A Pretty Kettle

If you follow news from Britain, you know that university fees are to be raised threefold.  Yes, three times their current level, which is £3000 (US $4500).  Even Oxbridge universities (Oxford, Cambridge, et al.) charge that rate (though Oxford avers that it really ought to be allowed to charge its wealthiest students an even £10,000 per year).  Imagine attending a top American college for basic yearly fees of $4500 – we’d be over the moon!  But because the UK has placed a high value on third-level education (as opposed to the US, where we say we do, yet permit universities to charge what they believe the market will bear, thus driving university education way past inflation rates and ultimately harming the US), it has held rates down.

Now comes the shock. A threefold increase means yearly fees of £9000 ($13,500).  Still a bargain at US levels, but if you’re a Leeds parent who’s saved £9000 for each of your children’s education (American students take four years to get an undergraduate degree; UK students take only three), imagine the surprise to find you’re asked to pony up £9000 per year per student.

If you’re a student contemplating getting education loans, especially in this economy, £9000 is a much bigger stumbling block than £3000.

What are students and parents doing? They’re writing letters, of course, getting in touch with their representative MPs (Members of Parliament), phoning, tweeting, and Facebooking in massive numbers. They’re also protesting in slightly smaller numbers, actually showing up on public streets and marching with placards.  All legal, all part of Western civil rights, the kind of event prohibited in, say, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. You remember political protests and demonstrations, surely?

Apparently the UK police do, too, and they’re not fond of the memory. They’ve reacted in banana-republic ways (videos taken at the time show it): smashing their truncheons into heads, legs, and soft parts; using water cannon; and creating a slo-mo vileness called “kettling”.

Kettling is a tactic whereby police, often mounted on horses, sweep protestors into an open area, fence them in, and closely restrain them for hours. People are smashed together, standing. They are not allowed food or water or bathrooms. They may not seek shelter from rain or snow. They are not allowed to leave, no matter their age or condition. Even if they were swept into the kettle by accident (leaving a shop, for example), they are penned in.

A recent kettling occurred at the ramp of Westminster Bridge. There were screams from those who thought they might be forced over the railing into the River Thames below. As people were wedged even tighter together, there were fears of suffocation and shouts of “Hillsborough” – Hillsborough Stadium (Sheffield, England) was the site in 1989 of a disaster where 96 soccer fans were crushed to death due to police mismanagement of the entryways. Not only did demonstrators risk faintness from lack of water and food, they were in fear for their very lives. Meanwhile, their booted tormentors watched, many of them on magnificent tall mounts.

Takes you back, doesn’t it, to little events that occurred in continental Europe during the 1930s and early 1940s?

If lawsuits against UK kettling rise through British courts to the attention of Strasbourg (where sits the European Court of Civil Rights), there is little doubt that this practice will be outlawed. 

For now, if you visit the UK, be careful not to get caught in a kettle. The police won’t care a bit that you’re not demonstrating.

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