Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/326/9305
What We Think
Tuition fees: Blair Skates On Thin Ice
TONY BLAIR is getting desperate. Over 130 Labour MPs have put their names to a motion opposing his plans for top-up tuition fees. Rebellion seems to be becoming contagious. Earlier this year, 139 MPs voted against the war with Iraq. Blair's majority on foundation hospitals was just 17 - the narrowest since Labour came to power in 1997.
This time, with both Tories and Liberals set to vote against, Blair knows that he is skating on thin ice. Top-up fees could bring about his first-ever parliamentary defeat.
Even Labour MPs can't completely insulate themselves from the hot anger of public opinion.
More than 80% of the population think top-up fees are a bad idea. As one MP said to the Financial Times back in September: "I have hundreds of sixth-formers about to go to university and a wafer-thin majority. There's no way I am going to support this".
In a desperate bid to try and buy off rebellious MPs, Blair is delaying bringing the Bill on top-up fees to Parliament. He wants time to try and sell minor concessions, which could include increasing the amount students need to earn before they start paying for their fees after graduation and writing off debts after 25 years if they haven't been paid!
These may not be enough to win the vote. They certainly won't quell the anger felt by thousands of students and parents from both working-class and middle-class families, appalled at the prospect of a two-tier university system and being tied down by years of debt.
Blair's 'big conversation' about New Labour's policies for a third term is another desperate measure. People who are already feeling ignored and conned about war in Iraq, foundation hospitals and tuition fees are hardly likely to be taken in by this latest PR stunt - where Blair says what he's going to do regardless of what anyone else thinks.
After all, top-up fees weren't just absent from New Labour's manifesto, they were positively ruled out!
Blair meant it when he said that he has "no reverse gear". Under pressure, he might make superficial changes to his public sector 'reforms' but ideologically he is totally committed to a pro-big business agenda, as is Gordon Brown and the two main opposition capitalist parties.
That means continuing to open up all public services to the private sector profiteers and shifting rapidly away from universal provision of services, paid for by general taxation, towards more 'targeting' and 'individual responsibility'.
Students paying (twice) for their education is just one example of transferring the burden of funding to the individual. New Labour's 'Prospectus' floats the idea of compulsory private pensions, as well as more charging for more services such as roads and childcare.
We are told there is no alternative. How else can we plug the £9 billion funding shortfall in higher education or finance pensions and childcare for all? This is merely voicing the interests of big business who profit from both lower taxation and the privatisation of public services.
Under capitalism big business will always seek to defend its profits at the expense of workers in the workplace and through attacks on the 'social wage'.
Public services and the welfare state were fought for and won by working people and the Socialist Party will continue to fight to defend these gains.
At the same time, we explain that there is an alternative to the big business agenda but it involves a fundamental change in the way that society is organised and structured.
It means moving away from a system geared towards profits to one that is democratically run in the interests of the majority - socialism.
In The Socialist 6 December 2003: