July 21, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
I’ve never been a big fan of attacks on the ‘mainstream media’ (MSM), which have often come from Corbybistas upset that the media have reported exactly what he said or did. But sometimes they have a really good point, and this week’s manufactured hoo-ha over tuition fees is a case in point.
The accusation, spread across the print, online and broadcast media, is that Labour have ‘backtracked’ on an election ‘pledge’ to ‘write off’ all student debt ever incurred. This is, quite simply, a lie. REAL fake news.
Let’s start with what Corbyn actually said during the election campaign in an interview with the NME: “there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing the debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage. I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly … We had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem”.
Corbyn’s Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, was asked about this by Andrew Marr after the election, and said: “Jeremy said that that’s an ambition, it’s something that he’d like to do. It’s something that we will not announce we’re doing unless we can afford to do that.”
Seems pretty clear, right? But Marr came back from more on Sunday. He asked Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell about the supposed ‘pledge’. Since it will cost about £100bn it is not a bad question to ask a possible future Chancellor. But it’s how McDonnell’s answer was reported that I think is disgraceful.
McDonnell pointed out that the idea of dealing with historic student debts was an ambition and would be very difficult to do. Not much different to what Rayner had said.
But the Sun reported this as “Jeremy Corbyn accused of betraying voters after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell all-but scraps vow to write off £100 billion student debt” Of course, there was no vow, which is why the Mail had the self-restraint to merely claim the demise of “the seemingly off-the-cuff pledge made by Jeremy Corbyn during the election campaign”. There was no pledge, which makes the highly influential Guido Fawkes site’s comment that McDonnell had “u-turned on that key election promise which won the votes of so many student and young people” a flat out, stinking lie.
Labour has never, once pledged to wipe out all student debt. Instead, Jeremy Corbyn has made the point that if they ended tuition fees there would be a bunch of young people who had had the misfortune to come of university age during a time when fees were £9000 a year and that seemed unfair to him.
Sorry, but we can do better than this. There are plenty of good arguments to be made against scrapping tuition fees (I await the policy being christened the ‘working class tax’ for instance). Lying isn’t one of those arguments and shows fear from a group of people who probably know their brand of politics is losing.