Dan Swain writes:
So farewell then, David Willetts. The odious Tory ideologue who masterminded the Higher Education reforms has been shuffled off, to be replaced by Greg Clark (who?). Here’s why we’ll never forget him:
By the time I got to the Tory party HQ on Millbank on November 10th 2010, the first wave of occupiers had already been ejected by the police, and a friend commented to me that we were probably going to have to make a tactical retreat. And then more people arrived. Kids started kicking the doors and windows in; flares were lit; official NUS stewards plaintively appealed for us to proceed along the agreed route. For a brief moment, we were winning. The myth that we were all in it together went out of the window along with half the Conservative Party computer system, and everyone was forced to choose whose side they were on. By all means, let’s assess what we could have done better; but let’s never forget that beautiful, chaotic, carnival of anger at the political establishment.
2. Not being able to speak. Anywhere. Ever.
‘Two Brains’ fancied himself as an intellectual, at home in seminars and lecture halls, able to make the case for his reforms, if only people would listen. What a shame then, that people rarely did. Indeed, most of his attempts to appear at universities went pretty badly, with several ending in chaos as protesters drove him out. He must have got pretty used to this – if you look at the video from Cambridge above, he’s already given up after a minute. Still, the academic commitment to free speech didn’t extend very far. The Met Police had to pay out thousands to protesters after a Willetts appearance in SOAS, while Cambridge University decided to demonstrate their commitment to free speech by suspending a student for over two years (leading to this exquisite take down of the whole idea of free speech for the powerful).
3. The New College of the Humanities
Expensive, privileged, profit-making, and parasitic on public institutions, the NCH was everything Willetts wanted for our education. Announced with much fanfare by a group of super (boring) academics, the NCH was to be an elite institution in Bloomsbury, charging £18,000 a year. The goal was to provide an education in the liberal arts tradition, with leading academics from around the world. The reality, it slowly emerged, was that the degrees would be issued by the University of London (at at least twice the normal price), the celebrity academics would barely turn up, and the college expected others to provide various essential services. The NCH is the oil-slicked visible tip of the iceberg of privatisation that Willetts has left us with. But still, at least it gave us a useful list of tedious, profiteering, elitist academics for future reference, and an excuse to watch one more video of a lecture hall being invaded.
4. Kettles, Brutality and Violence
No jokes or triumphalism here. The Tories and the Police unleashed massive repression on the student protests. Of course, Willetts doesn’t have full responsibility for this, but it was his policies they were defending. Students were brutalised, hospitalised, and criminalised, and a generation were taught to hate and fear the police. If we’re honest, the movement hasn’t completely recovered from the beatings it took in the winter months of 2010, and many have had their lives irreparably damaged by it. Walter Benjamin remarks that the role of a revolutionary class is to be “the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden.” The best way to remember David Willetts? Revenge.