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Student occupation and destitution

At 12.09 today I sent an email to my office about a case where a constituent is destitute because there has been a breakdown in the benefits system. At around that time a group of students occupied the office and so it was closed. I discussed the issue on air with one of the organisers of the protest and made the point that they were preventing my office from dealing with some very serious and important issues on behalf of constituents. They, however, decided to continue to occupy the office.

I have been on the train to London whilst this was happening. Clearly the students are not concerned about how their actions are affecting other people. I have not made a formal decision as to how to vote on Thursday, but this sort of behaviour does not make me more inclined to support the case that they advocate.

Comments

Andrea said…
Given both that the coalition is about to make many more of your constituents destitute, and that your party already promised not just to campaign against fee rises but to abolish fees altogether, I rather think that the bigger picture requires a little outrage and occupation.
In addition to what Andrea said the students did not close down the office they allowed people in and out. The office was only closed after the interview that you mentioned. Presumably to stop any more publicity or out of spite on your behalf
John Hemming said…
You cannot expect constituents to explain details of their confidential problems whilst people are chanting.

Nor can we handle confidential phone calls and then like with 6 students in the office.

It is like occupying a CAB.
Anonymous said…
"this kind of behaviour doesn't make me inclined"

Look, did you sign the Pledge or not? Are you a man of your word, or are you just another sleazy politico?

Clegg promised "no more broken promises" ... he didn't say "...unless we are the junior partner in a coalition".

NO MORE BROKEN PROMISES.
Unknown said…
"Breakdown in the benefits system"? No sh!t.
John Hemming said…
Remember that the government has not as yet implemented any changes to the benefits system.
Unknown said…
You pledged, along with all other lib dem MPs to vote against any raise in tuition fees. This pledge directly led to students all over the UK placing their votes with the Liberal Democrats. Your party is currently looking to betray it's constituents.
The coalition will be implementing cuts that will be directly hurting many people. Birmingham City Council will be cutting 26,000 jobs in a city which already has the highest unemployment of any city in the UK. How does your support for the coalition sqaure with your apparent concern for your constituents?

Direct Action against Liberal Democrat MPs and their offices is more than justified.
If you cannot keep your word in pre-election pledges then you should not be in parliament.
John Hemming said…
I have dealt with this issue substantially.

We are proposing a "fairer alternative" much like the NUS scheme.
fresheric said…
Did you really say on Radio 4 that you are considering voting in favour of fee increase in order to 'punish' the 'bad behaviour' of those who picketed your office?

Wow. That's petty and vindictive. So much for Lib Dem principles.
Unknown said…
But John, as far as I understand it, the vote on Thursday is only on lifted the tuition fee cap - it does not include any of the "progressive" measures that your party tout.

Regardless of those measures, the prospect of a £40,000 debt will deter poorer people from going to university.
This is the main issue with tuition fees - it does not matter if the debt does not start getting repaid until you earn £21,000 if the prospect of the debt stops you from going to university in the first place.
A fee/loan system is by nature regressive anyway, as those who are rich enough to pay the fees upfront, or not need to borrow to cover living expenses will not pay any interest, whereas those who do not have rich parents will be paying interest on their loans until they are paid back, meaning that they will pay more than they would pay under a graduate tax scheme.
Unknown said…
Would it not be in your and your constituents favour by targeting the real fraudsters, those who dodge their Tax bills ? With one sweep alone you could keep you pledge, AND get the majority vote for your party all just for doing the job you've been elected to do. I really can't see what problem stops the government from taking action - especially since it looks like the amount lost to Tax Fraud is in excess of 120 BILLION pounds a year ..... Just a thought - the money's out there .... all you need to do is point the hounds in the right direction. Students and people on benefits 'aint it.
John Hemming said…
What is the case is that behaviour as such in closing down my office today cannot be rewarded.

That means that it cannot make me more likely to vote against the motion on Thursday.
NoetiCat said…
Glad to hear that you are not letting this "direct action" nonsense get in the way of the only way you can solve issues, by sitting down with people and talking to them to try and solve a problem instead!
Unknown said…
This is so immature and needlessly vengeful.

You, along with other Lib Dems made a promise to oppose a rise in tuition fees. Your party has broken this promise and students have the absolute right to react in this way.
Smokeysilk said…
Your party had indicated that you might support/abstain the rise in tuition fees. But you've already given your word, a promise to the nation that there would be no rise in fees.

