Wednesday 3 May 2023

On Dumping the Tuition Fee Pledge

Is that a full house? With Keir Starmer saying the Labour Party is "moving on" from the abolition of tuition fees, that's probably the last of his leadership pledges crossed off and another blow struck against integrity in mainstream politics. I thought it was kids who told fibs, not the grown-ups. Still, in Starmer's race to beat Boris Johnson as the most dishonest politician ever to hold high office there is a question to be asked. With crucial local elections taking place on Thursday, why announce something likely to demobilise Labour votes this close to polling day?

In the context of the voters Starmer is trying to attract for these elections, sacrificing another policy lamb does make some political sense. As explained previously, the Tories' local authority chances have an inbuilt advantage. The Tories draw the majority of their support from the elderly, and while only a minority in the wider population they are more likely to turn out for elections. This is even more the case in second order contests like local elections where turnout typically drops from two-thirds to around a third. Secondly, of the 8,000 seats up on Thursday a plurality of them are Tory defences. Or to put it another way, grounds that might not be too propitious for Labour. These are the voters more likely to keep faith with the right wing press, accept their framing of politics, and be Labour-sceptical. They also, sadly, tend to think young people are spoiled and should spend more time graduating from the school of hard knocks than pratting about at university.

Looking at YouGov's tracker on tuition fees, we find that indeed the over 65s think tuitions fees are "fair" by a decent margin (49% to 34% "unfair"). But among the young, the findings are even starker with fair leading by 17 points. I.e. The Starmerites have polling evidence to say that abolishing fees is "unpopular". Therefore, if the strategy is to chase Tory voters by pandering to them, one might suggest junking another policy that makes life better for people would cultivate favour among this layer.

This is potentially short sighted. One might suggest that fees is a low salience issue for Tory voters. While millions of people have voted for the Tories since 2010, I doubt many of them did so because they trebled university tuition and created a new debt traps for a generation of young people. However, among millions of progressive voters the pledge to get rid of fees was a sign the party had broken decisively with the punish-the-young politics of the New Labour years. This definitely drew in their support, which helped Labour score a much better result than anyone forecast in 2017 and, arguably, ensured 2019 wasn't an even greater disaster by consolidating a new base. In other words, dumping the policy probably won't convince many Tory leaning voters to go for Labour, but it might encourage Labour voters to stay at home or, worse, give other parties a punt.

The second issue is by demobilising sections of Labour's support now, when the general election approaches Starmer is going to have to find ways of re-winning the layers he's put off. That might not be too many right now - 200,000 former Labour members, and a few hundred thousand more ex-supporters - but that can matter in the key marginals, and provide a good solid base for a challenge from the left. Forget repeated establishment attempts to talk up Reform UK, the Greens is where it will be at. And just saying "we've got to get the Tories out" won't cut the mustard. Therefore, Labour are on the cusp of creating an unnecessary eventuality born entirely of Starmer's desire to appear respectable to layers of voters and their establishment herders who'll never support the party under any circumstance. And the more he carries on reneging on pledges and lying, the bigger this problem will become.

Image Credit


Old Trot said...

Excellent, but quite rightly depressing, article, Phil. I strongly suspect, given the continuing , significant, malign policy influence on the now fully restored neoliberal NuLabour Party , of both of those PR men for the global oligarchy, Mandelson and Blair, that that much quoted snide comment years ago by Mandelson that the Left oriented voter simply had "nowhere else to go with their vote" , is still the dominant belief in the Starmerite senior ranks. On this basis it is only the constant chasing of potential 'swing voting', Tory voters , and the caricature of the 'Red Wall' Labour voter as a knuckle dragging , ultra nationalist, bigot, and the approval of the Daily Mail and Sun, that matters.

The same general attitude seems to govern the Labour 'branch office' offer in Scotland too - with no attempt to outflank the now in deep trouble, SNP, to its Left. This despite the utter collapse electorally of Scottish Labour from 2010 onwards by offering completely Tory-lite policies for years. Today in Scotland, in so many local councils, from Edinburgh outwards, voting anything but SNP actually leads to being run by coalition councils with the juicy Cabinet positions simply shared out amongst the Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour , careerist rabble !

