In the latest Liberator magazine Linda Jack – of the popular LindyLooz Muse blog, no less, and a prospective MEP – took issue with Nick Clegg downgrading the scrap Tuition Fees pledge to a ‘mere’ aspiration.
I agree – the pledge should be scrapped. In a time of extreme fiscal difficulty, a policy which
- overwhelmingly benefits kids from rich families
- and those going on to well paid jobs,
- and where the really disadvantaged are catered for (including those failing to earn much post graduation)
- and where the policy fails to put off students, according to data
- (see all these points explored in Time’s up: why the LibDems should abandon their opposition to tuition fees. And in all the posts listed at the bottom of this one)
has no place in ANY sensible party’s manifesto. There are several hundred better uses of £3bn annually.
What is Linda’s rationale? She writes that “it is of enormous concern that, particularly in the current financial climate, we are creating a generation of young people who think debt is the norm”.
Sorry, but that is rubbish. For starters, the rest of the country is having to deal with debt, like it or not: creating an growing cadre of people who can somehow go with the illusion that this is not normal is neither just nor sensible – particularly given that their future incomes tend to be far higher than the people struggling with debts.
And ‘tuition fee debt’ is actually much more like equity – only payable if the income rises a certain distance, and write-offable after 25 years. It is just the sort of intelligent debt that is far less destabilising than the normal stuff.
Linda basically wants a clear campaigning message to take to student homes. Like Charlie Kennedy before, it is because the Pledge is good for US, the Lib Dems – not for the country at large.
But Linda’s main point is much broader. Instead of “we face a dire fiscal situation which everyone knows will take years of austerity to control”, we have “no one is really sure about where we are heading economically” – a truism of little content. Basing policy on “it might turn out better” is not what anyone needs. “If we strike oil in the Isle of Wight then let’s buy green homes for everyone”.
What we do know is that the deficit in 2012 will be somewhere between:
- as bad as it has ever been in peacetime 1960-2007 (on the upside) and
- as bad as it has ever been in a mid-sized Latin American country during a civil war (on the downside)
Between those two levels, we just don’t know. But we can guess it will not be in the ‘affords lots of goodies’ region. Instead, it will be ‘fighting and sweating every penny just to keep what we have’ and probably losing the fight. No-one has ever cut spending before. We will have to.
Linda later writes that she “has been concerned . . that as a party in our understandable desire to be seen as serious contenders there is a danger of us becoming far less risky”. That is not a danger, it’s an opportunity. For the first time since 1983 there is a real chance of the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power during a time of exceptional challenge. The biggest risk in April will be the opponents presenting them as the sort of people who think that fiscal arithmetic can be fought, and think impossible policy goals should be solid commitments. Like Gordon Brown, who the Times accurately say “missed his moment”:
The most astonishing omission was a serious acknowledgment of the need to cut public spending. A section berating the Conservatives for refusing to show their hand might profitably have been followed by the Prime Minister showing his own. Instead he announced a string of new, unfunded spending programmes, as if this was the moment to be adding to what Government does.
Even Polly is willing to name some cuts.
Finally, at the end, Linda writes: “Far better to abandon policies completely . . . than lay ourselves open to the charge of watering down those cherished policies”. Now we agree – in the case of tuition fees, too right. (Liberal Youth will live with it -it is the nature of youth to grow up, after all). In fact, in general, her actual case against having ‘aspirations’ is correct, but the brutal corollary is evaded: let’s have a really short manifesto, shorn of micro-initiatives, meddling, and aspirations that work if the laws of arithmetic are suspended by the Liberator Collective being ‘radical’.
- THIS is why the Liberal Democrats are wrong to oppose tuition fees
- Even Nigel Lawson understood the progressive argument for tuition fees
- The NUS Graduate tax: replacing a good idea with a bad one
- Pleasing words on student protest