Just out of interest, how much did you pay to get your degree?
Jerry said…
How does occupying an MP's office causing havoc for constituents actually solve anything, yes the Students have a right to protest, but what makes their situation any worse from the thousands of people who may loose their jobs, the thousands of people loosing their homes, or the thousands of people who don't know where their next meal is coming from, you don't see them occupying MP's offices, many of Johns Constituents are elderly, many of Johns Constituents have exceptional problems, some of which the students protesting would not understand.

To me it was a little selfish of the students, for one why should people suffer from the actions of the students.

Whether the Benefits issue of the Constituent John mentions is relevant or not, what ever the constituents problem was should have been addressed the right way, sadly it seems someone who is in a bad way was stopped from getting the help they desperately need, how do you know that person is not now on the street homeless, it could have been that serious.

How does a rise in tuition fee's compare with someone who is in serious need of help, sadly if the students think it is then there is no hope for society as a whole.

John and his staff deserve the right to work and do their jobs without interference, how many MP's do you know where the office door is always open and the staff who work tirelessly to help people every day are available, out of the 650 MP's in parliament I bet you wont find many like John and his Staff.

How many of the students protesting will end up working in an MP's offices in the future, say in 3 years time, how would they like it if they were trying to do their job and a hoard of angry people stormed your work place and caused havoc, what would you do then.

I have no problems with peaceful protest, but the Students really do need to think about their actions, like I said earlier all it causes is frustration and despair for the people not connected with the Tuition Fee issue and then a point will come where no one will listen at all to the students.
Adam O'Connell said…
Like I told John Hemming live on the radio...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GEUq_rZbvw

If there was indeed serious problems that constituents had to have dealt with confidentially, we could have arranged to leave the premises and protest outside.

However, after the radio interview, the premises were ordered shut. I presume by John Hemming himself.

He was condescending and arrogant to me and the students, and he clearly has a vengeful and elitist attitude towards us. Even though it is he who will be breaking a promise.

Talking about destitution, how many more young people and their families will be destitute in the future.

In any case, we were not preventing work being done. Indeed we would have liked it if you did not shut the offices so that when the constituents (that you tried to use as political capital over the radio) came, we could have explained to them why we were doing what we were doing, and let them a private space to talk about their issues.

But unfortunately John was not in a mood to negotiate for the benefit of anyone.
Grow up, John, you sound like a schoolboy. Stop being vindictive and unreasonable in a bid to 'punish' people and take a look at exactly what is happening here.

The proposals are effectively a mask for privatisation of the higher education sector, thinly veiled as a move to increase social mobility.

I'm not posting this, however, to argue against the proposal, I'm posting this to make one point, and one point only:

A large number of people voted for you on the understanding that you would not do exactly what you are about to. The LibDems were very clear on their stance prior to the election.

You seem to forget that this is a democracy, and in a democracy, protests such as this one should not be 'punished'. Perhaps you ought to go with your conscience, and quit playing around with the futures of so many.
John Hemming said…
I asked the occupiers to leave at around 12.30. They were still there some 2 hours later.

There was no negotiation about this. It is simple. By being there they were preventing people's problems being dealt with.
Adam O'Connell said…
You did not ask us to leave, you TOLD us to leave. We remained because you shut the office down with our people inside. You did not contact us thereafter.
John Hemming said…
You did not have the permission to stay. In remaining you hurt vulnerable people. The person in Saudi Arabia was released later in the day notwithstanding your attempts to prevent us assisting him.

I am quite happy for you to talk to his family and explain your behaviour if you wish.

I was on the train travelling to London. My staff were present. The fact that they didn't ask or tell you to leave every five minutes did not mean that suddenly the occupiers were welcome.

We had to shut the office because of your dreadful and selfish behaviour and your lack of concern as to the effect on others.
Adam O'Connell said…
Like I said, we would have allowed these issues to be dealt with. I think it is you who showed a lack of concern (for students, and the specific constituents that you mention) by closing the office completely 'to punish' us.

In any case, we would be delighted to talk to your constituents. My email is axo711@bham.ac.uk - please send me the contact details they prefer.
John Hemming said…
By being there you prevented constituents cases from being dealt with. They have a right to have their cases dealt with without you finding out all of their personal details.

The office had to be closed because you wouldn't go otherwise and the police have other things to do.
Unknown said…
Wow, incredible. Your own constituents, many of whom voted for you largely in part based on the pledge that you and your party made, are so angry that their views aren't being listened to that they go so far as to occupy your office in order to make themselves heard, and you choose to "punish" them by IGNORING THEM?

Talk about demonstrate contempt for many of the people who voted for you.

And incidentally, not ALL of your student constituents occupied your office, but ALL of them will be punished? Sounds you like you've come up with a good way to assuage your conscience.

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