Labour leader Ed Miliband recently announced that if his party come into power, tuition fees will be reduced from to £6000 a year. Addressing a crowd of young people at the Leeds College of Music, the aspiring Prime Minister aims to catch the youth vote on the back of the coalition’s 2010 tripling of fees, one which Ed called ‘the biggest betrayal of students in modern British history’. Is the Labour leader full of political fluff or truly concerned for the student plight? Editor-In-Chief Jasmine Andersson investigates.
Why did you come to Leeds to announce the youth pledge?
I think that Leeds students are great students — I would say that, wouldn’t I! I think it’s really important to say to Leeds students that there is a party that understands what they are going through. Times have been tough and I think people have been desperate for a party that will stand up for students, and we are, and that’s why we’re going to cut the tuition fees. That’s why we’re going to increase the grant and I think it’s absolutely the right choice, and it’s the fair choice. Yes it says the richest in our society are going to pay a bit more, but I think that’s a fair thing to do and it’s great to be in Leeds to do it.
Of course, we’ve seen a pledge happen before. We saw 2010, in which the coalition government tripled fees to £9000. How can you comfort students like me who have been disillusioned by tuition fee promises and want to know that the pledge matters?
Well, that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done. Years ago I made the statement about £6000 and lots of people said, ‘he’s not going to keep the promise. Once he’s in that position, he’s not going to keep the promise. I am going to keep the promise. That’s why I’ve given you an unconditional promise today. This is going to happen, no ifs, no buts, Nick Clegg… this is going to happen. I’m looking you in the eye and saying it’s going to happen. I want to restore people’s faith in politics. One of the ways we’re going to do that is by carrying out what we’ve promised.
Critics have come forward and said that education should be free, and that the pledge doesn’t go far enough. What would you say to those people?
Obviously we’d always want to go further, and that’s why I said for the longer term we’d look towards the graduate tax. I think it’s right that we do that. People know it’s tough times, and people want to know that we get it, and we get the circumstances that people are facing. People don’t want skyless icons, and they had that with Nick Clegg. But let’s not have pie in the sky promises. Let’s have something we can meet. That’s what we’ve done today.
Right-wing parties are illustrating a predilection for the sciences over the arts. Are the sciences more important?
I think it’s really important that this is an across the board fee cap. There was a really good question from the audience about the importance of the arts subjects. Creative subjects are incredibly important to the future of our country. I take this incredibly seriously, and spoke earlier on in the week about the importance of the arts. I don’t have two classes of subjects in my mind. I think it’s really important that we help all students in all subjects.
Students graduating this year will have paid £9000 fees and will graduate with the looming threat of unpaid internships and unaffordable housing. What can Labour do for them?
We want to make a difference to unpaid internships, and we’re going to have more to say about this in the coming weeks. I think it’s really important to distinguish the difference between internships and employment. When you’re working month after month after month on no wage you’re technically employed, and that doesn’t create a great future for our young people. We are going to have to look at it, so watch this space.