Miliband would cut top tuition fees to £6,000

Labour pledges to reduce top university fees by scrapping cut to corporation tax.

Labour would lower the cap on tuition fees if in government, Ed Miliband has announced.

Continuing his strategy of aligning himself with the "squeezed middle" -- the ordinary people suffering from the fall-out of the economic crisis -- he has said that if he was in government, he would cut the maximum tuition fee from £9,000 to £6,000.

The move is one of the biggest policy decisions Miliband has made during his year in leader, and is a clear attempt to attract some of the student vote that the Liberal Democrats lost when they broke their promise on tuition fees. Speaking to the Observer, aides implied that it may not stop there: "This is what we would do now. But in three and a half years' time we might be able to do even more." However, once the new fees are ensconsed, it is difficult to see Labour promising to reduce them further.

Given all the murmurings about his party's "economic credibility", Miliband has emphasised that this cut is fully costed -- it would be funded by charging more interest for the highest paid graduates, and by scrapping a planned cut in corporation tax.

This last is a canny political move. Directly equating hikes in living costs for ordinary people with cuts for those who precipitated the crisis is likely to strike a chord with a public already angry at this double standard. The coalition has already criticised the proposal, with Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwhistle telling the BBC that companies affected are potential employers of students. However, this does not ring true as it is not a hike in corporation tax, merely the reversal of a cut. It is a bold move, and sends a potentially powerful message about where Miliband believes the burden should lie.

However, he did not refer to the huge cuts to university funding that the coalition plans. These cuts of up to 80 per cent mean the crisis in university funding -- which the Browne Review was created to address -- has not been solved, as transferring costs from the state to the student does not address university's shortage of cash. Miliband's move is an effective piece of positioning and a potentially popular policy -- but it does not address this funding gap.

This announcement comes on the same day as YouGov/IPPR poll found that 70 per cent of people said they might be prepared to vote Labour, versus 64 per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 58 per cent for the Tories. Just 30 per cent say they would "never" vote for Labour, as opposed to 36 per cent for the Lib Dems and 42 per cent for the Tories. While this has yet to be translated into actual concrete support, it suggests that Labour is not seen as the most toxic party, despite concerns about their handling of the economy. As the conference opens, this reiterates that there is a big opportunity there for Labour. It remains to be seen whether they will capitalise upon it.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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