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.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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