Monday, 11 October 2010

Is Politics beginning to liven up?

Thank goodness we’re coming out of the quiet season; I think things are beginning to liven up. If I appear gleeful, it’s just that I sense the LP is up and running now; and we’ll be making our presence felt.

Ed scored a good media hit with the appointment of Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor; I think the contrast with Poshboy George will work well; and to our advantage.

But what is of interest now is the arrival of the Brown report on the future of University funding. This is never going to be a huge issue like Health, Policing, or Schools. But it’s gained a great notoriety in recent months – perhaps because of all the media types who’ve been to university. Or because politically it’s become a Big One.

Ed M supported the idea of a graduate tax; recently I’ve written that I was leaning towards it but found it too flawed to support. Alan Johnson was against it. Andy Burnham (if I remember correctly supported a graduate tax.)

Vince Cable has now written to all his LibDem members saying that they will not be introducing a graduate tax – and we assume he knows what may be coming our way in the Brown review. But he does support a higher rate of tax for graduates in higher paid jobs – to support other graduates. Does this mean a tax until the loan is paid off? Interesting. Particularly in that big emphasis on no increase in student fees was given in their election manifestos . . . something else they’ve had to change now?

The atmosphere is feverish, indicated policies shifting by the minute, as, no doubt, ministers and others brief in order to steal a march on opponents . . . sorry, colleagues. The deal being floated now is for a more realistic interest rate on student loans. Are the LibDems really up to supporting this? How far from being against student loans and no increase in student fees can you get?

It’ll be interesting to watch Ed manoeuvre on this one, as well. Will there be enough of a crack in the ConDem ranks for him to get a hold on and widen? Clearly he's hoping so with his invitation for LibDems to work with him. But what is a 'progressive system' of funding? As both Milliband and Burham say a free market of different fees is highly undesirable, even worse than across universities is the certainty of different fees for courses within a university. It doesn't take too much to work out that the most popular courses will go up (which isn't the same as the most expensive courses . . . )

Whatever Ed does, he (and the team) must do it quickly, decisively and clearly. Knocking the other side is good - but not good enough, what are we going to do? It’ll be seen as a test of the new team.

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