Students protest outside Parliament in 2010. (Flickr/Bob Bob)
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Exclusive: Labour grassroots revolt over tuition fees

A new internal campaign has called Ed Miliband's tuition fee cut a "weak policy" and is calling for the complete abolition of tuition fees.

Labour activists have branded Ed Miliband's commitment to cut tuition fees "a weak policy" and are pressing him to go much further than the party's headline commitment to cut tuition fees. The Labour Campaign for Free Education rejects any additional financial commitment from graduates, believing that the cost of university education should be paid for through general taxation.

The campaign has been backed by seven sitting Labour MPs - Frank Doran, Ronnie Campbell, Brian Donohue, John McDonnell, George Mudie, Katy Clark and Ian Lavery. In addition, the campaign has the support of a series of PPCs, including Cheryl Pidgeon, the candidate in South Derbyshire, which Labour held until 2010. 

James McAsh, one of the founders of the Labour Campaign for Free Education and a member of the London Young Labour Executive said:

"£6,000 fees are better than £9,000 fees. But public support for abolishing tuition fees is very high, especially amongst students and young people, and we are being offered a policy that won't capture anyone's imagination. 

 

"£6,000 fees are a weak policy: it won't make a huge amount of difference to how much debt students are in, it won't curtail the disastrous effects of marketisation in the sector, and it won't tackle student poverty. Bold progressive policies - like free education and taxing the rich - aren't just right, they are the only way that Labour can win the election."

The party has no intention from a policy that it believes is fairer than the one inherited from the coalition while also being fiscally credible. But, as with the greater opposition to Trident among Labour PPCs that the NS revealed last week, this is another reminder that Ed Miliband, will find his party's left flank, will be an increasingly vocal critic of his platform and policies should be make it into office in May. 

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

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.