Education, Education, Education – Students fight fee hike

Well it is all kicking off in London today on the student demonstration. And about time too. The other week, Britain’s new(ish) Coalition government announced plans to hike university tuition fees up to £9,000 per year.

Understandably, students are livid, especially since one half of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats, explicitly stated that they would not increase tuition fees. Indeed all the sitting Libdem MPs in Parliament signed a pledge not to increase the cost of higher education.

Any cynic worth his salt would be unsurprised at the backstabbing actions of a handful of lying toadying do-anything-for-a-vote Libdems. But the general national feeling seems to be, as Old Rope reads it at least, one of “We expect this shit from the Tories, but not you”.

Pants on fire: Nick Clegg

Now it is all going off in Larndan town as 52,000 students (NUS estimate, you can half it for the TBC police estimate) hit the capital. Conservative HQ has been occupied, some bonfires lit and a few windows smashed. Boohoo. It’ll make the news and the real story, “lying politicians shaft the public again”, will be lost in a wave of clumsy cameraphone footage and TV journo hack hyperbole.

To put the fees hike into some sort of rough perspective, for non-students/graduates or non-UK readers, here are a few notes about higher education in Britain…

Universities in the UK are, theoretically, public. After World War II, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in Britain paid tuition fees on behalf of students in their area. Following the Education Act 1962 they were also legally obliged to pay them a maintenance grant as well, theoretically allowing students from less privileged backgrounds the opportunity to go to university.

In 1998, following the report by Sir Ron Dearing, Tony Blair’s supposedly Labour government sold its principals down the river and introduced tuition fees to students. Again, to the seasoned cynic, Blair’s centre-left credentials were already zero, indeed his raison d’être was to remould the party into something the middle and upper-classes would vote for. But the abolition of free Higher Education even peeved the middle classes, a bit.

Furthermore the student maintenance grant was abolished and replaced with loans, to be provided via a non-departmental government body, The Student Loans Company. The income of each student’s parents was assessed and the absolute poorest exempted from the costs.

Fees were set at £1,000 per year, rising with inflation.

The maintenance loans were to be repaid once students had graduated and were earning over £15,000 per year, at a rate of 9% of income.

In 2004, despite having promised to the contrary in their 2001 manifesto, Blair’s Labour government introduced “Top-up” fees in England and Wales, bumping the cost of studying to £3,000 per year. The Bill caused a stink in Parliament, prompted backbench rebellion, and it scraped through by a mere 5 votes despite the government’s huge majority in the house. The vote was even more controversial since 46 Scottish Labour MPs, whose students were unaffected by the legislation, voted in favour of the Act.

The same old stench of shit was wafting through the House of Commons.

By the 2005/6 academic year, the Student Loans Company was providing £2.79 billion in loans to 1,080,000 students. A generation of young people enslaved by debt before they had even entered the slimy hands of wage-labour.

She willnee work Cap’n!

Leaving aside any political opinions on charging for “public” education, least of all by politicians who got it for free, the system was intrinsically flawed from the off.

There was, of course, no obligation for parents to pay the fees even if they were assessed as being in a position to do so. Some students were therefore saddled with the cost of the fees, paid out of their loan, then forced to borrow yet more to pay their living costs.

Additionally, the government got a wake-up call when, after several years, it became apparent that insufficient graduates were earning over £15,000 a year and therefore not repaying their loans. The limit was duly dropped to the measly £10,000 (currently about the minimum you can earn working full-time with the national minimum wage, though admittedly the NMW was lower at this time).

Graduates were leaving with large debts they would be paying off for decades to come. Though the “Top-up” fees from 2006-onwards did not have to be paid up-front, it meant that the long-term debts were increased. The newly announced system will treble the cost of the fees alone.

Back of the class

Though tuition fees are much higher in some countries, notably the US, my European and Latin-American friends laugh at the notion that in Britain we pay for public universities.

As with all the other public expenditure cuts being wreaked by the government this is little more than a thinly veiled ideological manoeuvre. The Tories are slashing spending as a matter of principal and, by the same token, are more than happy to re-engineer Higher Education to benefit the privileged and wealthy. Good on the students who are taking to the streets to reject these measures.


