Tuition fees for beginners
I'm well aware that the politics of tuition fees can seem complex, even Byzantine. So, here's my brief, easy-to-understand guide:
The minister who introduced student tuition fees now says a graduate tax may be better even though he once described the idea as unworkable...
he's opposing the man who pledged to oppose any increase in fees who now insists it's the right thing to do...
... who's in coalition with a man who wrote a manifesto promising that his party would scrap fees but is now planning to double them.
Easy really, isn't it?
If you like detail here's a longer version with more facts:
Labour introduced tuition fees having come to power saying it had no plans to do so* and after promising in its 2001 manifesto that "We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them".* Questions to Tony Blair - "Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education?" His answer - "Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education." (Evening Standard, 14 April 1997)
The minister who pushed fees through the Commons in 2004 was Alan Johnson. He admitted later that Labour was open to the charge that it had broken its manifesto pledge.** Behind the scenes he had fought and won a battle with the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown and his advisor Ed Miliband who wanted to introduce a graduate tax. Mr Johnson advised Labour's new leader "for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax"*** and has consistently argued that a graduate tax won't work.****
However, today the shadow chancellor tells the Times [subscription required] that his leader - by strange coincidence Ed Miliband - is right that "there is a strong case for a graduate tax, which may offer a fairer way of sharing costs between individuals and government."
The Conservatives opposed fees - including David Cameron, who wrote the party's 2005 election manifesto which promised "We will restore real choice in higher education by scrapping fees". He and they now say that choice will come by doubling fees.
The Lib Dems opposed fees, then pledged to oppose any increase in them and now say that that is, in fact, the right thing to do even though, they also say, that it's not what they would have done if the electorate had elected a Lib Dem majority government.
Surely this spectacular series of U-turns deserves a doctoral thesis or, perhaps, a long series of sessions on the psychiatrist's couch?
** "Is the party open to the charge that it has broken a manifesto commitment? Yes. Is that crime of a century for a government? No." (Independent, 26 January 2004)
*** "Oh, and for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax. We should be proud of our brave and correct decision to introduce tuition fees. (Independent, 26 September 2010)
**** "Well, I don't think [a graduate tax] could [work]. Frankly, there's a difference of view...I feel it's going to be very difficult to make a graduate tax a workable proposition." (Telegraph, 4 December 2010)