The mystery of Miliband’s missing fees policy

Ed Miliband was recently grilled by young people on ITV’s political Q&A show ‘Bite the Ballot’. Asked about tuition fees, Miliband reportedly said:

On tuition fees, Miliband says he will “lower” them but has “learnt from Nick Clegg” and will ensure the party has a properly “costed” policy before announcement.

“Before announcement”? Hold on, I hear you ask; didn’t Miliband already announce a policy on tuition fees in 2011? Yes, he did. According to the BBC:

If the party was in power now it would reduce the cap from £9,000 to £6,000 to ease the debt burden on students, the Labour leader told Andrew Marr.

There was also a flurry of speculation about £6,000 fees (that is, the already announced policy) in March 2014 and again in September. What happened to that? According to the Times Higher Education:

The Labour Party appears to have shelved plans to unveil a policy to lower tuition fees to £6,000 at its conference during a speech by leader Ed Miliband.

The delay has come because Ed Balls, the Labour chancellor, wants to thoroughly scrutinise the funding plan behind the policy, which the party believes will cost about £2 billion a year.

It added:

A £6,000 fee pledge remains the “direction of travel” for Labour but the policy is now more likely to be announced in October or November, Times Higher Education understands.

But it wasn’t to be. As we head into the General Election year, the higher education funding blackhole increases, and the student movement adopts free education as its rallying cry, the Labour Party has no policy on tuition fees.

At the Labour Campaign for Free Education, we want all fees to be scrapped and replaced with direct public funding from general taxation, a funding arrangement which would ensure that the wealthiest graduates and the bosses who benefit from our skills and education pay most. We definitely cannot imagine students and young people marching behind a banner demanding “£6k fees! £6k fees!”.

Nevertheless, the casual way in which policies are seemingly announced, reversed, forgotten about and then trailed in the press without being re-announced speaks to the stark democratic deficit in the party. Policy is made, not by conference, not even by the National Policy Forum, but on the hoof by the leadership, to catch whatever wind happens to be blowing towards this week’s PMQs.

This is no way to operate a political party, far less one supposed to be accountable to the labour movement. Labour need a bold policy which will inspire people, and we need to stick to it, win the arguments and see it through. If we don’t even make the case for the social value of education then how can we expect society to accept it?

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