Conrad Landin blames Labour for the Browne report

Reaction to the Browne report on higher education has focused on the broken promises of Liberal Democrats who pledged to vote against rises in tuition fees. For any opposition party, it is easy to fall into the trap of concentrating exclusively on the Lib Dems’ betrayal of their election pledges. Yes, this betrayal is the one, among many, that I still can’t get over – even more than their U-turn on the fundamental issue of the economy immediately after the election.

But the photos of Nick Clegg holding up his card pledging to vote against fee rises speak for themselves. While the media has devoted so much space to the betrayal that the morality of the rise in fees itself is put to one side. Which is exactly what David Cameron wants.

Therefore, Labour’s opposition to the rise in fees must be ideological rather than just bashing a party about its broken promises. It is a disgrace that the last Labour government commissioned the Browne review, which will deter aspirational young people from lower-income families from considering the prospect of a university degree. Even the remotest possibility of a two-tier system of higher education, with some universities unaffordable to many, could not conflict more with Labour’s core values of social justice, equality and anti-elitism. If there is anything that shows our complacency in government over our last years in office, it is this.

To many of us in the party, it’s quite simple. A social democratic government should not see a former chief executive of a major transnational oil company as the man to determine who should have access to education. It is the job of the Labour movement to recognise that while we must work with and support business, it is also naïve to assume the sector has everyone’s best interests at heart – and not simply profit.

The importance of this issue cannot be over-emphasised. I find it hard to contemplate any reversal under a future Labour government if we allow this regressive revolution to take place without making the ideological arguments against it. The Tories want us to see the proposals as a pragmatic response to hard times, yet they are undoubtedly a step backwards for social mobility.

It was heartening to see Ed Miliband reaching out to Liberal Democrat MPs uncomfortable with breaking their election pledges. Rather than relishing the Lib Dem betrayal as a means to edge up in the opinion polls, we must do all in our power to defeat the bill when it comes before parliament, even if this means that some Lib Dems look principled after all.

Ed Miliband showed that he is prepared to distance himself from some actions of the last government when he admitted that “we got it wrong over Iraq”. The decisions Tony Blair took were irrational and immoral, but ultimately bore little relation to Labour’s core principle of fairness, unlike whatever our policy on tuition fees is. In order for us to once again become the party of hard-working, aspirational young people, irrespective of class, we must admit our mistakes in higher education policy too, and do our best to undo the damage. Only then will we discover whether a “new generation” has taken over the party.

Conrad Landin is an A’ level student.

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3 Responses to “Conrad Landin blames Labour for the Browne report”

  1. steve says:

    “It is a disgrace that the last Labour Government commissioned the Browne review” – why is it a disgrace? The review was an independent piece of research into the funding of HE. Any government can choose to ignore any or all of it if they so wish.

    “If there is anything that shows our complacency in government over our last years in office, it is this” – It’s worth remembering that since the introduction of fees, the growth in numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been higher than from other parts of society. Mostly due to the re-introduction of grants and expansion of bursaries (rather than loans) for the poorest students.

    No poor student is priced out under the current system – rich students pay the full amount, subsidising the poorest students who receive a full grant to cover their fees. This is known in most circles as ‘re-distribution’. Apparently not in the Labour Party.

    It’s unclear how you would want to fund our HE system, but if by ‘undo the damage’ you mean return to a full taxpayer-funded system, I’m afraid it isn’t going to happen – unless you want to see a steep fall in the number of young people progressing to HE, and a return to a select ‘elite’ at our HE institutions.

  2. Steve, you seemed to have missed the point. I’m not criticising the current system of university funding. I don’t agree with it, and I’m personally in favour of a graduate tax, but that’s a whole different article – and one I haven’t yet written!

    On the subject of the ‘independence’ (I’d say it isn’t too hard to predict what the former head of BP, university vice-chancellors and a banker would come up with as a solution), yes, I would have hoped, and I think to some extent, that Labour’s response would be better than the Tories’, but the review has given the new government a shield to hide behind. They can say that these so-called experts said it was necessary to charge higher fees, and it’s not just the fact they don’t care about access to education.

  3. AnneJGP says:

    An interesting article, thank you. Since you are speaking for many in the party, there are a few points worth taking up.

    You believe the previous Labour government made a mistake in commissioning this Review and you think Mr Miliband should aim to defeat its recommendations. In that case, may I suggest that Labour should speak of principled opposition, rather than ideological. I think you’ll find that Labour will be opposing many of the coming cuts as “ideological” (thus associating the term with “bad”, “immoral”).

    Actually, to this outsider, the Terms of Reference seem to state values quite in keeping with the Labour party. It would be very surprising if the recommendations did not aim for the best possible outcomes for those values.

    You could perhaps write us another article discussing how & why Note 1 of the ToRs fails to reflect Labour values. That would be really helpful to any principled opposition to the recommendations in this Report.

    Happily, the business sector did not carry out the review. A former business man chaired a panel which represented a range of relevant interests. The Labour government appointed to the panel people in whose integrity and good faith they had confidence. Incidentally, there are quite a few high-powered business people who are major Labour supporters.

    The Labour government took the trouble to seek cross-party support prior to launching the Review. The Conservatives reserved the right, if elected, to exercise their judgment once the Report was available. As it is, they seem inclined to accept the recommendations. What Labour really needs to do now is to identify where the moral and principled arguments lie – for and against – otherwise you will appear to be opposing your own good ideas just because the Conservatives have agreed with you.

    Luckily, however, most of the electorate would not realise that Labour was now fighting hard to defeat something it put in train less than a year ago.

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