Update (21.30 BST, that’s 18.30 in Argentina baby!)

This video is from the BBC site. Interesting to hear a fairly articulate student (novel in itself these days) being allowed to talk freely on air and call for direct action (not, it should be noted, violence). Hope the embedding of the video works below

Ricky Martin, Phwoooaaar!!!

Fans of Ricky Martin the world over were shocked to learn yesterday that sales of his last album must be so low his agent felt the need to thrust his private life into public. Could Ricky Martin 17 ( a compilation marking that most important of anniversaries, seventeen years in pop music) be faring so poorly a mere two years after it’s release and five years after his last studio album proper…?

Secondary to this greatest of shocks, is the ‘news’ that Our Ricky (as us diehards call him) is not the thoroughbred red-blooded strumpet-chasing hetrosexual male we all emphatically believed him to be. After allowing a few minutes for this most incomprehensible of notions to settle, we must collectively reassess our lives.

Butch Cassidy & the sun dance

Old Rope cannot be alone in feeling a rush of resentment, anger and betrayal. Martin’s gyrating around with Christina Aguilera on their hit, ‘Nobody Wants To Be Lonely’, gave out the wrong signals  –  just like Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ebony & Ivory’ before it, the song and video were offered as irrefutable proof that the couple were fuck-buddies of the most vigorous order.

What are we to make of such deception…? Are we now to presume that Macca was faking it with Stevie as well? Can we no longer believe a word popstars have rather artfully not said but heavily implied…? That way lies an unthinkable world of duplicity and confusion.

Perhaps this fresh knowledge about Our Rick casts the lyrics of his better known work in a new light. For example this passage:

Woke up in New York City in a funky cheap hotel
She took my heart and she took my money
she must’ve slipped me a sleeping pill
She never drinks the water and makes you order French Champagne
Once you’ve had a taste of her you’ll never be the same
Yeah, she’ll make you go insane.

Nuff said. Scholars and subscribers to Old Rope can take these words, along with the photos accompanying this post, for further study in their bed chambers should they wish.

A man's man

If we may turn briefly to two quotes issued yesterday when the news was broken, before putting this subject to bed. The first coincidentally appearing in this month’s issue of Rolling Stone (in all good shops now!!!!) in which Rickster allegedly states: “These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed.”

This is a sentence so long and clunky it could not possibly have come from the pen of an overworked public relations intern at Mega-Hyper Stars Representation, boshed out one morning over ten lattes and needed at the Rolling Stone news desk by midday.

The reputation of PR types as artful masters of English prose remains unsullied! And, though the sentiments so clumsily expressed within may even be accurate, it does ring a little hollow and smack of paying lip-service to a society that still needs to feign surprise that a (famous) man might be (homo) sexual.

As for the more personal message, written on his website and read by only two million of his closest fans, Tricky Ricky has this to impart: “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am”. 

Old Rope found this statement to be the most ironic of all, being able to say with some certitude that I am not proud that I am an unfortunate hetrosexual male who is very blessed to be who I am not.

Let us allow for a moment’s reflection. In the wake of this devastating news, there are some positives to be gleaned. As my long-suffering Spanish teacher remarked to me as the news broke (rather smuggly, I might add, having predicted it the day before somehow), “On the plus side, I may not have a chance with him any more… but you do.”

Still Livin

Beats on the left

Old Rope has been a busy lil bee of late, partly beavering away (as all good bees are known to beaver) in the shackles of wage labour and partly in preparation for Old Rope’s Big Argentinean Adventure (more of which soon), due to commence early next year. 

As a result, there are countless half written Old Rope posts kicking around, none of which seem to have been thrashed into shape as yet. On the horizon, however, I spy a hung-over post-work-xmas-party morning. From my position of sobriety in the here-and-now this looks like an ample time to sort some shizzle in to shape. Lord knows what I’ll think after all those ales though.

You will also note that it appears from our latest bannerup top that Old Rope is being hunted. Eeep! For older mastheads dig this.

