Jeremy Corbyn’s free university tuition fees, irrespective of parents’ income level, obviously has wide appeal in some quarters. It is quite understandable. Everyone likes a free lunch, do they not?
There are no free lunches. One always has to pay for them some time later on. David Cameron’s son is expected to go to Eton and then, all things being equal, Oxford, his daddy’s cursus honorum reproduced in every detail. Now what Jeremy Corbyn or at least some of his supporters seem to be saying is that paying for Cameron Minor’s university education is a price well worth paying, if a few more children at most from lower income backgrounds, given the Scottish example, go to university.
The Tories in 2003 planned to do what Corbyn is proposing, if re-elected, but then they changed their minds. Why? Well even they might have thought it was a bit much expecting low income earners to pay for the university fees of middle and higher income earners. In fact, leaving things alone, was shrewd politics.
Corbyn may surf to the leadership of the Labour Party on a wave of support from middle and higher income earners only to hit worn, but still treacherous submerged rocks. Osborne may go into the 2020 General Election by saying that Corbyn wants the average taxpayer to pay for David Cameron’s son to go to university. He is not really on your side, average (never been, never expect to go university) voter, when chaps like us are willing to shoulder the burden of sending our offspring to university. They may be able, right from the outset, to say that Corbyn wants people on the National Minimum Wage to pay for his children to go to university.
Given the antipathy that most voters, including many of Corbyn’s supporters, have towards Members of Parliament, one suspects that his promoting a policy that might well benefit him and his family personally is not likely to go down well. Whereas posing the question, how may we increase the proportion and total number of people from lower income backgrounds going to university would surely be a better starting point? We might then debate possible options to achieve that goal, including a policy that means tests financial support for university tuition fees and living expenses, whilst combining it with a well thought out programme of support to help more of those from low income backgrounds make it to an admissions interview. I have been advised by some Corbyn supporters that he needs to make the retail offer he is making in order to win Labour’s Leadership Election. And yet they continue to argue that Corbyn should be considered a politician of principle!
However much supporters of all four leadership candidates want to ignore it, “Labour’s defeat in many respects was due to older voters staying and indeed turning to the Conservatives. The Conservatives gained twice as many votes amongst this group as Labour. What’s more there will be relatively more older voters in 2020 than in 2015.” Put succinctly, Labour will need to receive more votes from the over 55s in 2020 than it did in 2015 just to stand still. I fail to see how a policy targeted on the privileged few will appeal to that group, most of whom did not go to university and must wonder what all the fuss is about.
“The Conservatives have protected older voters relatively more than those of working age. Appealing to older voters who in the round have largely been unaffected by the government’s economic and fiscal policies will not be straightforward. One of the totemic Conservative promises was the triple lock to ensure pensions rose by at least 2.5% a year. Attempts to raise the state pension further will not be cheap and would require savings to be made elsewhere (or tax rises).” Those older voters might reasonably ask where the money is going to come from to pay for university tuition fees.
I am intrigued by those who think a policy aimed primarily at the young will have much appeal amongst older voters. No one lost votes by over-estimating the avarice of voters. Older voters may say, in the abstract, that they are concerned about issues facing young people, but if they think that the policies you are proposing will hit them in the pocket then do not expect them to come out and vote for you in droves. They may not even do so in Islington.
What disturbs me, alongside the naivety of some of Corbyn’s supporters, is the seeming failure to associate our Arts Degree dominated Establishment with the Two Nation state of our country. Too many of the Establishment are already drawn from an unrepresentative group of the wider population. You only have to look at the campaigning of people like Lenny Henry to see how much the media is not a reflection of the people whom it addresses and, in some cases, for whom it claims to speak with more authority than an elected politician. Corbyn’s university fees proposal will not change that, in fact, it is at best likely to leave the make up of the Establishment much as it is now.
And the Establishment on Today and the breakfast television sofas sets the agenda for much of our public discourse. When, back in 2010’s Tory Party Conference, Cameron began talking about limiting entitlement to Child Benefit it was a hot topic, over a number of days, amongst Susanna Reid and her chums. Would it be cynical of me to think that they were the ones most likely to be affected? A few weeks ago, Norman Smith of the BBC said, four million of us receive Tax Credits. I nearly fell off my chair. I have never heard Norman use the word us in relation to say ‘welfare reform’!
Some of you will remember the Labour Tax Bombshell of the 1992 General Election. A few weeks after Major had scraped back into Number Ten, a rather embarrassed Guardian journalist admitted that the reasons why media folk, regardless of their politics, had been banging on about John Smith’s tax plans was because they personally would have had to pay more tax. Moreover, on the Friday after the 1992 General Election, one of the TV channels did a vox pop about why people had voted in the way that they had. One pensioner said he had voted Tory, because he would have been worse off under Labour. The journalist then took him through how he would have been affected had Labour won. He would have done quite well. The bloke did not quite say, “Oh, shit!”, but you could see what he was thinking.
Incidentally, so much for David Miliband’s theory that Labour did not lose (in part, in my opinion) in 2015 due to a poor presentation of its policies. The media since 1992 have hardly become more favourable towards redistribution when it is they who will be worse off thereby. No wonder some of them like the idea of other people paying for their offspring’s university education. Labour needs to seriously look at how it engages with voters and whether it still overly relies on traditional media to get its messages across. The ground war and the air war too often are not being conducted in synch with each other.
Perhaps, on reflection, I am asking too much of Corbyn, a nice, middle class chap himself, to really want to shake up the Establishment whilst he is canvassing for their votes in the only election that counts for him at the moment. I think a radical Labour leader would be one who would not back off from a fight with vested interests, wherever they may be found and whomever they may be. Alas, there is no progressive like John Smith standing in Labour’s Leadership Election. Labour could do with someone who looks like an old style bank manager, someone whom one might trust with one’s money; who looks competent and has radical tendencies. The sort of leader who would not shy away from telling voters thinks they need to hear, but not always want to hear.
Labour’s vote in 2015 by class remained similar to 2010, in particular, the Middle Class vote held firm. May be Corbyn’s big idea is to become leader of the Labour Party on the back of their support and then, once leader, explain to them why it is unlikely to be a vote winner with the wider electorate? He may then, from the outset, deal with the likelihood that on election some of his supporters will think he has betrayed them simply by becoming leader of the Labour Party. Perhaps it might be a good idea to give that tendency a real reason to cry betrayal for once? A move that might even go down well with Daily Mail editorial writers, unless they want someone else to pay the university tuition fees of their children …