Hell hath no fury, than a scorned student, or rather the collective fury of scorned students. Now I can exclusively reveal that British students are busy working on a scheme designed to cause maximum discomfort to the Liberal Democrat politicians they believe have scorned them. The votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords may have taken place, and the universities set to become the playthings of the market, but some students, now working with veteran activists out of sight of the Westminster radar are intent on revenge. Infuriated that future generations may be forced to pay up to £9000 (before interest payments) in tuition fees, while Scottish and Welsh students will pay the same as now – and German students currently pay a totality of five hundred Euro in tuition fees – student activists are planning a New Year campaign to hit Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats where it hurts.
A co-ordinated campaign backed by key officials from the National Union of Students aims to flood the constituency parties of Clegg and other Lib Dem MPs who voted for the tuition rises in university towns such as Sheffield, Bristol and Norwich, with new members. The aim is deadly; to de-select sitting Liberal Democrat MPs, forcing the local parties to adopt new candidates. In addition to seeing what success may derive from attempting to “recall” individual Members of Parliament on the claim that they deliberately mislead electors in promising not to increase tuition fees, the “de-capitation strategy”, is seen by some student activists as more likely to succeed.
“Why wait until the next election?” one student activist told me “Of course we will do our best to mobilise students to vote out Clegg and crew come the time. But this is more immediate, and while we are still students. If we are successful, Clegg and others simply won’t be able to stand at the next election”. If de-selected, Clegg and colleagues could stand as Independent candidates, or even as National Liberals, but this could be a risky strategy.
Radical students are in the process of adopting the tactics of the Militant Tendency, which in the late 1970s and early 1980s, succeeded in infiltrating sufficient supporters of the Trotskyite grouping into constituencies in Liverpool, Bradford and Coventry, in order to de-select sitting Labour MPs seen as too right wing or establishment supporting. Their task may ironically be easier now, since in joining local Liberal Democrat constituency associations the students cannot be barred for being a “party within a party”, and also because in common with most of the Westminster parties, local constituency parties are often shell organisations with very few, mainly elderly members.
The Sheffield Hallam constituency party represented by Nick Clegg is now the number one target seat for the students, who ironically have had planning and coordination meetings with veteran activists who cut their teeth in the late 1970s and 80s, fighting far left infiltration of the Labour Party. According to one student; “These guys were active in some of the bitter skirmishes in east London and Merseyside at a time when politics was fought in the raw. Just because they are older, doesn’t mean that students aren’t listening to them – not least since some of them are their lecturers!”