Free Education and the Future of the Labour Party

The recent finding from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that more than half of UK graduates are in non-graduate jobs is more a reflection of our slow and partial recovery from the recession triggered by the 2007 financial crash than it is a reflection of the quality of university education. It does, however, leave most graduates – i.e. those without parents in the top 1% wealth bracket who pay for their education and subsequent internships – with a burden of debt.

The Labour government of 1945 can take much credit for promoting the concept of free education open to all. The view that education is simply the route by which the wealthy secure the best paid and most congenial jobs for their offspring came, perhaps for the first time, under pressure. This advance received its first set back when the Wilson government, having introduced the Open University as a route into degree level education for workers who missed their school-based opportunity, required it in 1970 to charge modest fees. As Tony Simpson has argued, this was a critical mistake that opened the door to tuition fees across the board. First Thatcher froze grants and introduced loans, then in 1998 Labour abolished mandatory student grants and introduced £1,000 tuition fees. Despite Labour’s pledge in 2001 not to introduce top-up fees, they allowed them to rise to £3,000. Under the subsequent Tory government under Cameron, unrestrained by their Lib Dem partners (a treachery that cost them dear), fees have exceeded £9,000 per annum and even an OU degree now costs over £15,000.

There can be no better way of cementing the position of the top 1% on our country than to heap the cost of education on students. Not only does it secure the best jobs for the kids of the wealthy, but it encourages our universities to focus on a neo-liberal worldview and to think of themselves as multi-national businesses, not national centres of learning and research with responsibilities to educate citizens. It is no coincidence that the decline and disappearance of Marxist studies in universities has coincided with this development. To the extent that Marxist studies continue in the UK, it is through such voluntary initiatives as the Communist University in South London https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/, not in our colleges and universities.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour Party leader has been the commitment he has given to scrapping tuition fees and restoring student maintenance grants. In his first major policy announcement of the campaign he said that they could be funded either by a 7% rise in national insurance for those earning over £50,000 a year and a 2.5% higher corporation tax, or by slowing the pace at which the deficit is reduced. His proposals received a negative response from the other candidates. Yet it is a modest price to pay for such an essential reform.

Should Jeremy Corbyn fail to be elected, or, if elected, should the Parliamentary Labour Party seek to block his proposals for scrapping fees and restoring maintenance grants, such is the importance of this issue that it is difficult to see how Labour can avoid the fate that befell it in Scotland. How this issue pans out may well be the key to their future.

Advertisements

New Labour Hubris

The Blairites were supposed to be masters of controlling democracy, having eliminated it first from their party conference, then from party policy making and finally with changes to the procedures for selection and de-selection of MPs. Local government democracy was supressed by the simple ploy of turning Labour councillors into full-time, relatively well paid employees, positions more suited to careerists rather than political activists. The influence of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) was so successfully marginalised within the Labour Party that most ordinary Labour Party members were unaware of its existence when its founder, Vladimir Derer, died last year. So what went wrong? The answer is surely hubris. They came to believe their own propaganda about a silent, middle class majority. Triangulate on them and all would be well. What they forgot was that the silent majority are just that – silent. They don’t participate in politics. Meanwhile, there is a large, progressive minority who do. People like us: people who go on marches against the war and against austerity; people who join Palestine Solidarity, CND, Cuba Solidarity etc. Even a growing number who are joining the Communist Party – although in our case we are not recommending our members to vote in the Labour Leadership election. We have a long standing and proud tradition against entryism. As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto,

Communists fight for the attainment of immediate aims, for the enforcement of the current interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also take care of the future of that movement…They labour everywhere for the union and agreement of democratic parties…Communist s disdain to conceal their views and aims…They openly declare that their ends can be obtained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.

 

Sound principles in 1848 and sound principles today.

An Alternative to Job Seekers Allowance and the State Pension

With the UK economy faltering and in no state to withstand another shock – we are still paying for the bank bailout – you may think that the prospect of  Job Seekers Allowance – £72.40 a week or £57.35 if you are under 25 – is not a very attractive prospect even assuming you can satisfy the onerous conditions and limited tenure.  Much better, surely, to collect £300 a day for simply turning up at your designated place of work and then doing absolutely nothing. Furthermore, unlike JSA you won’t be singled out as a work-shy scrounger by the press; payments are non-contributory – you don’t even have to have paid any UK tax; and there is no retirement age  – more than half the current claimants are over 70. Important fringe benefits include a subsidised canteen and bars and every prospect of an upgrade the next time you fly.  Yes –  it’s Member of the House of Lords and you can nominate yourself at House of Lords – self nomination.

Be warned: there is only seating for 400 Lords at Westminster and there are already 783 of them including 26 Bishops. You may not therefore get a seat, but not to worry. No one expects you to actually go to the Chamber and listen to the interminable speeches, let alone speak yourself. You can even claim your allowance without turning up if you say you are working at home. Finally, unlike JSA, not only can you have another job without being prosecuted, you can actually pimp this one to any interested business – they don’t even have to be based in the UK – provided you record that you have done so in the Register of Members Interests.

Too good to be true? The problem is that Cameron, having secured only 36.9% of the vote at the General Election on a 66.1% turnout, i.e. the support of 24% of the electorate, intends himself to appoint some 50 additional Lords in order to secure himself an unearned majority in that House too. As this will cost us as a nation at least £1.3m per year more, the prospects for further expansion will be limited and your application may not be treated as favorably as it deserves. As a job creation scheme, the House of Lords may have reached its capacity. As it serves no other useful function, the time has come sadly to merge it with JSA and the State Pension. But good luck with your application anyway.