Labour focussing on ‘practical’ plans for government, says shadow minister after tuition fees pledge dropped

After Sir Keir Starmer signalled yesterday that Labour would ditch his pledge to abolish tuition fees, a shadow minister has said that it is important to recognise “the system” on university tuition is “broken”. 

But, speaking to Sky News this morning, shadow financial secretary to the treasury James Murray defended Sir Keir’s U-turn on tuition fees because of “how much the world has changed in the last three years”.

He explained: “Not least because of what Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng the party did last autumn crashing the economy, the impact of which we’re still feeling. It would be the right thing for us to do as a responsible party, wanting to get into government to set out plans which are practical, fully costed, fully funded and work given the economic context that we would inherit if we won the next general election”.

Sir Keir has faced accusations of a “flip flop” after he signalled yesterday that he intends to ditch his pledge to scrap tuition fees.

Speaking on Tuesday morning the opposition leader said the party was preparing to “move on” from the tuition fees commitment.

Sir Keir personally committed to scrapping tuition fees when he stood for the Labour leadership in 2020, including the policy in his list of pledges. It also featured in the party’s 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestoes under Jeremy Corbyn.

Asked about the policy on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Labour leader said: “We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation.”

“We are looking at options for how we fund these fees. The current system is unfair, it doesn’t really work for students, doesn’t work for universities”, he added.

Sir Keir’s decision to ditch his tuition fees pledge follows the dropping of other commitments from the 2020 leadership contest. Among the policies dropped by the Labour leader since he took over are free movement with the EU, raising taxes on the top 5 per cent of earners and taking utilities into public ownership.

Defending Sir Keir’s approach to his 2020 Labour leadership pledges, Mr Murray said: “During the leadership campaign for the Labour Party, Keir set out his values, he set out that what drives him – none of that has changed. Whether that is making the economy fairer, whether it’s tackling climate change, or whether it’s restoring public services and so on”.

Tuition fees are currently capped at £9,250 under a system introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in the face of student protests.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, rejected the “flip flop” characterisation this morning as she told Times Radio: “I just don’t buy this idea that somehow everything has been abandoned. That is just not the case.

“But we do face very different circumstances to those that existed when Keir became leader and you have got to adapt to that”.