Cable faces party crisis on tuition fees

Students face fee hikes, and are told it's "progressive"

It was always going to be one of the key early tests of the coalition. And as news emerges that business secretary Vince Cable has abandoned a move towards a graduate tax, the pressure on the Lib Dems (who have previously opposed any attempt to raise tuition fees) is growing. Reports today reveal that Cable has written a note to coalition colleagues explaining the graduate tax decision, and the assumption is that tuition fees will inevitably have to rise. Lord Browne's review on the subject, which is due to be published on Tuesday, is expected to recommend more than doubling fees to about £7,000 a year.

In his note, Cable said that while a graduate tax was "superficially attractive, an additional tax on graduates fails both the tests of fairness and deficit reduction". He also said:

I am entirely committed to a progressive system of graduate contributions, the details of which we will be able to confirm shortly.

If the assumption is correct, that the alternative is a fee hike, then the notion that this will be a "progressive system" seems risible, even if students who earn more money on graduation will have to repay loans at a higher interest rate. Fees of the levels suggested would surely put off many of those from families on lower incomes.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Andy Burnham (the new shadow education secretary) pointed out the hypocrisy of Lib Dems -- including Cable and the party's leader, Nick Clegg -- who had signed pledges against an increase in fees. It will be be a deeply uncomfortable week for the Lib Dems if they have to go back on one of their central election promises, and will surely give further cause to grassroots members' sense of betrayal. As Burnham said, referring also to the child benefit announcement of last week, it seems that "everything the coalition said before the election, they can tear up now".

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.