While the Liberal Democrats run around performing u-turns, with Vince Cable first announcing he is voting for the tuition fee rise and then denying it, in an apparent successful effort to turn the party into a joke, Ed Miliband, the man who won the Labour leadership, has broken with his Zen socialist/trappist monk approach to party politics and said something.
In The Observer today he accuses the coalition government of “cultural vandalism” over its plans to make university education prohibitively expensive with the rise in the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year.
He has also used the attack to rightly restate the case for a graduate tax, which is seen by many as a fairer alternative. An alternative that doesn’t saddle students with tens of thousands of pounds of debt; one that doesn’t attack social mobility; and one that will not discourage those from poorer backgrounds to abandon plans for a university education.
Miliband’s comments come ahead of another week of planned student protests and the crucial Commons vote on Thursday. A vote for which the farcical Lib Dems still have not worked out how they will vote — although a shameless Nick Clegg has told the Independent that he wants to back the rise. They also don’t seem to have worked out that it doesn’t matter how they vote. Their credibility is shot.
Miliband argues that the coalition plan for tuition fees will set social mobility back by a generation by entrenching “privilege and inequality”.
Labour will oppose these changes. No party with a deep and genuine commitment to social mobility could support them. In tough financial times, universities would have had to face some cuts, with students making some greater contribution. But 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.
Make no mistake – if this bill is voted through on Thursday the government will deal a cruel blow to the chances of the next generation and betray the hopes of our young people. It will fall to Labour to map the route to a fairer, more equal Britain.
It is fighting talk and suggests that Miliband having done a great impression of sitting on his hands has finally decided to appeal directly to the youth vote and to make it clear to them that Labour is the only party committed to creating a fairer Britain and one where young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to go to university.
It might have taken him time to warm up, but hopefully this is how Miliband plans to go forward from this point and show that he is the leader that the Labour Party and the electorate need.