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Anarchy in the UK and on the web – is it more than just a failure (of all parties) to communicate?

Maybe it’s generational but the violent student riots against the UK coalition governments decision to triple the upper limit of university tuition fees and the (largely successful) attempts by Wikileaks supporters to disable the websites of what they see as Wikileaks enemies both seem to be a dialogue of the deaf.

And the parties that seem hardest of hearing are the oldies, the UK government, in particular embattled Liberal Democrat ministers Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, and, in the Wikileaks conflict, the US government and its big business allies.

Let’s take Wikileaks first. Of the hundreds of thousands of mostly US government ‘secrets’ revealed by the US whistleblower very few actually make much difference to anything.

They may make juicy reading but so does all gossip about the rich and powerful. And that’s what most of them are, diplomatic gossip from apparatchiks who are trying to get themselves noticed among the tidal wave of such traffic.

If they weren’t classified as ‘secrets’ then people would pay far less attention.

The whole messy business is compounded by the Swedish government’s decision to try to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the UK on charges of sexual assault.

Well he either did or he didn’t and a Swedish court is entitled to try to find out the truth but it’s a huge bonus for conspiracy theorists. And a huge problem for the Brits.

In the meantime the real damage to business and indeed government is the way the cyber attacks by the Anonymous group have shown up how easy it is to disable huge websites, like Mastercard and Amazon.

This will have sent shivers down the spines of businesses and governments across the world and will make businesses wonder if it’s sensible to do exactly what the US government wants them to, which is exactly what Anonymous wanted.

So why is it a generational thing? Younger people today don’t accept that something must happen, in particular that anyone’s freedom should be curtailed, just because a government says it should.

After all, that’s what we’re always criticising the Chinese for.

And the student protests in the UK are a slightly different aspect of the same phenomenon. Nick and Vince can say that their new system is more fair than the old one (of lower fees paid in advance, theoretically, rather than after students start work) and that it’s more ‘progressive,’ whatever that means, but the students and a large number of MPs aren’t having it.

The bottom line is that costs for students are set to triple so how can this be fair or progressive?

But Clegg and Cable (and their boss PM David Cameron) just don’t get it.

They think they can persuade students this is in their best interests (it clearly isn’t) and, if that doesn’t work, force it through anyway.

Scenes of rioting students interrupting the shoppers at Top Shop in Oxford Street and chucking paint at the Prince of Wales’ car will so horrify the voters at large that students will lose support and slink away in the end.

But that’s what they said about the riots against Margaret Thatcher’s community charge or poll tax in 1990. Shortly afterwards she lost her job.

Students are designed to revolt and it’s at least possible that the majority of people in the UK think they’ve a point. The flaw in Clegg, Cable and Cameron’s communications strategy is that they think they have the best case.

All the persuasive talents in the world won’t help them win the argument if they haven’t. As that young (ish) charmer Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has already found out.

Deaf, dumb and blind.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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