Standing with students against fees and cuts

I was asked to speak at the biggest student demonstration this year on 4 November, and also spoke with some of our brilliant Young Greens, Natalie Bennett our party leader and Shahrar Ali – our deputy leader and a candidate alongside me for the London Assembly.

See the video of what we all had to say here:

Here’s the full text of my speech, paying tribute to student campaigns since 2010 and their role in bringing new life into politics across the country:

Our policy has always been no fees, cancelling student debts, providing decent grants and free education for everyone, at any age. You cannot put a price on the value of education.

You don’t need me to tell you that the Government is hell-bent on marginalising the poorest people in every way they can, and the attacks they have made on access to higher education is one of the most damaging long-term parts of this.

I relied on a full grant when I went to university, but even in the 1990s it was being cut back, and the student loans and other debts I ran up then were a constant worry for me until very recently indeed.

When I ran for Mayor in 2008 I still hadn’t paid it all off, and the effects of that debt on my career, the opportunities I could take, the campaigning I could risk doing, while needing to keep the hours going in my jobs and keep the repayments going out every month, were absolutely clear.

“Now it’s so much worse, three quarters of today’s students won’t be able to pay off their debts even by the end of the 30 year repayment period.

“And now they are converting all the remaining grants into loans and pushing students even further into debt. Driving you further into debt so that even fewer poorer young people will dare to take on the risk of even going to university. So that even when you have graduated you won’t dare become the active citizens you should be, just the good debtors trapped in whatever jobs you can find that can keep the repayments going.

And apart from fees and cuts, your living expenses are the new way they are seeking to impoverish and exploit you. Student rents I think are the next great scandal.

You are right to stand up today and say no to all this and all my solidarity and that of my party is with you.

“I am standing for Mayor again next year because politics is exciting again, and I put a large part of that down to students as well. When I last stood we were just at the very beginning of the new ways of organising the Internet makes possible

“Hope and change then – in the 2000s – were vested in the existing political parties and we know how that ended up with Blair, Obama – and let’s not forget the LibDems – getting people excited one by one and then carrying on with business as usual once they got into power.

“It does seem different now. The reason I am excited about politics again is that the people are now organising themselves and forcing change, not waiting for it to come from above. Jeremy Corbyn himself knows that the election within labour was part of a people’s surge that put him at the front of it, not created by him leading the way.

“It’s the same people’s surge that has made the Scottish referendum, in the longer term, a victory for the 45%. It’s the same surge that has seen my party’s membership triple in the last year. And I think the first origins of this people’s surge, which has had so many effects on all kinds of politics, are right here in the universities – in London and all around the country. In the student occupations starting in 2010.

“Those occupations were new, disruptive and revolutionary – on and offline. They inspired me then and the people involved have continued to inspire me as they have worked and organised in many of the most exciting movements now.

“We can see young alumni from then, and their counterparts in the student movement today, at every action, in every campaign and spreading the word that we can defeat the establishment to activists like Occupy, Focus E15 and threatened residents on estates like Cressingham Gardens, West Kensington, and Sweets Way, whose occupiers I witnessed being evicted just a few weeks ago.

“We have a crisis in London in so many ways: housing costs, social cleansing, scandalously low wages, cuts to everything and air pollution all threaten our social fabric and our health and wellbeing.

“I have said that London is at the vanguard of these crisis and will be at the vanguard of how they are solved. And I believe the vanguard of that was and is our young people.

“Please stay active and radical on fees and cuts and rents and don’t give up. If we value, work with and listen to you we can build a better education system and a better city together.”