As i walked along York Way towards Kings Place Gallery, i was confronted with smoke bombs and Nick Clegg hanging from homemade gallows.
Unfortunately, this was not the real Nick Clegg. Instead, a lifelike dummy complete with suit and tie; a protest at Nick Clegg’s betrayal of his election promise to vote against any rise in tuition fees. The protesters chanted “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” and “take away EMA?! We say, no way!” and brandished banners emblazoned with “shame on you for turning blue” and “Clegg, do not con-dem us”.
Kings Place Gallery is a very modern building; white, well-lit and very clean. We were offered copious amounts of free wine upon arrival, and titbits including duck and brie. Upon being offered a chicken and mushroom crositini, Nick Duffy remarked “where are we?!” Our invitation from Unlock Democracy had not warned us of the importance of this occasion and nobody had told us to wear suits! I was here, along with Nick Duffy, to listen to Nick Clegg talk at the Hugo Young Lecture; an annual event in memory of Hugo Young, a journalist and senior political commentator at The Guardian. The event was hosted by The Scott Trust, The Guardian and Unlock Democracy: David Cameron had been the guest speaker last year.
Inside the imaginatively named, ‘Hall One’, we managed to get seats three rows from the front. A perfect view of the modern wood stage complete with its wooden panelling, green lighting, leather armchairs and two different types of water bottle on the table. As the lights dimmed Liz Forgan, chair of The Scott Trust, took to the stage. She welcomed everyone, especially Hugo Young’s family which included his new grandchildren. Her pause after informing us that Nick Clegg would be the speaker for the evening was met with silence, broken by the crying of one of the aforementioned grandchildren. Nick Clegg himself was met by polite applause when he took to the stage wearing his traditional navy suit, adorned with a red tie. He thanked us all for making it through the protesters and made a jibe at the students for advocating capital punishment.
He spoke a great deal about education, arguing for a tax funded free education system which allows for parental choice and freedom. The coalition is “setting schools free”, allowing all schools to become academies. He went on to defend the Government's plans for reforming the funding of universities, “even though it is not the one I campaigned for. It is not my party's policy, but it is the best policy given the choices we face." He had a message to the students who are planning another protest tomorrow; “Examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and learn before you shout”. These proposals say that students will not pay anything back until they are earning £21 000 a year compared to the current £15 000; will allow for £150 million to lower financial obstacles; abolish upfront fees for part-time students; and for those universities that charge above £6000, there will be stringent criteria to make them open the doors to the many rather than the few. These proposals will make higher education “even fairer” than before; “Higher education is a powerful engine for social motilities. Our policy will make education open to everyone”.
Nick Clegg’s favourite word in his speech was “progressive”. He pitted the new progressives against the old progressives; arguing for progressive politics; “Is it possible to be progressive when money is tight? I will argue yes”; “There is nothing progressive about saddling the next generation with our debt”. Personally, the best word he used all evening? Shibboleth*.
*Shibboleth - Any distinguishing practice which is indicative of one's social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.