Miliband silent on a graduate tax

Labour leader says: “I can’t make a promise on tuition fees.”

Ed Miliband's speech today on the "jilted generation" (a phrase borrowed from the recent book by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik) offered much in the way of analysis but little in the way of prescription. In the section on tuition fees, for instance, the Labour leader attacked the coalition for increasing "the debt burden" on the next generation but, curiously, made no reference to his solution of choice: a graduate tax.

With an eye to Nick Clegg's woes, Miliband said: "I also know we can only meet people's desire for a better politics if we make promises we know we can keep. At this stage, I can't make a promise on tuition fees, but I am clear about our guiding principles." Yet last December, Miliband was so committed to a graduate tax that he forced Alan Johnson, then shadow chancellor, to perform one of the most humiliating U-turns in recent history.

In the same month, he wrote in the Observer:

We must have a system that promotes equal opportunity, avoids disincentives for students to apply to the universities and courses of their choice, and provides fair and sustainable funding for universities. That is why there is such a strong case for moving towards a graduate tax and why we will develop a proposal in our policy review. Any proposal will be underpinned by an independent assessment showing that it will improve social mobility and life chances and not weaken them.

But today: nothing.

Miliband's silence is a reminder of what is, in some ways, his fiscal caution. He may oppose many of the coalition's spending cuts but he has not promised to reverse the VAT rise (which would cost £13bn), and now he is not promising to replace fees with a graduate tax. With this in mind, it's worth remembering that no Labour government has ever reversed a VAT rise introduced by the Tories.

The party cried foul when Margaret Thatcher increased VAT from 8 to 15 per cent in 1979 (in order to reduce the top rate of income tax from 83 per cent to 60 per cent) and when John Major raised the tax to 17.5 per cent. But, in power, Gordon Brown welcomed the revenue.

Whether or not Labour wins the next election, £9,000 tuition fees and 20 per cent VAT are probably here to stay.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

0800 7318496