There has been some confusion over my statements about Anne Campbell and university tuition fees in a previous piece. I was sloppy with my comments and therefore I shall correct them now.
They [new students] may not know the history of Anne's promise to vote against top-up fees prior to the 1997 election -- a promise which she quickly forgot once the election was won, though oddly one which recurs in her propaganda now the deed is done -- and may not realise that her seat is by no means safe.
I have to hand a letter sent by Anne to every student in Cambridge in 1997. Here is a scan of the letter:
(This copy was kept by a more organised friend. Their identity has been obscured on this scan.)
For our purposes the key claim in this letter is,
Labour will not allow universities to introduce tuition fees. Access to higher education must be based on ability to achieve, not on ability to pay.
Fees at universities in the UK are regulated by the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, which gives the Secretary of State for Education the power to, (26 subsection 4)
require the governing body of any such institution [one which is funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England or Wales, or the Teacher Training Agency; that is, a university] to secure that, in respect of the relevant academic year, the fees payable to the institution by any prescribed class of persons in connection with their attending courses of any prescribed description are equal to the prescribed amount.
The Act therefore gives the Secretary of State power to impose fees and regulate their amount. It was used by David Blunkett to impose an annual fee of £1,050 in 1998.
Anne Campbell did not vote against the Teaching and Higher Education Bill when it came before Parliament. (In fact, as you can see from The Public Whip, she was touchingly loyal to the Dear Leader during the 1997--2001 Parliament as a whole.)
Labour has centralised control over fees, so that universities cannot introduce fees of their own choice. (This is what the `top-up fees' controversy is about.)
On this basis, Anne was correct, in a very pedantic sense, to state that `Labour will not allow universities to introduce tuition fees'. Universities were not allowed to introduce tuition fees; instead, the government did it for them.
- While this pedantic interpretation may have been carefully framed, most readers of the letter will have taken from it the impression that a Labour government -- and Anne in particular -- were providing some kind of promise that there would be no tuition fees under that government; nevertheless,
Labour has introduced a tuition fee.
You can either view this as a promise that Anne was in no position to make; or as a promise which her party has broken. In either case you would be forgiven for any surprise you might feel on learning that she did not vote against the measure when it came before the Commons.
- Labour has not `abolished' the student loans scheme (though they have privatised it, which has had almost the effect of abolition on some public services). The same comments apply to this promise.
(If you would like a higher-quality copy of the scan of Anne's letter, please email me.)