Alan Clarke, NUS National Executive (personal capacity) and Campaign for Free Education co-chair
As Solidarity goes to press, the Government is preparing to publish a detailed final version of its plan for Higher Education student funding.
Since Tony Blair and Charles Clarke have repeatedly refused to bow to disquiet among Labour MPs, the plans are almost certain to mirror the essentials of last year's White Paper: 'freedom' for some universities to set higher fees, with the pill sugared by the reintroduction of a tiny, heavily means-tested maintenance grant.
By the end of 2003, more than 150 Labour backbenchers had signed a resolution hostile to top-up fees; over Christmas, however, many Blairites among the signers scrabbled to find an excuse to back the Government. Clarke has hinted at minor concessions on fee remission, loan repayment and the level of the proposed grant; meanwhile, a group of MPs around Peter Bradley have detached themselves from the rebellion and offered to support higher fees on the condition that they are made 'non-variable' (i.e., every institution must charge the same).
In a propaganda coup for the Government, the press has started to describe those who plan to 'hold out' for non-variable higher fees as 'hardliners', with principled opposition to any rise in fees - let alone anything more radical - swept off the agenda.
Although the Government is still under massive pressure it looks possible that enough 'rebels' will back down to save Blair's neck. A left-wing Labour MP who supports the Campaign for Free Education described the haggling over details as "not a fight between the Government and the left, but between the Government and its sycophants", arguing that the real left needs to win the maximum possible parliamentary concessions, but also prepare itself practically and ideologically for the fight outside Parliament.
The CFE will be demonstrating outside the House of Commons the day the vote takes place (not yet finalised, but rumoured to be January 27th), and calls on student union officers and activists from around London to join it. We will also be campaigning to win the maximum support for the alternative funding proposal produced by CFE supporters at Oxford University: an 'Alternative White Paper' which, backing up its arguments with rigorous and carefully referenced figures, calls for free education funded in the only progressive way possible - taxing the rich.
- To add your student union or trade union branch's name to the Alternative White Paper, or to get involved in our protests, contact the CFE on 07968 984 358 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Protest outside Parliament on the day of the vote!
Bring activists, placards, banners.
For more information contact the CFE 07968 984358