and exchanging Instagram follows.

It’s a monumental circle-jerk; they do it because they have so much time on their hands, which is precisely what the people they need to persuade for their protests to achieve anything lack.

And so, we come to the central problem. By repeatedly alienating precisely the demographic most vital to win over, they have become the equivalent of the boy (or girl, or individual who tirelessly insists on not identifying in the binary) who cried wolf.

From the dungaree-clad Sloanes who pop a pill for the day, to the red-and-black-shrouded anarchists who are more interested in packing smoke bombs, student protests over the last few years have been the epitome of how not to win over the hearts and minds of the silent majority, who are famously impervious to what they perceive as either privileged whingeing, or radical, mob violence.

Instead, they have been thoroughly counter-productive, and, by protesting in equally unpopular ways against whatever takes their fancy, engineered a climate in which even when students do speak out about something important, like a death-sentence deportation, or tax avoidance by the nation’s leader, no one is actually listening.

Will Saunders

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5 Comments

  1. First of all, I agree that some of these protests may have little to no effect, and might even be counterproductive. But to suggest that the 2015 General Election could not warrant legitimate protest is ridiculous.

    I acknowledge your point about layabout students who seem more concerned by ‘the rebellion’ (or whatever they’re inhaling) than their apparent political cause of the day. Such people irritate me, I must confess. But I don’t assume that every student who takes part in a protest is naive, nor do I assume that their cause is without merit.

    “Let’s look back to the mass protests of last May, after a majority Tory government was returned for the first time in 23 years. I said it at the time, and I say it again now: What were they protesting against?”

    I wasn’t there and I can’t be sure, but even I can take a guess. Can’t you?

    Perhaps the election of a Conservative government on 24% of the national vote (its most narrow result ever)? Combined, perhaps, with that government’s election manifesto (promises of hard[er] hutting austerity and the perception that the Conservatives had decided upon young people as an easy target, among other things)?

    “There was a democratic, free and fair election. All sides had the opportunity to engage with voters, get their message across, and ask for the electorate’s support.”

    Many people feel that our electoral system is extremely unrepresentative, unfair and undemocratic, given the diversity of the modern political climate. As you are a UKIP member (from your article on TheTab), surely you should recognise that First Past the Post is on its last legs (the one time I ever had the displeasure of meeting Nigel Farage was at the Vote For Change Convention in 2009, where he was arguing exactly this; supporting democratic elections through proportional representation), and the 2015 election offered its most fractured and unrepresentative parliamentary result in history.

    The Electoral Reform Society calls the 2015 General Election, the “most disproportional election to date in the UK, [wherein] millions voted for smaller parties only to see their efforts result in single-digit representation, and a majority government returned to Parliament on less than 37% of the vote and with the support of just 24% of the electorate”.

    I am dubious of anyone professing to know what “the silent majority” (who in ‘merica apparently support Donald Trump) think or feel. Perhaps the public really do hate students, or hate anyone who protests about almost anything. But why should people let that stop them protest? A century ago, suffragettes were extremely unpopular. They were the subject of very negative media campaigns, and they threw bricks at police, set fire to post boxes, etc.

    I am not suggesting that the students concerning this article have a political cause comparable with women’s suffrage. On some days – I suspect – they cannot decide upon what it is they wish to protest about. But not all students who engage in protests fall within this camp, and to suggest that people who are committed to campaigning or protesting a political cause (which many students are) should cease their activities because they might be perceived as unpopular, is ludicrous.

    Reply
  2. So, if we (Sussex students) speak and do not immediately receive the response we desire in the highest form, our speech is irrelevant?

    Ridiculous. The protests on campus over #DontDeportLuqman drew national media attention, led over 400 lecturers across the UK to campaign against his deportation, and shed light on the amount of other students who have been, or are due to be, wrongly deported.

    Sure, Theresa May isn’t pulling up on campus, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening as a result of our voice. Even if speaking up doesn’t always bring the happiest ending, it does a lot more than silence.

    Reply
  3. Just brilliant. I went to the University a few years ago now. This kind of lazy protest culture has really brought it down the rankings. It’s a real shame…

    Reply

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Sorrel Linsley - September 17, 2018

Boredom is impossible when you throw yourself into everything this weird and wonderful city has to offer. The specific and unique cultural wonders of Brighton are indeed…

Oh, baby, baby, did you see Britney at Pride?
Arts
1782 views
Arts
1782 views

Oh, baby, baby, did you see Britney at Pride?

