We’ve been told for a long time now that this week will go down in history. And quite rightly too. The cuts put forward so triumphantly by George Osborne on Wednesday could, through their side effects, throw over a million people onto the dole queues.
Ironically, it was politics which stopped me from attending the march to Whitehall on Wednesday in protest at the cuts put forward in the Comprehensive Spending Review. No, I haven’t converted to Toryism; it was A-level politics, and one ruthless teacher for whom I couldn’t get away with handing an essay in late.
So, to my disappointment, it won’t be the camaraderie of the protest march which will go down in memory as the representation of this week. That’s not to say I’ve given up on protests; I’m hoping to lead my school’s contingent at the anti-Browne report rally on 10th November. But when I remember the age of Osborne’s cuts in the far, far future, it will likely be the focus group I attended on Saturday which will first spring to mind.
The event was entitled The Young People’s Convention on Deficit Reduction and Public Spending, and was hosted by the thinktank Demos at Methodist Central Hall. For many, it was a learning curve as well as a consultation, as we were briefed on each issue before discussing and then taking votes on, for example, which benefits to cut.
I won’t bore you for ages with huge detail, so here’s just a few points:
The opinions of the young people involved remained about the same; there was no major conversion. The general consensus seemed to be an acceptance of the cuts, but it seemed their views were more in the way of Labour than Conservatives – people believed that the cuts were too fast and too deep, and that the deficit should be reduced over a long period of time
Certainly around my table (as there were around 100 people i the hall at least, we were seated in this way), the principle of tax rises was considered favourable to spending cuts (at least when these individual cuts were considered), but when it came to talking about which individual taxes would go up, opinion was more hostile. There was a large contingent on my table (ironically, to my left) who cried out shrieks of dismay (by the look on our moderator’s face, he seemed worried that our table would be thereafter considered ultra-right) when it appeared on the screen that an overwhelming majority favoured a graduate tax as opposed to increased fees.
Some did seem worried about the concept of the deficit, and reassured by the Tory proposals to get it down quick. And what this shows us is that the shock politics employed by Cameron Stiffs and Co. have had their desired effect on some. The easiest way to make people accept something is to hype up the danger of the alternative. Make people think that there’s a real crisis, and they’ll be safe if they sit back and let you deal with it.
The highlight of the day, however, in everyone’s eyes, was the text messages. Everyone was given a machine on which they could cast their vote, and in between votes (during group discussion) we could write text messages which would then be beamed to the hall over the projector. Everything was covered – from David Cameron to ‘can I take this pencil home?’, although some rather nasty ones about Clegg and compulsory euthanasia didn’t reach the screen…
Verdict: Informative, educational and good all round – but for God’s sake, Demos, don’t mix up the voting options if you do it again.
COMPERE: A – 80% cuts and 20% tax rises – B—-
AUDIENCE: No… that’s not what it says on the screen!
COMPERE: B – 50% cuts and 50% rises, or C – 60% cuts and 40% rises
COMPERE: Oh sorry, I think it’s too late now – wait, technical team, can we do that vote again?