Meantimes, we can all relax in the warm glowing warming-glow of Mr Berlusconi getting panned in the face by a souvenir.  Have a goz here for italian comrades Wu-Ming’s take on events and be wary of Facebook groups being misappropriated (also of note to Zack de la Rocha and Simon Cowell…)

Back soonest…

Your oldest of ropes,

Old Rope


A Load of Rubbish: Binmen and Bates

Photo taken from The Guardian*

Photo taken from The Guardian*

Leeds City Council are currently embroiled in an industrial dispute with binmen after a pay review threatened to slash some employee’s wages by up to £6,000. With refuse workers earning as little as £18,000 per year, the move would push many staff into poverty.  Workers have revealed they would be in a position to start claiming benefits, something a vocal number wish to avoid. Now in it’s sixth week, the strike is beginning to take it’s toll with rubbish literally mounting up in some areas.

Private waste removal firms have been contracted at inflated sums to try and manage the fall-out, clean up the city centre and other rubbish-laden black-spots. Some districts are even having their bins collected sporadically.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that people on jobseekers allowance are being bullied into taking up positions as scab binmen.

The industrial dispute has inevitably resulted in mixed feelings amongst residents, some failing to grasp that the inconvenience they are suffering is not only the fault of Leeds City Council’s outrageous actions but also the whole point of a strike. Old Rope needs no help choosing sides and backs the strikers to the hilt.

The threatened wage cuts seem particularly galling given that the Council is currently engaged in negotiations to buy Leeds United football club’s training ground for £6million.  The move is to prevent the club from losing the Thorp Arch facility, sold off by its previous board members, with a buy-back clause due to expire.  This is tantamount to the Local Authority bailing out millionaire owners of the Division one club who are unwilling to provide capital themselves.  The club’s probable owner, Ken Bates, is infamous in the football world and a man whose motives and practices have long since been in question. The Gaurdian recently reported that:

Bates, Leeds’s chairman, told a Jersey court in January that he and his financial advisor, Patrick Murrin, jointly owned the club’s holding company, Forward Sports Fund, which is registered in the Cayman Islands. Then, as revealed by the Guardian last week, he told the same court in May that he had made “an error” and that Forward is owned by the holders of 10,000 shares who have not been identified.

Though the council are engaged in the charade of due diligence it seems likely that they will cough up the readies, buy out Thorp Arch and lease it back to the club.  Their reasoning is simple to comprehend, they believe the training facilities will be an asset in the city’s bid to host World Cup matches should the finals be played in England in 2018. This move must seem like a kick in the teeth to any striking binman who is being asked to live on 12K a year whilst his council stab him in the back and save tax-exile Bates a few million notes. Old Rope needs no assistance clarifying it’s views on this subject. 

Some say Leeds residents should leave their litter strewn about the city centre, or on the steps of the town hall for councillors to see.  This would not be pleasant for those who work in the centre of town and realistically, most people will not transport their garbage simply to dump it in the streets of their own city. Six people have already been arrested for symbolically leaving binbags on the doorstep of Leeds Council leader Richard Brett, though some sympathetic solicitors have questioned the legality of this.  Remaining on the subject of morals:  With trash-piles mounting, rats and disease a possibility, is it wrong to leave your rubbish to be collected by scab binmen or must one live in filth to back the strikers?

:: GMB union site, with details of the strike fund
:: Keith Allen is performing a benefit gig with a 12 piece band Sunday 18th October, with special guests (Lily Allen?)


* Photo used for illustrative purposes and borrowed from the Guardian website

Searchin For My Baby – Let’s Get Down Dirty and Googlised

If Only Swells had hair like this

If only Swells had hair like this

People come in many shapes and sizes. And equally people come to Old Rope through many different routes.  Some of you come here deliberately and you sick individuals deserve everything you get.  But spare a thought for the poor sods who stumble upon Old Rope quite by accident.

There are many curious search terms that people use to find this blog.  Some are innocuous enough, or typographical errors. George Harrison and Yoko Ono feature heavily, for their sins, and it is some comfort to think that those seeking information about these two individuals will probably get a slightly different perspective than that which they were expecting.

I can only say that I hope the people searching for “roped gigant boobs” (sic) or “I kissed my rappist” (sic) were not left too disappointed.  Nor those who repeatedly search for “young birds fuced” (sic).  Although I can say with relative confidence that whoever did search for that was unlikely to find exactly what they were after on these pages.  Who knows what they may have discovered if they had spelt that last vital word correctly.

