Exeposé Comment: What are your thoughts on the multiple arrests as hundreds of student protesters clash with police in central London?
Niall Walker: We live in a country that claims to be a bastion of civil rights and democracy and have invaded countries around the world like Iraq on this basis. Yet at home we silence dissent even when it is in the form of a peaceful student protest. People should have the right to protest without the fear of an oppressive police force or the threat of arrest. Socialist Students supports the protests and fully condemns this crackdown on peaceful demonstration. There is an event planned for Wednesday evening 7pm in Queens Building with music, performances and short films to show solidarity with arrested student protestors and to lay the foundations for a campaign in defence of the right to protest, which we are hoping to build cross-society support for in the coming months.
EC: Over the last few months the economy has shown small signs of improvement. Are you optimistic for the future?
NW: Not at all. The recovery has been built on a record low Bank of England interest rate and more of the same kind of investment in the housing market that created an artificial bubble and subsequent economic crisis. We can expect a similar crisis to happen again in the not too distant future The same mistakes are being made, and we can expect the same outcome, but the questions remain of when and how severe that crisis will be. Anyone who claims, as Gordon Brown boldly did a few years ago, to have achieved an economy within capitalism that has transcended the boom-bust cycle, is living in a fantasy. Anyone who wants a stable economy free from that cycle will have to look elsewhere than capitalism. It’s a systemic issue.
EC:Russell Brand recently called for a total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system. Does he have anything meaningful to say?
NW:Russell Brand’s overall point shouldn’t be disregarded, even if you don’t agree with everything he says: he is articulating the widespread disillusionment the general public have with the financial and political institutions in this country. A YouGov poll taken on 7th November showed that 49% of people say the system as a whole needs major changes (and this doesn’t take in to account those who want minor change), and while no set of policies or ideas has emerged yet which carries that disillusionment forward in a practical way, I think this should be the starting point for a real discussion of what we want society to look like and where it falls short of that now.
EC:Some research suggests that almost two thirds of young people don’t trust our politicians. Do you sympathise with these people? What could be done to get their trust back?
NW:I’m just surprised the figure isn’t higher than it is. This government betrayed young people when they broke their promise and raised tuition fees to £9,000. Their privatisation of student debt represents yet another attack on students, with the contractual terms that we signed up to likely to be altered detrimentally. Young people are further disillusioned by the absence of a credible opposition party. Labour have stated their intention to continue austerity and condemn workers’ strike action. The major parties no longer represent even their own voters. A majority of Conservative and UKIP voters for example have been found to support the renationalisation of railways and energy companies, yet such a policy is not being put forward by any major party. There is a conflict between Westminster’s conception of what policies will help get them re-elected, and what the demands of the public are. Regardless of what you think of who should own the railways or energy companies, the fact that no major party proposes public ownership is a powerful indictment of our political system. Trust is beside the point: a political system which continually lies and is misrepresentative of public concerns will never be trusted, only a truly democratic system will gain such faith.
EC:Were the lecturers right to strike last week?
NW:Absolutely. Given the 13% pay cut in real terms to its staff over the past 5 years (lecturers and non-academic staff), the University’s offer of a 1% pay rise (still below inflation) is disgraceful. For the University to not pay all its staff properly while its Vice-Chancellor receives a six-figure salary plus bonuses, pension, expenses, and a company car is completely hypocritical. The student sit-in that coincided with the strike at the University showed the solidarity between Exeter’s students and the staff.
EC:Is socialism a dream or a realistic goal?
NW:The Socialist Students are tackling very realistic issues. We have campaigned against zero hour contracts, the English Defence League and sexism on campus. While these issues alone do not achieve socialism in and of themselves they show that it is only through the political self-organisation of people in groups like Socialist Students that real change can be achieved. Our goals are wider than just socialism. We often co-operate with other societies such as the Autonomous Students Network, the Occupy movement and Unions to bring about change. The process of activism is more important than the desire towards a largely hypothetical goal.
EC:How has this term gone for the society?
NW:We benefited from a large influx of members following fresher’s week. This has allowed us to lead a number of successful campaigns, including participating in the English Defence League counterdemonstration and our occupation in support of staff strikers, which gained national media coverage. We run weekly public meetings on Wednesdays in which we discuss issues surrounding socialism which are free to all students.