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233
By JonMarcus
Manchester, England
T
hemassive TownHall in Albert Square is a shrine
to this proud onetime manufacturing city’s past industrial
and scientific reach.
Built in 1877 of 14 million bricks, the massive Gothic-
style structure commemorates a legacy of empire that dates
back to the Romans. A statue of the general Gnaeus Julius
Agricola, who consolidated Roman rule in Britain, looks down
from atop the entrance. Above him still reign Henry III and
Elizabeth I. Busts of the physicist James Joule and the chemist
John Dalton, a pioneer in the field of atomic theory, flank
the lobby. The panels of the vaulted ceiling in the Great Hall
represent the principal towns and cities all over the world with
whichManchester traded in the 19th century. Over the face of
the clock in the 280-foot tower is the inscription: “Teach us to
number our days.”
Today, however, the ornate Great Hall is a cacophonous
stew of shouting, jeering, catcalls, and hand-lettered banners
made from old sheets. The anteroom is so crowded with
police in neon-colored vests, it’s hard to make out the mosaic
design of bees on the floor that are the symbol of Manchester
industry. Struggling to be heard above the protesters, the
Manchester City Council is trying to discuss its annual budget,
which will cut $175 million in spending and 2,000 jobs, scaling
back children’s services, highway work and garbage collection,
and shuttering libraries, leisure centers, even public toilets.
“Liars!” shout the
protesters. “Cowards!”
“Hypocrites!” “You are
ruining lives!”
The drastic
measures come in
the second year of an
austerity campaign
meant to reduce a
record UK peacetime
budget deficit that
will hit $235 billion
this year, an amount
equivalent to 11 percent
of the gross domestic
product. That will
compound a debt of
nearly $1.5 trillion. By
2016, Britain’s debt is expected to surpass $2 trillion.
An unlikely governing coalition of the Liberal Democratic
and Conservative parties has responded by making the deepest
cuts in public expenditures since just afterWorldWar II,
slashing about $40 billion a year from the budget, freezing pay
for public employees earning more than $34,000 a year, hiking
May 2011
Austerity Measures
Students protest as a cash-strapped government lets British universities triple their fees
sales and capital-gains
taxes, and increasing
the retirement age
to bring down an
estimated $1 trillion
pension obligation.
They have also
moved to shift
muchmore of the
burden of the cost
of higher education
off the cash-strapped
government and
onto students, letting
British universities as
much as triple their
fees to a maximum
of £9,000, or $14,490,
starting in 2012. The
financing structure
is increasingly similar
to the American one
(with all the associated
problems, including expected declines in diversity), though in
England students will not have to pay the cost until after they
graduate, in increments based on their incomes.
If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the same
principle appears to apply to a budget drafted by a coalition.
This one has succeeded in angering everyone and pleasing
almost no one—including the people who proposed it, who
turn out to have little control over whether universities honor
provisions meant to help low-income students pay. What’s
happening inManchester is only the latest local vestige of the
tempest.
These dramatic changes, combined with the other
public-service cuts, amount to class warfare, say newly
radicalized students, who have taken to the streets by the tens
of thousands to demonstrate against the government. They
swarmed Conservative Party headquarters, breaking windows
and hurling a fire extinguisher from the seventh floor onto
police below. (No one was seriously hurt.)They famously
surrounded a Rolls-Royce limousine heading to the theater
with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the resulting photos
of whose panicked faces were immediately flashed around the
world.
Amajor university town, Manchester has been a particular
hotbed of this dissent, and students are well represented
among the chanting demonstrators at the city budget hearing
in the Great Hall. They’ll go anywhere to make their voices
heard against the tripling of fees, in a movement that is as
stubborn and persistent as it appears futile.
At the University of Manchester’s Roscoe Hall, student
protesters from all over the north of England have been
rallying in opposition to an increase in university fees.
An unlikely governing
coalition of the
Liberal Democratic
and Conservative
parties has made
the deepest cuts in
public expenditures
since just after
World War II.
John Matterson, Black Star, for CrossTalk