Anastasia Konstantinidou - September 15, 2018

During this year’s Pride Festival, Brighton had the honour of welcoming international pop star and voice of the early 2000s, Britney Spears, to the main stage. Undoubtedly,…

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
4031 views1
Campus News
4031 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Written by the News Team. Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for…

Vote Like A 4-Year Old Might
Comment
738 views
Comment
738 views

Vote Like A 4-Year Old Might

leo2r - December 11, 2019

Words by Oscar Johnson   If we teach our children from the outset to help each other up and to share, why can’t we practice that in…

Exhibition Focus: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters
Artist Focus
339 views
Artist Focus
339 views

Exhibition Focus: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters

gracesowerby - December 10, 2019

One hundred and seventy years after the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood first exhibited their paintings, London’s National Portrait Gallery are celebrating the divine feminine muses of this historic art…

My Top 10 Albums Of 2019
Arts
685 views
Arts
685 views

My Top 10 Albums Of 2019

leo2r - December 9, 2019

It's been a great year for music, with many new artists releasing strong debut albums and promises of a prosperous career. We're only a few weeks away…

Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Arts
387 views
Arts
387 views

Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

leo2r - December 8, 2019

Words by Rosanna Weber On October 4th, Nick Cave released his latest album Ghosteen, a double album, his first since Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus in 2004. Unlike…

Live Review: Temples @ Komedia
Arts
451 views
Arts
451 views

Live Review: Temples @ Komedia

leo2r - December 8, 2019

Words by Luke Edison   This Monday 2nd December, Komedia’s doors opened to Temples, a psychedelic rock band originating from Kettering, Northamptonshire. Having heard about their mesmerizing…

Sussex Ranger Takeover
Culture
328 views
Culture
328 views

Sussex Ranger Takeover

Rory Hinshelwood - December 5, 2019

By Rory Hinshelwood, Rosie Bettis, Zoe Taylor, and Max Morris-Edwards This week the team behind new-blog-on-the-block, Sussex Ranger hijack foodies focus to introduce their guide to student…

Should some reality TV shows be banned?
Comment
403 views
Comment
403 views

Should some reality TV shows be banned?

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

The Big Debate is a regular Badger feature which brings the spirit of competitive debating to the printed page. Two writers tackle a contentious topic, representing polarised…

Elitist campus accommodation
Comment
642 views
Comment
642 views

Elitist campus accommodation

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Eric Barrell With my tutors going on strike over casualisation and unequal pay, and my own struggles in cheap halls with near constant maintenance issues, I…

Let’s vote for manifestos, not idols
Comment
416 views
Comment
416 views

Let’s vote for manifestos, not idols

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Issy Anthony - Comment Sub-Editor I want us to question how we look at politicians, and more specifically, political leaders. This is the first election I…

Monitoring our monitors
Comment
542 views
Comment
542 views

Monitoring our monitors

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

Ruth Walters discusses the work of Sussex Sweatshop Free and their involvement with tech workers’ rights Sussex Sweatshop Free is a student-led campaign group working to raise…

Less work, more play: the 4 day week
Comment
394 views
Comment
394 views

Less work, more play: the 4 day week

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Will Day With Labour’s proposal to implement a four-day working week, the concept of working less for the same pay has been thrust into the public…

The knife crime crisis
Comment
262 views
Comment
262 views

The knife crime crisis

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

Joe Pearce discusses the ethical debate around ‘stop and searches’ Knife-crime is a sensitive topic, one often dividing opinion nationally. To combat gang-wars and possible intent to…

Bloodshed and tyranny in Colombia
Comment
494 views
Comment
494 views

Bloodshed and tyranny in Colombia

Rebecca Spencer - December 4, 2019

By Laura Lucia Rodríguez Peña Colombia has a long history of war and conflict. Nevertheless, in 2016 the National Government signed a peace agreement with the biggest armed…

Authentic cities and towns in Japan
Culture
9654 views
Culture
9654 views

Authentic cities and towns in Japan

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Vanessa Hung Always popular with travellers, Japan is a country with world-class cities, stunning landscape, spectacular natural scenery. Whether you have been to Japan before; or…

The evolution of iPod
Culture
198 views
Culture
198 views

The evolution of iPod

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Josh Talbot In the modern age of streaming technology, it is hard to imagine a time where there wasn’t an exhaustive library of songs literally at…

Brighton international eats
Culture
1215 views
Culture
1215 views

Brighton international eats

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Maaya Takata From vegetarian or vegan restaurants to cosy cafes for afternoon tea, from casual brunch to fine dining, Brighton offers various types of places to…

What’s going on with Falmer Moat?
Culture
155 views
Culture
155 views

What’s going on with Falmer Moat?

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Alana Harris  As the observant amongst us will have seen, the previously empty moat surrounding Falmer square has been filled with water. Many may be intrigued…

Christmas in Brighton
Culture
124 views
Culture
124 views

Christmas in Brighton

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Cloe Grampa Christmas is just around the corner and it seems that everywhere is getting into the festive spirit, but if the fairy lights around town…

Campus under Siege: Hong Kong Universities become battlegrounds
Culture
531 views
Culture
531 views

Campus under Siege: Hong Kong Universities become battlegrounds

vanessahtl - December 3, 2019

By Charlotte Brill Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests are showing no sign of fatigue. Over the past few weeks, University campuses across the region have become the flashpoints…

The Largest Maternity Scandal in NHS History
News
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News
182 views

The Largest Maternity Scandal in NHS History

Becca Bashford - December 2, 2019

  By Angel Woo, Staff Writer. An internal report leaked by The Independent has revealed that at least 42 babies and three mothers died at Shrewsbury and…