JUST as pressure from Ukip caused David Cameron to get himself in a hopeless tangle over immigration and make promises he could not keep, Ed Miliband’s pledge that a Labour government would reduce university tuition fees by £3,000 a year must be seen in the context of the party’s desperation to prevent more of its younger supporters upping sticks for the Greens.
The damage inflicted on Nick Clegg’s reputation as a result of his U-turn on the same issue offers a stark warning as to the inherent dangers of making promises of any sort on tuition fees. Yet that has not stopped Labour from attempting to woo student voters – and the parents who are, in many cases, expected to bankroll them during their years as an undergraduate.
The trouble, aside from the perennial question when it comes to a new Labour policy as to how it will be afforded, is that the promise of a fees cut to £6,000 falls between two stools.
For students applying to university, there is little difference between the prospect of emerging with £18,000 of debt after three years as opposed to £27,000. Both figures are just as overwhelming to a teenager with little or no income or savings. Unless it is a promise to commit to free higher education for all, it is unlikely to cause much more than a ripple, provided of course that the pledge made by Mr Miliband in Leeds yesterday is deemed credible in the first place. Students have already seen to their cost how politicians can change their minds overnight.
On the other side of the argument are those who will agree with Business Sectretary Vince Cable that a cut on this scale would lead to British universities being underfunded, jeopardising the value, worth and quality of the degrees they offer. As far as encouraging children from lower income families to apply, the number of disadvantaged students going to university has actually risen under the current tuition fee system, which again undermines Mr Miliband’s argument in favour of a reduction.
Second class rail: Passengers being short-changed
AT times it is astonishing how little store is set by delivering value for money when it comes to the increasingly exorbitant prices being charged on Yorkshire’s rail network.
Train passengers in this region have been promised improved services for some time – yet the terms of the latest refranchising deal for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express routes condemn them to travelling on uncomfortable and outdated Pacer trains for another five years.
And even this has been challenged by the Department for Transport’s permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, who complained that the upgrade would bring “no significant improvements in journey time, frequency or new services”. The comfort of paying passengers, it would seem, counts for nothing in the offices of Whitehall.
At a time when the Government is committed to spending £50bn on a high-speed rail line that is likely to benefit relatively few commuters, it is perverse that it is so begrudging in its granting of minor, long-delayed and infinitely cheaper improvements to more local services on which so many more people depend.
Furthermore, the constant talk of creating a so-called Northern Powerhouse is undermined by the sense that the transport needs of regions such as Yorkshire are forever destined to play second fiddle to those in the South. Nine trains currently being used on TransPennine Express routes will move to the Chiltern franchise this spring.
While the promise of more services, more seats and improved facilities under the region’s new franchise deals is to be welcomed, the pervading sense is that rail passengers in Yorkshire continue to be short-changed.
Harry’s next move: Prince set to follow Diana’s lead
THERE will no doubt be some carping in the wake of the announcement that Prince Harry is to leave the Armed Forces after 10 years’ service, not least given the cost of his recent training to become an Apache helicopter pilot.
However, it should be remembered that he has always been willing to throw himself into frontline duties, embarking on two tours in Afghanistan in which he served his country with courage and honour. It appears he now wishes to use his high profile to ensure armed services personnel who were not as fortunate as him receive the care and recognition they deserve.
His enthusiasm for projects such as the Invictus Games and his Sentebale charity suggest that this work represents his true calling. His late mother would surely be very proud.