Abolishing Tuition Fees is Wrong, But Wise for Corbyn and Labour

During an election where the Tories wanted talk of policy to be non-existent, and leadership to be scrutinised by the public, it was two policies that ultimately set the tone for the exit poll. One being the so called ‘Dementia Tax’, and the other being Labour’s pledge to abolish University tuition fees, something which was popular with younger voters. Tuition fees were actually introduced by Labour back in 1998 – although they had been on the cards for years, and were introduced a much lower cost than we see now. It was the coalition government of 2010 that tripled fees to 9k a year, and it was the Tory government of 2015 that decided to remove this cap, and scrap maintenance grants for students.

Corbyn’s Labour has had a distinct position on this since day 1; he wants to abolish tuition fees and has also mentioned before, although it’s not policy, that debt for current graduates could also be removed. And one thing it certainly did do, was enthuse younger voters. 16% more 18-25-year olds turned out compared to 2015, and one of the main reasons for this was because of policies they felt they could get behind, this arguably the main one.

There’s no doubt it’s popular, and that is why Labour and Corbyn continue to use it. But just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right, and it’s clear that abolishing tuition fees would not be a smart move. Firstly, it’s not a cheap pledge. According to Labour’s manifesto, the move would cost £11bn, and if Corbyn were to go ahead with removing debt for graduates, that is estimated to cost up to £100bn, a quite frightening amount. If both Labour and Corbyn are serious about reducing inequality in our society, there are many areas to focus on, and tuition fees are not one.

Let’s not forget also, going to University is a privilege, and should stay that way. Going to University means access to first class lecturers, specialist facilities, and world class resources. Going to university is solely benefitting the student, and is further improving their opportunities from the education they already have. Why shouldn’t students have to pay for this privilege? As highlighted by Hannah Putrus, if you commit to going to higher education, you’re making the conscious decision that the benefits of the degree outweigh the debt that comes with it.

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Still a Long Long Way to Go!

It’s no doubt that Thursday night was a very positive night for the Labour Party. When the snap election was called, the Tories were 15-20 points ahead in the polls, and a landslide was on the cards. Even when we all started heading to the polls on Thursday, most were expecting that Theresa May would increase her majority, and Labour would lose seats up and down the country.

Alas, the result was very different, and the likes of YouGov and Survation were proven right. When the exit poll came in, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. When the exit poll came true, I still couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I was one of those expecting at least a 60+ majority for the Conservatives and May, and I was so happy to be proven completely wrong.

I didn’t expect Corbyn to excel like he had throughout the campaign, and I didn’t expect the youth to turnout in the way they did – both are good signs going forward. Especially the fact that young people are turning up to the polling booths, I just hope that they continue to do so, even when the leader isn’t Corbyn. Young people are the reason for Labour’s huge increase in vote share, and they must stay if Labour are going to continue to move forward.

What truly does worry me, is that so many on the left, and so many in the Labour Party seem to be viewing Thursday night as some sort of victory. Yes, the results were better than expected, but let’s stick to the facts. The Tories won; they have the most votes, the most seats, and they are once again back in Number 10, albeit propped up by the DUP. Labour still lost. And there is a still a long way to go if Labour wants to get back into power.

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Time to Think the Unthinkable?

We are now less than a week away from heading to the polling booths, and suddenly, we seem to have an actual contest on our hands. Over the past month, the Tories lead has collapsed. Their average polling lead has fallen from 16% in early April, to just 5.3% now, and YouGov has even gone as far to predict a possible hung parliament at this stage. Britain Elects, who use the polls of polls average, have the Tories increasing their majority to roughly 70, but this is still a long way off the 150+ majority we looked to be heading towards just a few weeks ago. The question many are asking, could Corbyn do it?

One of the main reasons for the turn in fortunes has been both parties’ campaign performances, which like the poll turn, looked highly unlikely a few weeks ago. It’s clear that May’s campaign has damaged her reputation among the public, and the Conservative’s campaign has been to put it frank, shocking. From the lack of costings in the published manifesto, to the dreaded ‘Dementia Tax’, and the refusal to turn up at the recent live television debates, May’s impregnable brand has taken a big hit. For the first time since she took office, more Britons are dissatisfied (50%) than satisfied with her performance as PM (43%), although she does still hold a sizable lead in popularity over Corbyn.

On the other hand, Corbyn’s popularity is on the rise. Last month roughly 15% thought he’d make a better PM than May, this has grown to roughly 35% now. Whether it’s a heck of a lot of media training, unity across the Labour Party, or a willingness to adapt, it has brought improvements. Corbyn and Labour have had a positive campaign so far, although they have been given a helping hand by May and the Tories. Corbyn has shown in the past that it’s within election campaigns he seems to shine brightest, and his performances in debates has shown huge advances.

Another positive for Labour has been their manifesto. As I stated previously here, Labour’s manifesto policies have received widespread support from the public. 58% support re-nationalising the railways, water companies, and other utilities, 61% support the increase in minimum wage, 52% support increasing the top rate of tax, 64% back abolishing zero-hour contracts, 53% want universal free school meals for primary school students, and 59% back better rent control. But the truth of the matter is, we’ve seen this all before. We’ve seen much of these election signs before.

