Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Labour squeaks on tuition fees...

Students should take note of the nuance in the motion Labour has tabled on tuition fees for the Opposition Day Debate today.

Far from showing the kind of brick-wall resistance to Government proposals student leaders want, Miliband’s mealy worded motion indicates nervousness over the issue.

It doesn’t call for tuition fees to be scrapped or lowered, but calls for the Government to “publish a White Paper…before asking the House to vote”.

It makes no mention of students from poor backgrounds being able to afford university, but instead “is concerned that major questions about how the Government’s market in higher education is intended to work remain unanswered”. Powerful stuff.

Compare that to the far more stirring motion tabled by Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards, supported by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, which talks about education “being a right, not a privilege” and you see just how carefully Miliband is stepping on tuition fees.

Firstly this highlights the problem that students face on this issue – they don’t, and have not had for a long time, any solid support from any major political party over fees.

Labour instigated the Browne Review and even the Lib Dems had resigned themselves to reversing their pledge on fees because it’s simply unaffordable.

If students want to make any headway they need to address affordability, not simply complain about who has ‘betrayed’ them politically.

But Labour’s motion also reflects the difficulty the shadow cabinet is having on agreeing its approach to tuition fees. Until they do the Coalition will continue to get an easier ride than it should on the issue.

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