I joined the Labour Party when I was 16 because, in part, I thought it was a party committed to social justice. That it was, in the words of Harold Wilson, a crusade. Labour, I thought, was a party for the many and not the few, a party committed to hand ups not hand outs and each giving, according to their means and receiving, according to their needs.
Has Labour fallen so far from grace that the flagship policy of the (alleged) left wing candidate, in the current leadership election, is not only one for the few and not the many, but that no one seems to think that such a policy is out of keeping with the ethos of the party? I had expected better of Jeremy Corbyn than a ‘big idea’ of giving public money to the offspring of middle and upper class families so that not only may they go to university for free, but in doing so strengthen their grip on power.
I do have to commend Corbyn for picking the right spin doctor to win him the leadership of the Labour Party. Every erogenous zone has been located and stroked. Free university tuition fees for mostly middle and higher income learners ‘surprisingly’ find favour with existing students, middle and higher income earners and their offspring as well as those employed in the university sector. Those who think all work experience is workfare and that any of the back to work measures of the last 30 years are, again, some form of workfare will be pleased to see their ill-informed opinions backed by Corbyn. Those who think that the backbone of Corbyn’s poorly thought out National Education Service should be provided by the further education colleges will, I am sure be purring, not least those who work in them and so on.
Corbyn is assembling a coalition of support with policies, in a number of areas, which may well win him the leadership of the Labour Party, but those policies do not address today’s problems let alone those of 2020. He thinks non-voters are disillusioned. I suspect that is one reason why people do not vote, but by no means the only or even most significant one. May be someone would care to explain to me how giving the offspring of the well to do free university education will encourage non voters to vote Labour?
My family comes from one of the most deprived Wards in England. Many of them still live there. Many of them do not vote. The Ward is made up of predominantly white, working class people, although that is beginning to change. They do hard, even dangerous jobs, such as removing asbestos from buildings; they suspect migrants and they flirt with voting ukip. Until recently, the Ward returned three Labour Councillors with sizeable majorities. It now has two Tories, who run as ukip lite, and we have just held on to the third seat this May. Arguably, Labour has not done enough for those people, but they have taken the Children’s Centres to their hearts. That would be the Children’s Centres developed with the backing of Gordon Brown.
I fail to see how Corbyn, a standard bearer for the middle class, will re-connect with the voters Labour lost to other parties in May 2010 let alone those who may never have voted in any election. Corbyn has for far too long represented one of the most affluent Parliamentary Constituencies, Islington North, in the United Kingdom to be taken seriously as someone capable of reaching out to the working class and facing down the demands of the middle class. He failed at the first hurdle in not unveiling any sort of aim to increase both the proportion and total number of people from lower income backgrounds entering university education. Do his middle class constituents fear the competition?
I say Corbyn’s middle class constituents with confidence. You will find a profile of his constituency here. I would draw your attention to three pieces of data that highlight the economic status of Corbyn’s constituents. Firstly, 61.8% of the working age population of Islington North, those aged 16 to 64, have at least an NVQ4 or equivalent. The corresponding figure for the whole of Great Britain is 36.0%.
Secondly, 18.0% (10.3%) of those in work in Islington North are employed as managers, directors and senior officials; 35.8% (19.7%) are employed in professional occupations and 18.2% (14.1%) in associate professional and technical positions. 73.2% (44.3%) of all those in work in Islington North are employed in one or other of these forms of employment. The figures in brackets are for Great Britain as a whole.
Thirdly, the gross weekly median earnings for employees living in Islington North are £617.00 (£520.80) for full time workers. Male full time workers receive £659.60 (£561.50) and female full time workers £588.70 (£463.00). Hourly pay, excluding overtime, for full time workers is £16.47 (£13.15), it is £18.06 (£13.70) for male full time workers and £15.88 (£12.34) for female full time workers. The figures in brackets are, again, for Great Britain as a whole.
Looking at the foregoing data, it is not surprising that the cost of going to university is a major concern to those who live in Islington North, especially given the rich rewards accruing to those who do and who then go on to form a sizeable part of the electorate of that constituency. Who would not want to reduce, dramatically, their investment in their own future so as to maximise the return on that investment? One can certainly see the appeal of getting someone else to pay for one’s degree!