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Incompetence, or Confidence?

Although Labour’s draft manifesto was leaked somewhat early, this week was ‘Manifesto Week’, where the main parties outlined their plans, pledges, and policies for government. The Conservatives launched theirs in Halifax on Thursday, under the banner ‘Forward, Together’, representing the steps the UK takes forward as we leave the European Union in 2019. However, you only have to flip over to page 2 to see the true meaning and message of their election campaign: ‘Theresa May’s Team’. This has been a campaign built on the idea of her against Corbyn, rather than the Tories against the Labour Party.

The Manifesto certainly matched the conservatism brand of politics, but in terms of what the Conservatives stand for, and their audience, it can be argued there’s definite change. So, what were the key pledges? Those with assets over 100k will now have to pay for care out of the value of their house, immigration will be reduced to the tens of thousands, companies will be charged to employ skilled workers from outside the EU, the pension triple-lock will be scrapped, Britain will leave the single market, grammar schools reintroduced, increased funding for education and health, and corporation tax lowered.

Once again, the date to end the budget deficit has been pushed back. In 2010, we were told a surplus by 2014. By 2014, it was 2017. And now, it’s the middle of the next decade. This isn’t the only policy or pledge rehashed or pushed back. The 2015 manifesto said, “Yes to the single market”, and the 2017 manifesto says the opposite. The 2015 manifesto wanted to ‘eliminate’ child poverty, and the 2017 edition wants to ‘reduce levels’. This wasn’t on a manifesto, rather a bus, but there’s no sign of the extra £350 million a week for the NHS; just like Boris, it’s message carrier.

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An Inconvenient Truth

Earlier this week, the Labour leadership released (leaked) their draft 2017 GE manifesto, to a mixed reception, but masses of coverage. It’s definitely the case that Corbynites can’t complain about the media attention the document received, something they have been arguing for since he became the party’s leader over 18 months ago. The manifesto pleased Corbyn backers, and was very radical in terms of the re-nationalisation of entities, and investment in infrastructure, and health. It included pledges to re-nationalise the railways, Royal Mail, and the energy grid, build 100,000 new homes a year, abolish tuition fees, increase health funding, and raise the minimum wage to £10 a year.

It’s fair to say the manifesto is packed full of good ideas, and many of them have received widespread support from the public. Polls since have found that 58% support re-nationalising the railways, water companies and other utilities, 61% support the increase in minimum wage, 52% support increasing the top rate of tax, 64% back abolishing zero-hour contracts, 53% want universal free school meals for primary school students, and 59% back better rent control.

Many of the ideas will also please, and appease the left wing of the party. There will be many Corbyn supporters whose pulses will be racing at the idea of public ownership of the railways, reversals of tax cuts, abolishment of university tuition fees, and big spending pledges. But they’ll be many in the party who see it as letting down the swing voters we need to have any chance of forming a government.

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The Self-Righteous Stain Across the Left

En Marche! Tomorrow is the day that French voters head to the polls again in the second round of the Presidential election, and it’s extremely likely that once the votes are counted, Emmanuel Macron will comfortably win. Not only would it be a great result for centrist politics, echoing that of New Labour, Trudeau, Obama; but once again a fascist right wing leader with the surname Le Pen, would be defeated.

Realistically, this should be a formality. But why are many still holding off from the celebrations? Primarily, because we’ve seen this before. Many are comparing this election to that of Trumps, as well as the EU referendum, and whilst there are similarities, this would be a far greater upset. Remain led Leave by 2-3 points on the day, and Clinton by 4-5 (she still won by 3 on popular vote); but these dwarf the gap between Macron and Le Pen, which is 20+ points.

However, there is one underlying factor across all 3 scenarios, a factor that is currently sweeping across politics. The self-righteous attitude of the hard left.

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Labour must move towards the centre, and the issues that matter

As we all know, Labour’s situation is dire. We trail the Conservatives on average by 17 points in the polls, Corbyn trails May by 40%, and the electorate trust the Tories over us in key areas such as health and the economy. We are roughly 20-25 net points behind our position at this point in the last parliament, and are heading for electoral wipeout in 2020. Most of us hope and pray for the resignation and removal of Corbyn as leader, but this seems a distant dream; so we must work with what we have, and to an extent lessen the damage.

Despite the fact we have a party leader who is hugely unpopular, we have also been let down by the leaderships attitude towards engagement and the media, and their unwillingness to communicate. The last 2-3 weeks have shown a slight improvement in policy and spin, but more must be done if Labour is to stand a chance. We, as a party, are not offering hope or security to voters up and down the country, and this simply, will be election disaster.

It’s important for the left, and for Labour to focus on the issues that matter to ordinary, every-day voters. Too often the left gets distracted by abstract notions, and focus on subjects and policy that simply do not matter to swing voters when they reach the ballot. The current leadership, and the membership, need to realise that hard-left views will never win an election. Labour needs to move into the centre-left, and talk the language of those who we need to vote for us in 2020. Corbyn supporters talk of concentrating on enthusing non-voters, but this is folly. The central ground is where elections are won, and lost.

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