Anyone still in any doubt as to what a unconditionally servile servant of the rich and powerful , Starmer, (and his corrupt, cronies too) , is , should really take the time to read Oliver Eagleton's 'The Starmer Project'. A Starmer government will be entirely devoted to safeguarding the neoliberal status quo - so don't expect our NHS to be rebuilt, or local government services, or collective bargaining rights, or support for the disabled or unemployed, or for the rich to be taxed more. Out of this coming disaster, a new mass populist party will eventually emerge , as across Europe. But it won't be of the Left I'm afraid.

JN said...

Granted this is anecdotal, but: As a working class person approaching middle-age it seems very clear to me that my parent's generation had it better than my own, and that my generation had it better than kids growing up today. As a society, we are regressing (in spite of technological advances).

Blissex said...

«my parent's generation had it better than my own, and that my generation had it better than kids growing up today. As a society, we are regressing»

Booming asset incomes and static or more affordable wage costs have been progressing the living standards of millions of voters, and of their heirs, for over 40 years.
Those 14 million voters are not all or even a majority foolishly voting for their own immiseration just because of "culture wars".

As our blogger keeps reminding us, politics is not about so much personality contests and culture wars, it is about material interests, and the sponsors and constituencies that the Conservatives (and New, New Labour and the LibDems) represent care very much about their material interests, and have been outplaying "losers" and "suckers" (such as those who voted for Starmer in the leadership election as a "continuity corbynist").

Blissex said...

“Granted this is anecdotal, but: As a working class person [...] As a society, we are regressing”
«have been progressing the living standards of millions of voters, and of their heirs, for over 40 years»

Perhaps to be more explicit: “As a working class person [...] we are regressing” I can agree with, but “As a society, we are regressing” is quite a different statement, because “society” is not made just of “working class person”s, but also of people who worship Thatcher, Blair and their successors for the great progress in living standards they have redistributed to them from the lower classes.

I keep repeating the point that a large minority, perhaps even a plurality, of people have been doing so well for 40 years, because “we are all in the same boat” and “we are all middle class now” and “the 1%” are just right-wing propaganda to obfuscate the very big difference between that 20-40% of winners and the rest of "losers" and "suckers".

Mass rentierism paid for by large-scale upward redistribution is an important development that many on "the left" as well as of course on the right are keen to avoid discussing (probably they are beneficiaries too).

My usual example of a 79-year-old retired carpenter in Cornwall: «who bought his council house in Devon in the early 80s for £17,000. When it was valued at £80,000 in 1989, he sold up and used the equity to put towards a £135,000 fisherman’s cottage in St Mawes. Now it’s valued at £1.1m. “I was very grateful to Margaret Thatcher,” he said.»

Commenter on this blog: «I raised the problematic policy on my CLP Facebook group. I was stunned by the support for the policy from the countless landlords who were Party members! "I can't afford to give my tenants a rent holiday" "This is my pension, I'll go bust" etc etc. Absolutely stunning. I had no idea how many private landlords there were in the Party. Kinda explains a lot...»

Dipper said...

Sir Humphrey here.

1. How much would abolishing tuition fees cost?

- presumably you are going to cancel all outstanding debts?

2. Where are you going to get the money to replace the fees? Or are you going to cut cancer operations to fund this? How about a graduate tax?

3. What do you suggest happen to those who paid early? Should they be reimbursed? At what rate of interest?

3. Given tuition fees allowed the massive expansion of university education, would you cut student numbers? Which courses?

Anonymous said...


Tuition fees are paid up front by the government and then repaid over time by graduates. There is no cost to abolishing the fees, as the initial cost is already borne by the government.

An increase in corporation tax (of only 1-2%) would easily cover the fees. It's not just graduates who benefit from a university education, but the companies they work for. Companies can bear the cost especially as so many jobs require a degree these days.

I'm sure a formula could be worked out to reimburse early payers, if that was the desire. It's not a difficult thing to do.

Yes, student numbers have grown, what evidence do you have that this is down to the introduction of tuition fees? And the government have been looking at reducing the funding for some courses (suggesting that tuition fees do not cover the whole course cost anyway).