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Dropping tuition fees pledge will raise questions over how fast Starmer wants change | Politics News

Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed this morning that Labour will drop its pledge from the last two elections to abolish tuition fees.

Although he hinted at it earlier this year, and education spokesman Bridget Phillipson has put much of her focus on the early years instead – it nonetheless marks a turning point.

It draws a complete line under the economic arguments of Jeremy Corbyn‘s leadership, which Sir Keir only three years ago wanted to continue with.

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His promises during the 2020 leadership contest to nationalise public utilities, increase income tax for the top 5% of earners, abolish Universal Credit, and now abolish tuition fees are all crossed out, which some members will see as a betrayal.

For Sir Keir, he hopes it will hammer home the message that fiscal discipline is now key. With his party ever-mindful of the 1992 election when Neil Kinnock’s party had big leads in the opinion polls but was accused by their opponents of planning a “tax bombshell”, Sir Keir and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are insistent that all policies put forward are fully costed.

Labour sources privately say the pledge to abolish tuition fees, promised in 2017 and 2019, simply doesn’t add up and would require up to £12bn upfront.

The means of paying for it – by raising corporation tax – has been done already. The policy was criticised at the time on the grounds that it would benefit those who go on to earn the most.

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Sir Keir makes the point that COVID and the Liz Truss era have damaged the public finances, leaving the cupboard bare and growth rates on the floor.

He also promised to look at options to change the system, with Labour sources saying their tuition fee policy at the election “won’t be the status quo”.

Sir Keir Starmer's pledge on tuition fees when he was running to be party leader
Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge on tuition fees when he was running to be party leader

The question Sir Keir will continue to face as the election looms into view is whether, despite a significant lead in the polls, he is being too cautious.

He’ll be questioned over telling voters that after 13 years of Conservative government, the NHS is “on its knees” as he put it over the weekend, and that the cost of living is unsustainable, but without bold enough solutions.

Senior Labour figures say their policies are more ambitious than they get credit for.

The plans to levy VAT on private school fees and close non-dom loopholes; make Brexit work, boost industry and climate commitments to insulate homes “show whose side we’re on and are bolder than anything on the 1997 pledge card”, one source said.

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“But we can only win back people’s trust by growing the economy first.”

As we head into a general election year, and both parties set out more of their offer to voters, Sir Keir Starmer will face more questions about whether he’s offering radical change – and how fast.

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