Just weeks after releasing his feeble, reactionary essay on education policy, “Robbins Rebooted”, Labour’s shadow HE minister Liam Byrne has said it would be “tough” to make its fees policies clear before December. This is a back-track from Labour’s earlier position. The party had previously appeared likely to announce that they would cut the undergrad UK/EU fee cap from £9000 to £6000. That would have been far from enough – we would continue to fight the proposals and demand free education – but at least it would have been a clear plan. This retreat echoes Byrne’s refusal in “Robbins Rebooted” to go beyond vague noises to clear commitments on a postgraduate fee policy.
The Labour leadership says it is holding off committing to spending on this and other areas, but it is still banking on students’ votes, which it describes as “critical”. It has caved and embraced the logic of austerity, and expects us to do the same. We refuse.
There is no justification for this conservatism. The money is there: in fact, our society is awash in immense wealth. The only issue is that that wealth is squandered, locked up in the bank accounts, mansions and businesses of the rich. Labour claims to be the party of the working class. If so, it should commit to taking back the wealth that class creates, and putting it to better use. Propose serious, properly enforced taxes on the income, assets and businesses of the wealthy, and take the banks under democratic control. Use this vast wealth to provide free, accessible education at every level, to rebuild and improve the NHS and other public services, and to guarantee decent wages and benefits.