Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Times's David Aaronovitch says that the political class now refuses to put the positive case for immigration:

It is utterly false to say that we haven't talked about immigration. Many of our newspapers do very little but talk about it. They don't "debate" it because their operating assumption, like Mr Field's, is that it is bad; it overwhelms us; floods us; swamps us; it swarms in Sangatte, until it is closed, then infests "the Jungle".

No other point of view is put, just as Mr Straw failed to put it on Thursday, as he dangled between denial and defence.

The Independent's Steve Richards argues that George Osborne was wrong to claim that capping bank bonuses would make more loans available:

There is no evidence to suggest that if banks had a bit more spare cash in the form of shares they would make more loans available. Most banks are not strapped for cash at the moment, but are still reluctant to lend. It is one of the new perversities in banking. There is no correlation between the amount of cash available and their willingness to lend.

The Financial Times's Gideon Rachman says that, as there is no democratic mandate for the post, the EU is not ready for a high-profile president:

Blair would be presented as a real "president of Europe" -- able to speak on equal terms with Barack Obama of the US or Hu Jintao of China.

But if Mr Blair turned up in Beijing claiming to be president of Europe, the only thing that he would have in common with Hu Jintao is that they would both lack a democratic mandate. Ordinary Europeans would be justified in asking by what right the unelected Mr Blair speaks for them. The former prime minister remains a deeply controversial figure in much of Europe because of his support for the Iraq war.

In the New York Times, Roger Cohen discusses his meeting with David Miliband and says that Britain's resolve in Afghanistan appears to be greater than that of the US:

These were the convictions behind Brown's decision earlier this month to send 500 more British troops to Afghanistan, bringing the contingent to 9,500 -- a decision the prime minister expected to be "consistent with what the Americans will decide."

The reinforcement was about one quarter of what British generals had requested. In the US case, Gen Stanley McChrystal has asked for about 40,000 more troops. Doing the math on a "consistent" basis suggests a substantial American reinforcement short of McChrystal's request will eventually be announced by the White House.

The Guardian's leader defends baboons from the rifle of A A Gill:

A few million years ago baboons and human beings were more closely related than now. At some point the species diverged, with one line evolving into hominids and, ultimately, restaurant critics. The other line has remained in Africa, living in simple but rather admirable societies where intelligence and advanced social skills are highly valued. Respect to the baboon.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.