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Top-Up Fees - The Beginning Of The End For Blair?
WILL BLAIR sink with his 'flagship' Bill on top-up tuition fees? He's definitely pursuing a high-risk strategy. In the face of mass opposition from ordinary people and now from Labour MPs he's linked introducing top-up fees with his own authority and could well lose.
Despite Blair making some concessions (see page 3), as we go to press at least 100 Labour MPs are still saying that they will vote against the Bill. MPs in marginal constituencies understand that the groundswell of anger against top-up fees could cost them their seats at the next election. Even some formerly loyal MPs appear to be standing firm against a Bill that they see as the 'thin end of the wedge'.
Blair has sent in his 'heavy', Education Secretary Charles Clarke, to 'persuade' MPs to toe the line. But appeals to 'trust' in Blair are not having the same effect as in previous rebellions. There is a layer of Labour MPs who have had enough and are prepared to vote against - even if it means bringing Blair down. Many consider that he has become a liability and that it's time for him to go.
WHY IS Blair risking the humiliation of defeat over £1 billion? This is the amount of extra money that will be available to universities if 75% charge the maximum fee of £3,000. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the £11 billion funding gap that universities currently have.
Of course Blair has put his personal authority 'on the line' and doesn't want to be seen to back down now. But, more importantly, top-up fees are an integral part of his plans to do the bidding of his big-business backers and 'reform' the public sector. This means introducing the market so that companies can make money out of our public services.
Big business want graduates but they don't want to pay for them through taxes on their profits. Instead they want students to pay twice for their education - through general taxation and through a graduate tax that could mean massive debts of over £20,000 a year (see page 3).
The Russell group of ˇlite universities have made no secret of the fact that they want to see fees that reflect a 'true market rate'. That could mean fees of between £10,000 and £20,000 a year after the cap on fees is removed. Once the principle of variable fees is introduced the sky's the limit as far as they and big business are concerned.
THERE IS still time for MPs to cave in to Blair but he can't be sure of victory. Defeat would mean that he was damaged goods. He could still stagger on till the next election but a 'managed' resignation before that is also possible if the Bill is defeated.
The Hutton report on the death of Dr David Kelly is due to be published within days of the vote on top-up fees. The report is likely to fudge the question of blame. But in an opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday 75% thought that Blair was lying when he said that he didn't authorise leaking Kelly's name to the press. Although the inquiry didn't cover the crucial question of why Blair went to war with Iraq, the publication of the report will nevertheless remind people of his lies over weapons of mass destruction, which Blair has now admitted may never be found.
Top-up fees and the Hutton inquiry could mark the beginning of the end for Blair. But a new Labour government with Brown at the helm would still be in thrall to the dictates of big business.
Mass protests against top-up fees, including on the day that the Bill gets its second reading in Parliament, can put pressure of Labour MPs to vote against. This is what the Socialist Party and International Socialist Resistance are building for. The campaign should then be continued for fees to be scrapped and for a living grant for all students.
At the same time it's clear that capitalism, which is motivated by profits and the market, cannot guarantee a decent education for all. We need to change the system. That means campaigning for a new mass party that can provide a political alternative to New Labour's attacks on our hard won rights, and for socialism.
In The Socialist 17 January 2004:
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