Do I detect the shade of the Baroness smiling? Are the residents of Islington, the affluent ones at least, closet Thatcherites? Socialist Thatcherites voting for Corbyn, safe in the knowledge that he poses no threat to them or their lifestyle? Even if Corbyn should become Prime Minister, it seems that they may count on him to look after their interests, given his flagship policy. A policy that, Corbyn keeps telling us, is offering hope and inspiration to today’s youth, well at least that minority of them who go to university. Are those young people backing Corbyn, because of his tuition fees policy, but who will start university before 2020, stupid? Or are they expecting him to write off their debts should he become Prime Minister?
Jeremy Corbyn says, “Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy.” He may be sincere in doing so, but, if he is then he should try and stop those media savvy, bright young supporters from contradicting this policy line. They seem to be confusing selfishness with socialism.
They might like to reflect, those seekers after the glittering prizes that, whilst they and their families are dining and becoming exercised about the cost of a university education there are people living within Islington itself who are worried about from whence their next meal will come.
Word to the wise, Jeremy, keep the articulate young things off the broadcast media and out of the newspapers, unless you are able to find some non-white, non-middle class, would be students to support your fee policy. I appreciate this may be a problem in your constituency, given that 67.1% of the people who live there are white, according to the 2011 Census. And, of course, your policy may not resonate with the other 32.9%?
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that, according to the 2011 Census, if you are 16 and over, live in Islington, and are:
White, you have a 52.5% likelihood of having at least an NVQ4 or equivalent
Mixed/multiple ethnic group, you have a 42% likelihood of having at least an NVQ4 or equivalent
Asian/Asian British, you have a 45% likelihood of having at least an NVQ4 or equivalent
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British, you have a 29% likelihood of having at least an NVQ4 or equivalent
From another ethnic group, you have a 32% likelihood of having at least an NVQ4 or equivalent.
Time, perhaps, to start talking about both the class struggle and equal opportunities for all in the context of access to a traditional university degree course?
The supporters of Corbyn’s flagship policy are coming across as mono, in more ways than one. In other words, they are coming across as unrepresentative of the wider electorate. They are, though, much more representative of the membership of the Labour Party. “Post-election research by Tim Bale and Paul Webb into the” Labour Party’s “membership found the typical member was white, middle-class, left of where SNP supporters say they are and further left of the Lib Dems, but sharing many Lib Dem-ish preoccupations. They are pro-Europe, pro-immigration and libertarian on matters such as controls of speech and the media. They are also disproportionately, 40%, employed in the public sector. This is not the profile of the average Labour voter, and even less so of the people who need to vote Labour if it is ever to form another government.”
Jeremy Corbyn may indeed be sincere when he says, “Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy. We all benefit from a more educated and skilled workforce.” He may prove it by capping the number of places for popular degree subjects that are not a reasonable return on our investment. Your starter for ten, Diane Abbot, Newnham College, Cambridge, just how many History Graduates does the UK need?
I would like to think that my Great Nephew in 16 years or so, ceteris paribus, will have the opportunity of having a crack at going to university. Alas, he was born into the working class so he is handicapped from the outset and, if Corbyn’s university tuition fee policy is enacted in the way he proposes, then it will require fewer youths from the middle or upper classes to go to university for people from my Great Nephew’s background to have a chance to do so. I do not see the current crop of fair weather socialists, who won the lottery of life when they were born, being willing to give up a traditional route to a degree. They have, after all, been quite happy, so far, to run up the debts to do so, because the financial rewards from graduating far outweigh the costs incurred in doing so.
I would like to hear Jeremy Corbyn say that going to university is not a right, but a privilege. One that is earnt through hard work and not a result of the class into which you were born. I would like Corbyn to promise to give working class people, like my Great Nephew, a fair crack of the whip. A hand up to the working class and people from minority ethnic groups and not a hand out to the middle and upper classes. Time to set a goal of levelling up as Bevan put it?
One last thing, Jeremy, I did not join the Labour Party to argue the case for your children to have free university education, any more than I did to seek working class votes so that Cameron’s son may go to Oxford University at taxpayer’s expense!