Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/331/5596
What we think
Top-Up Fees And Blair's Future In The Balance
"I WILL survive" said Blair on a Newsnight special about top-up fees (19 January). But will he?
As we go to press the vote appears to be on a knife edge. Inevitably there has been a certain fraying around the edges of the rebellion, with some Labour MPs jumping back into the Blair camp. But Blair has been so worried about losing the vote that he even had to rely on Brown to try and bail him out.
The man who has pushed PFI in public services, supported the war on Iraq and admires the US economic system is "wholeheartedly" in support of top-up fees. What more evidence do trade union leaders and others who back him as a 'left' alternative to Blair need to prove that Brown is fundamentally no different to Blair in his support for big business and attacks on working people?
Blair's plea to loyalty has cut little ice with the hardcore of Labour rebels. They have heard it all before over Iraq and foundation hospitals and have had enough. For many the opposition goes way beyond top-up fees. They now see Blair as an electoral liability and don't want to risk losing their seats at the next election.
One anonymous Labour MP told the Daily Telegraph: "Even if Tony Blair offers £20,000 a year and free flights to the Bahamas to every poor student, I'll still vote against him. We've got to get the bastard out".
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE to say whether enough Labour MPs will hold out to ensure that top-up fees are defeated in Parliament. It is clear however that the announcement of grants for poorer students has had little effect in changing the mood of ordinary people. 60% are still firmly opposed to top-up fees, including 51% of Labour voters. 85% believe that the proposals will lead to fewer people going to university or not making any difference.
Whatever happens in the vote on Tuesday, the Socialist Party will continue to fight to channel that opposition into an organised campaign against all tuition fees and for a living grant for all students.
If top-up fees are defeated it will be a body blow to Blair which he may not recover from. And within hours of the vote on fees the results of the Hutton inquiry will be made public.
Two-thirds of people think that Blair should resign if the report says that he lied over the leaking of Dr Kelly's name. Nearly 50% believe that he did lie.
If Hutton, an establishment figure, openly states that Blair lied it will be the equivalent of a political earthquake. It's more likely that he will reprimand all the parties involved without clearly apportioning blame.
Defence secretary Geoff Hoon will probably be the fall-guy. He is already under attack for sending troops to Iraq without basic equipment, putting their lives unnecessarily at risk.
Of course, the the biggest lie of all - weapons of mass destruction and Blair's justification for supporting Bush's imperialist war against Iraq - will not be addressed by Hutton. Nevertheless, it is in the consciousness of millions of people who opposed the war (and even many who initially supported it).
Even if Blair survives both the vote on top-up fees and Hutton there is no doubt that his credibility has been damaged amongst large sections of working-class and middle-class people. Whatever his fate, the vital task of building a new mass party to represent the interests of working people remains.
In The Socialist 24 January 2004:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis