25 Sep 2011

‘Labour would cap student fees at £6,000’

University tuition fees would be capped to a maximum of £6,000 under Labour says Ed Miliband in a move designed to please party loyalists and win back the student vote.

Mr Miliband said he would cut the maximum charge of tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and would fund the cut through a levy on high-earning graduates and a tax hit on bankers.

As well as pleasing activists, the move will heap pressure on the coalition government, especially the Liberal Democrats whose U-turn on opposing fees sparked student riots.

Mr Miliband said he wanted to use the annual gathering, being held in Liverpool, to show hard-working families “that Labour is back as the party of them”.

Speaking to two newspapers Mr Miliband said graduates earning more than £65,000 a year would pay higher interest on their student loans to help fund the lower cap.

The rest would be found by cancelling, for the financial sector, the Government’s cut in corporation tax.

“Parents up and down the country are incredibly worried about their sons and daughters,” Mr Miliband told The Sunday Mirror.

“We want to take action to make it easier for people to go to university and not feel burdened down by debt.”

He told The Observer that David Cameron and Nick Clegg risked destroying the ambition of a generation by “loading the costs of paying off the deficit onto our young people”.

Ditching the Government’s proposed cut in corporation tax from 28 per cent to 23 per cent was “fair” because “we shouldn’t be cutting taxes for the banks at the moment”, he said.

Universities Minister David Willetts said it represented a cynical u-turn.

“Ed Miliband promised a graduate tax and now he’s accepting fees have to increase to finance universities in tough times.

“So why should students trust anything he says? He says one thing to become leader and within a year does a u-turn.

“It makes Labour’s vote last year against fee increases look completely cynical.”

Ministers initially claimed that most students could expect to pay under £6,000 but official figures show more than a third of universities are expected to charge the full £9,000 from 2012.

Students starting degree courses from next year face average tuition fees of almost £8,500.

Mr Miliband insisted Labour’s plan to slash university fees by £3,000 was fully-costed and ruled out cutting them further because “I’m only going to do what I can afford to do”.

The pledge was not yet formally part of the Labour manifesto but are “an important first step”.

He told the Andrew Marr Show: “It is a policy we would do now if we were at an election.”

Economic Secretary to the Treasury Justine Greening said: “Ed Miliband says he has a plan to cut the deficit and then suggests a VAT cut costing £12 billion and a cut in tuition fees paid for with bank taxes he has already spent.

“He has completely abandoned the Darling plan which was judged by the markets to be insufficiently credible.

“His total lack of answers on the economy shows how weak a leader he is.”

As well as the fees reduction, Mr Miliband will offer radical measures to end “rip off” household energy bills and over-expensive train fares, during his key-note speech on Tuesday.

Want to follow the Labour conference but can’t go to Liverpool? Follow it all on our live blog, tweet by tweet. #labconf

Opinion polls

New opinion polls continue to show Ed Miliband lacks definition with voters.

Earlier today Ed Miliband acknowledged he had a “long way to go” to convince people to vote Labour at the next election.

On one level Labour aren’t doing that badly in the polls – today’s BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday put Labour on 40 percent, the Conservatives on 37 per cent and the Lib Dems on 10 per cent.

But one year on from his election – Ed Miliband’s own ratings are still low – the public still unsure about who he is. And he scores badly even on likeability.

Asked which couple the public would invite for dinner 23 per cent said the Camerons, 11 per cent the Cleggs, and 10 per cent said the Milibands.

Who would you invite for dinner?

The Camerons: 23 per cent
The Cleggs: 11 per cent
The Milibands: 10 per cent.