Keir Starmer may well be about to make himself a whole lot more unpopular with the left of his party – as well as much of the nation’s youth.
According to a senior party source who spoke to the Times, a u-turn on tuition fees from the Labour leader is imminent. Starmer is preparing to make a speech later this month in which he will announce his decision to ditch his party’s commitment to free university tuition.
Labour’s two past general election manifestos promised to abolish tuition fees and Starmer himself pledged to stick by this policy during his bid to be elected as party leader in 2020 – a time when he needed to win over some former Corbynistas.
Admittedly, this era predated the pandemic and an energy crisis, both of which have ramped up the requirement for fiscal prudence. Indeed, according to this same party source, the policy of free tuition is now “a glaring anomaly” at a time when the party is being so careful about making big spending commitments.
It’s unclear exactly what Starmer’s revised policy would entail. Perhaps it would be something resembling that of former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who pledged to cut annual fees from £9,000 to £6,000 during his general election campaign in 2015.
But is it a wise move? Starmer and Sunak have both pledged to bring down national debt if they prevail at the next general election – a pledge which will undoubtedly require cautious public spending. Then again, as the Lib Dems would no doubt warn Sir Keir, voters don’t react kindly to politicians who break tuition fee pledges…
News of the imminent u-turn comes just as a fresh YouGov poll for the Sun reveals that Sunak has overtaken Starmer for the first time since becoming PM on the question of who would make a better leader, after edging two points ahead. Sunak is even two points ahead with voters in Scotland, despite the Labour leader’s drive to capitalise off the SNP train wreck and seize the Scottish vote. A tuition fee row-back could see Starmer’s popularity ratings plummet further.
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