Meanwhile, one of you more regular readers clearly uses “the bloody beatles white album” as a means of finding the site, because you are too lazy to save the address in your browser.  I approve of this whole-heartedly, partly as a wilful refusal to adopt any of the many modern methods to make such internet navigation easier, but also since it almost certainly confuses the Google data mining analytics.  Also a Big Up to whoever likes to mix things up a bit by searching for “rope old”.

If anything, Old Rope should use these interesting search terms as a sort of template for future posts. The mob has spoken, after all!  I can see no reason why posts about “funky hair cuts 2009” or “electric light orchestra mashup” or “Helen Shapiro stop and you will become!” could possibly be to the detriment of the site.  And anyone offering to provide more (or indeed regular) “marx capitalism cartoons” would be welcomed with open arms.  I don’t know why people searching for the album Album by a group called Girls should lead to Old Rope (“girls – ‘album’, download”), nor “the eagles are basterd” but I am pleased that people are searching the internet for Bernie Connor and hope they find his podcasts via this site.

To those who googled “the exciters he’s got the power”, “Patti Boyd” and “Zombina & The Skeletones” you are all welcome here.  To he or she who asked “who designed the original hair styles fo”… I am afraid I do not know, but if you find out, please come back and share.

To the person who asked, “what is old rope made of”… stick around and you might find out baby, but I bet it sure is funky.

Update, 17th February 2010: There’s another analysis of the curiousities that lead to Old Rope in this weird post here

Having The Time and Space of My Life (And I Owe It All to…)

Cosmos: Home to heavy shit

Cosmos: Home to heavy shit

I was recently in Edinburgh for the final weekend of the Fringe Festival.  Whilst there, I did a spot of book shopping.  This is often a perilous endeavour, especially when in the company of my old acquaintance, Groovy Groves. Small fortunes can be parted with in just a few hours, sequestered by second-hand book-dealers schooled in the dark arts of mind-control.

On this occasion I acted with some restraint, buying only one paperback, and deliberately doing so prior to my rendezvous with Groovy Groves.  I was browsing in a branch of Fopp when a couple of books caught my eye, both on the subject of erratic afro-ed producer Phil Spector.  I shunned the more official-looking, researched biography in favour of the decidedly cheaper tome, a sort of oral history based on interviews with those who have known the man during his curious life. A snip at only two quid.

The book is entertaining enough, if a little defensive of a man whose behaviour at times appears indefensible.  To the author’s credit, it does not overly rely on the more extreme rumours, myths and legends surrounding this unusual man, giving a more accurate and believable picture of the character behind the infamous stories.  This is not a tale of human tragedy, nor is it an academic analysis of Spector’s career.  But it is vaguely inspiring in it’s retelling of a well-trodden history.  It is only a matter of time before Old Rope is reborn as an eccentric record-producing pop behemoth.  Prepare your ears, ye masses! Your lobes will soon be torn asunder!

Whilst reading this book, however, there have been numerous ‘coincidences’ that have occurred in its wake.  Old Rope does not believe in ‘coincidence’, being enlightened enough to realise that all of Time and Space is pre-planned and ordained by Hermes Agoraeus.  Therefore the emergence of recurrent themes in both the book and my life can only be read as cosmological signs, whose interpretation holds the key to further enlightenment. There can be no other explanation.

In the text, both Lennon and Spector are seen to drink copious quantities of Courvoisier brandy, a liquor I am not particularly familiar with, but one that has suddenly and quite deliberately decided to thrust itself on my consciousness.  Adverts for it have been appearing online, flashing in my handsome face!  Is there no sanctity in the modern digital Agora???

This very day I read of the lucrative and unusual step undertaken by Spector in 1987 with the licensing of excellent Ronettes hit, ‘Be My Baby’, for use in the dull flick, Dirty Dancing.  Less than an hour later I am staring incredulously at my computer screen.  There is a picture of two grown adults in leotards apparently simulating the act of two cats nuzzling. Patrick Swayze is dead.  The cosmos is fucking with my head.