(The three main party leaders anxiously gaze outside as Nigel Farage is forcibly removed from the party for wearing another hideous tweed jacket)
The Labour Party recently announced that if elected, it will lower the tuition fee cap from £9,000 to £6,000. The announcement was met with derision by some university vice-chancellors, who bemoaned the proposal as a threat to top-quality education which won’t help students from poorer backgrounds get into university.
Labour’s tinkering with the broken system of tuition fees is ludicrous, but its ludicrosity is outmatched by the vice-chancellors’ complete lack of imagination. Cutting tuition fees doesn’t help poorer students, they say, but they have absolutely no other solution to put forward. These are smart people, no? If they’re smart enough to criticize a slight decrease in the tuition fee cap, then they should be smart enough to put forward a proposal to make education easier to access.
Their concern for poor students is nothing more than a shameless smokescreen, and it makes me angry that they’d cite poor students when trying to justify charging people more money for the same amount of education.
The vice-chancellors’ idiocy aside, Labour’s policy does highlight something depressing about our political situation: The issue of whether higher education should go back to pre-2010 levels (or, heaven forbid, be free) is no longer part of the conversation, because the two main parties have ruled it out entirely. If you believe in free higher education, well that’s too bad, because the party that wins in May’s general election doesn’t.
This is part of a growing trend of noora kushti in UK politics. Noora kushti is a Persian phrase often used in Middle Eastern politics to describe a situation where the main parties pretty much agree with each other. The same way wrestlers are not actually causing damage to each other out of malice, and are actually pretending to fight for an audience, noora kushti denotes when the same thing is happening in politics – the main parties are pretending to fight, but behind the scenes there’s very little difference between them, and the fighting is merely there to deceive whoever’s watching and garner votes.
But one policy example – tuition fees – does not prove that noora kushti has arrived. That requires the main parties to share the same basic philosophy, the same world-view, with only minor differences between them. A good indicator of noora kushti is if you can’t really tell politicians apart.
So let’s examine their other policies. Both Labour and the Tories believe in…
- Keeping an expensive nuclear deterrent programme.
- Having the private sector run parts of the NHS.
- Cutting the deficit through austerity measures and cuts to public services.
- Imposing stringent immigration controls.
- Capping, cutting, slashing, burning, and burying benefits until they exist no more.
- Tackling climate change only within internationally agreed timelines.
- Expensive tuition fees that entrap students in debt.
- Stringent and unapologetic support for Israel.
- Air-strikes in the Middle East (that often kill civilians).
That’s just a handful of the things they agree on – if you need more proof, feel free to browse their manifestos. I guarantee that once you get past the propaganda speak, you’ll struggle to find any concrete and significant differences in their ideas.
That isn’t to suggest that Labour should disagree with the Tories for the sake of it. Then we’d end up with with an American-style situation, whereby the Republican Party consistently opposes the Democrat’s proposals, even when the Republicans were in favour of the policy before a Democrat brought it up. The opposite of noora kushti (fighting all the time) is almost as bad as noora kushti itself. Both trash democracy.
But it is depressing to see that the main point of contention between Labour and the Tories is not policy, but policy effectiveness. Instead of criticizing the Tories for breaking up families and causing misery through their discompassionate immigration policies, Ed Miliband attacks the Prime Minister for failing to cut immigration fast enough. The policy is not in question – Miliband’s only contention is that he could do it better than Cameron.
Variety between the main parties is the lifeblood of a democracy – what difference does your vote make if everybody agrees with each other, at least in principle?
Noora kushti has been steadily building since the rise of New Labour (that is, Thatcherite Labour). We had a brief glimpse of relief in 2010, when the Liberal Democrats promised a departure from business-as-usual and radical change. They campaigned on a message of hope, not totally unlike Barack Obama’s first Presidential bid. Many became true believers, myself included in my teenage naïvety, and after the election, the Lib Dems were given the chance to decide the result.
They squandered it. Worse, they sabotaged it. They went from a party of radical change to an austerity-supporting, tuition fee-supporting government lap-dog, willingly bending over backwards to support the Tories’ proposals and defending their every failure. Lib Dem MPs voted for the bedroom tax twice. Vince Cable sold arms to human rights abusing countries. The message of hope was trashed amidst austerity and foreign policy hypocrisy (again, not unlike Barack Obama’s first term).
The only other party which could eventually hold the balance of power fares no better. UKIP is comprised mainly of ex-Tories and ex-BNP members, and the party is devoted to dragging the country even further to the right on immigration. Like the other powerful parties, its economic policies benefit the rich and employ a particularly repugnant brand of Thatcherism. This is not a party that can challenge the narrative. It’s partly responsible for the ‘dash to the right’ that Labour is desperately hurrying to.
(Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage engage in an exotic courtship dance with their hands)
UKIP offers about as much remedy for noora kushti as the Lib Dems do: None.
To make matters worse, those parties which hint at real change are unduly scrutinized and shunned. The Greens, the Socialist Workers, TUSC – all receive little-to-no media coverage and can barely scrape together the money for candidates, thanks to their principled stand against cash for favours and shady corporate donations. They want to challenge the narrative, but nobody’s willing to let them try, and when they’re finally given a voice, it’s interrupted an average of seven times per minute.
If the media scrutinized the infestation of noora kushti to the same extent it scrutinizes left-wing parties, there would be a political revolution on every street in the country.
Noora kushti damages our interests and perpetuates the status quo of wage stagnation, austerity movements, prejudice against minorities, and environmental degradation. The parties we put in power are shackled by their donors, and until we vote from our hearts, they’ll continue to get away with murder.
This May, vote for the party that best represents your views, not the party with the best chance of winning. Anything else is a rejection of democracy and an endorsement of noora kushti.