I was just about to do a piece questioning SNP policy on a health databank that could lead to identity cards and mentioning strict No Disagreement rules for new Nationalist MPs as well as the shortage of foreign language classes in primary school, when…along came another nut-job from Jim Murphy and, well, I can’t ignore it.
Tuition fees, eh? That irresponsible and incoherent SNP policy that bankrolled middle class students and drove money away from poorer kids aiming for college…the principle that was so important that Scottish Labour MPs voted to bring in fees for English students…is simply declared, North Korea-style, as a Crime Against Humanity.
Kim Jong Murphy, standing on the marble steps of his throne room, reversed the convention accepted by the masses and told them He had conferred with God and now decreed there Shall Be No Student Fees. Adherents hugged each other and wept openly in their thousands. Others threw rotten fruit at the austere statue to the fallen leader Dewar as a symbol of the old regime which abolished upfront fees but retained the dreaded post-education Endowment. All those who had supported university fees elsewhere in the UK were to be led through the streets with placards round their neck saying Traitor… ‘except Honourable Members who didn’t know any better at the time and were only doing their duty,’ added Kim.
All we needed was the Great Patriot to announce He was gratified that the failed enemy of the state Salmond had now fallen into line too and had the same no fees policy.
We’re fond of saying nowadays that politics has changed and that this is a new Scotland. By god, we didn’t know the half of it as Murphy re-writes every rule, twists every fact, distorts every position and – in another eerie echo of Pyongyang – has a compliant media to dutifully report every utterance without criticism. It may not be long before we hear there is Only One Jim Murphy http://abcnews.go.com/International/north-korea-decrees-named-kim-jong/story?id=27339253
To be fair to Murphy, this is only the latest in a long line of Labour manoeuvres on this issue.
Before 1997, Labour was not explicit in promising tuition fees but hinted that the cost of student maintenance should be paid back after graduation and Blair was quoted using the Yes Minister weasel term: ‘We have no plans to….’
Then, a year in to government, Blair shocked many supporters and Labour MPs by bringing in the first fees – and replacing grants with student loans. A key objection was that he had not made clear the plan before the election.
The new Scottish Executive abolished upfront fees in 2000 and set the retrospective repayment endowment at £2000 (a backdoor fee).
In 2001 the Labour government was re-elected promising no top up fees. But before the end of the parliament and after a massive revolt, Blair finally got through a bill to allow fees to rise to £3000 – with the help of Scottish Labour MPs. (At this stage, the Tories are even against fees describing them, like the SNP, as a tax on learning).
Since then of course, the Tories, with the help of the Liberals – who also used to oppose – have put them up to £9000.
In 1998 MP Jim Murphy voted not to exempt Scottish students from fees.
In 2004 he voted to increase fees in England to £3000.
In 2010 he voted against Tory/Lib Dem plans to raise fees to £9000.
So his record has been that he is favour of fees but just not too high fees. His previous position was that free university education is ‘incoherent, indefensible and unrealistic.’ And yet that is today his new stance. Credible? Do we accept that a man can change his mind? Well, indeed he can, but what he can’t do is transform himself from Aladdin to Widow Twankey in the same pantomime. He can’t turn full circle from Blairite marketeer to patriotic socialist in the space of weeks and he can’t perform somersault after somersault until he’s cartwheeling across the stage. We would need the same suspension of reality that allows us to enjoy the panto in order to trust Murphy now.
His own judgment is surely now in tatters but the bigger question is where this leaves Labour. For a start Miliband is now rowing back furiously from the ludicrous English £9000 a year charge and splitting his party with a his call for a maximum of £6000 – popular with students and the young but removing the money to fund it from pensions. And if cutting fees is so popular, doesn’t that demonstrate how stupid Labour have been all these years by having fees at all?
Then, separately, in Scotland Labour falls into line with the Nationalists and tries to bury a campaigning target it has long aimed at. Or has it? Remember Iain Gray warning that free tuition was ‘not sustainable’ and saying some payment from students was necessary? Then, shortly before the 2011 election wipe out, Gray did a Murphy somersault on fees and declared he also agreed there should be no charge. It was opportunism then and it is opportunism now.
And where in this cringe-worthy mess is the ordinary Labour member? Where was he/she when Lamont announced univeralism was something for nothing – all those benefits that were brought in by Labour – free care for the elderly, free prescriptions, bus passes, written off as witless bribes we can’t afford. And here we are again – another leader, another U-turn, another Labour cock-up.
The question for Murphy isn’t: What do you believe?
The question for Murphy is: What do you believe TODAY?by