Opinion: Ed Miliband starts off his conference week with a damp squib

Many years ago I knew Tom Baldwin when he was a cub reporter on my local newspaper. He is now Ed Miliband’s chief communications guru. He’s a smart cookie, so I am surprised that Baldwin and Ed Miliband have decided to use the traditional opportunity for a trumpet fanfare for their conference week (i.e the front page of The Observer) to announce a distinctly underwhelming policy.

“It’s the economy, stupid” – no more so than at a time like this. So why waste your golden chance for a big media blast by returning, dog-like, to the site of your own oral projectile?

Despite clever attempts to avoid being called to account, university funding (or “tuition fees” in shorthand) is not an area where the Labour party has exactly covered itself in glory. They have managed to avoid the spotlight on their guilt, simply because they had no policy response to the government’s plan, and everyone has been focussed on metaphorically posting waste products through Nick Clegg’s letterbox.

So why now finally announce this policy on the issue? Basically, Miliband is now setting in concrete his acceptance of the Browne report and the government’s policy. But he is trying to convince us that “slashing” the cap on fees from £9,000 to £6,000 will make a difference. Well, it does – but not a good one. Arguably, it helps rich graduates while leaving those on around average incomes untouched. Keir Hardie must be rotating so much in his grave that he is in danger of spinning off into orbit.

So why on earth announce what is, in effect, a humiliating climbdown at the start of conference week?

I can only think that Labour are blinded by the allure of a chance to further push waste products through Nick Clegg’s letterbox. They think they can pull the rug from under the feet of Clegg, after his good conference week, by reminding everyone of his tuition fees episode.

It is puerile politics. It will only work if people don’t look at MoneySavingExpert.com, which clearly shows, as Stephen Tall has demonstrated, that “only those who earn above £38.3k per annum will actually benefit” from Miliband’s plan.

Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings

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