David Willets, the newly appointed Universities Minister, has had a remarkably unoriginal idea for a Tory official: raise tuition fees. If their wages depended on the originality of their proposals, they would all be pisspoor. The reason he gave for this move is the old, nasty and very familiar “there is no money”. As if we didn’t know; for the Tories, there is never any money. Despite this, it’s easy to see how Willets will never make a good Tory. When he broke the news to the public, he made the unallowable mistake of telling us exactly what he should be doing instead of what he wants to do. And that is dangerous. His words were,
Fortunately for Willets I seem to have been the only one to notice. Also, we live in times of little revolutionary upheaval. You see, a good Tory would have never used the words “pay higher income tax”. And a good Tory would have never, ever, preceded that phrase with the words “an obligation”. Willets is a rubbish Tory.
If Willets’ intention were to make students pay higher income tax, then the surest way to achieve this would be to raise income tax. If he thoroughly believed in making those who earn more pay more, then he would be taxing those who earn more. But that presents a problem, you see, because then the ones being taxed wouldn’t be the fresh, young and hopeful students who may dream of earning enough money to make up for the exorbitant fees, but people like Willets who’s wealth is estimated at two million pounds.
And it’s so easy to tax students, isn’t it? After all, they will go on to earn more money than those who are not students. Or at least, that’s how it’s been up to now. Government officials keep peddling the lie, backed by decades of empirical evidence, and convince everyone and their dog that all is fair in making the would-be-wealthy pay today what they will make tomorrow. But the lie is beginning to wear thin. There are too many graduates in crap jobs and earning a pittance, and every year universities churn out more and more. Good jobs that pay well are dead or dying; there are now less of them than before and more graduates to do them. We can all be fairly certain that people graduating from higher education today are not going to be wealthy any time soon. And with more and more cuts in public sector jobs, that last bastion of employment with almost decent conditions, and little incentive from private companies to pay more for the jobs that a larger group of graduates can do, where exactly is that wealth going to come from? With which money are students going to pay the imaginary “income tax” or, rather, the very real debt?
To settle the matter, there’s going to be a review into fees being led by Browne, the former chief executive of BP. Yes, THAT BP. I’ll wait with baited breath for his startlingly fresh, innovative and original take on the matter.
I predict he’ll provide a similar approach to Willet’s: pay up, there’s no money.