When writing a lot of these articles about EMA, I am astonished at how easy the claims of the NUS, Toynbee, etc., are to refute. I don't mean that they're easy to refute in that I have made them change their minds, of course, but I mean how easy they are to refute in that they completely oversell their case. If someone came to me and said "look, I know that there's abuses of EMA, I know there's problems, but I really think it is worth having a system where you pay a bit - even a bit over the odds - to get some of these hard to reach kids into further ed" then you could have a reasonable discussion with them and you would probably end up with a system close to what the coalition have proposed - a discretionary fund allocated by need, not by a crude means test.
But no one defending EMA makes that reasonable case. Instead, they claim that abolishing EMA will lead to the world falling in. It is evil, wicked, devastating, punitive, cruel, unfair, pernicious, a tragedy and a travesty. That's what makes their case so easy to argue against. I can very simply show that it is none of the above. Actually, if they made a more limited case like the one I put forward above, it would be a lot stronger and probably end up doing a lot more for the poor kids they claim to represent - but that wouldn't get them any newsprint.
The other thing about this invective inflation (apart of course from such amusingly bathetic lines as "these cuts are punitive, cruel, unfair and inadequately evidenced" and "these cuts are a tragedy and a travesty") is that it means they won't have any words left when the coalition actually does something bad. They're crying wolf. Blimey, if the coalition invade Iran and Pakistan and get us bogged down in two quagmires of a war, there won't be any language left to use for that.
I understand that a lot of these NUS hacks are young men in a hurry and have careers to make, but don't they ever stop and think tactically about what they're doing? What are they going to do when further ed participation continues on its gentle upward slope? What are they going to do when higher ed participation stays constant or increases - as it did after the introduction of tuition fees in 1998? And it's not just in education. In so many areas the Labour left are making predictions that they must realise hold them massive hostages to fortune. It's all very well chucking wild hyperbole about, but when you actually start making predictions, then you're letting yourself in for problems. A saner member of the Labour party made this point -
'In fact we’ve stopped acting like an opposition, and taken up a new line in economic Tarot reading. “The government’s plans will push us into a double dip recession” – Ed Balls. “The Government’s announcement will make a million people unemployed’ – Angela Eagle.
And what if Osborne doesn’t turn over the Grim Reaper? The economy staggers on with marginal growth. Unemployment ‘only’ goes up by half that figure. Our bold predictions will make the axe man look like a skilled surgeon.
We’ve rolled the dice. Instead of neutralising the reduction issue by aligning ourselves with the net Tory deficit level and timetable, we’ve bet the house on fiscal meltdown...What should have been the greatest gamble of David Cameron’s political career has become Ed Miliband’s.'If you go around claiming that we're in for a double dip recession, a rerun of the Great Depression and mass social breakdown, then you make a jobless or low-growth recovery look like a success for the government. If you go around claiming that abolishing EMA will destroy the life chances of half a million kids, then you make an unchanged NEET rate look like a government triumph.
You also alienate lots of people like me. I am a Lib Dem, but in an AV situation - which we already have in London, where I'll be voting in 2012, and which we might have nationally - Labour need the votes of people like me. I used to be a Labour supporter, I am a public sector worker and I am from a working-class background. I want to support Labour. I admire a lot of their traditions. The fact that if things carry on as they are I will vote Tory for my second preference is not just because of the coalition but because Labour have lost touch with reality. I work in the public sector, I care about the kids I teach, and I resent being told I am 'evil' because I support an evidence-based policy decision that has pretty much the same aim as the previous policy.