Students protest for free education in London, 19 November 2014.
Students protest for free education in London, 19 November 2014. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird.

It is often said that the electorate has a short memory, a saying that Labour is clearly relying on to pull off what was perhaps the least inspiring policy pledge of the election so far. Miliband’s troop have tantilisingly dangled the prospect of trimming university tuition fees from the current £9,000 down to £6,000, obviously hoping those they want to win over with the pledge (the young) will not remember a time when tuition was free, nor which party it was that first changed that.

Despite a sickening slew of Labour loyalists now wishing to preen Labour’s red plumage, and a depressing amount of students seemingly mesmerised by the sham feathers, we should be under no illusions what has happened here: a slightly less neoliberal party has offered a slightly less neoliberal policy. The end result? More society sapping, environmental eroding, poverty pushing neoliberalism. A generation ago tuition fees were merely a right-wing pipe dream, but now offering students at least £18,000’s worth of debt is what passes as progressive.

So empowered is our Establishment that it can make us ignore simple facts—these aren’t theories or ideals we’re debating when we talk about the failed neoliberal project—it’s historical precedent, several hundred million Latin Americans can tell you that. Neither is it ‘blue-sky thinking’ when we say free tuition is obtainable- it’s merely noting what some of are closest neighbours are doing. We don’t often have raging debates as to whether trees or dogs exist- so why do we about whether free tuition is possible—the proof is just beyond Hadrian’s wall.

The more honest Labourites will admit that £6,000 is still too much, but we embrace Labour because at least they’re ‘taking a step in the right direction’. Codswallop. If this were the latest in a long line of announcements that indicate a small but significant u-turn back towards its socialist roots, then the point might be valid. Back in the real world, however, what we see is a half-baked measure that comes after Ukip-like immigration rhetoric, Tory-like welfare rhetoric, and polling neck and neck with the Greens amongst 18-24 year olds. This move by Labour is not part of some broader moral renewal- it’s a half-arsed attempt at fooling the young back into the fold.

If Labour’s offer was the best we had, then the argument to vote for them might carry some weight, but it’s not. The Greens out-promise them in every possible way, with tuition being no different (they support free tuition for all students). If free tuition is such a vote winner amongst young people, then why haven’t Labour promised it?

For the same reason they haven’t promised to nationalise rail and energy, haven’t the stomach to challenge TTIP, and haven’t bothered to speak out against the corruption at the heart of the City: they are the City. Labour sold its soul long ago and forfeited it’s right to be seen as the champion of the oppressed. Its engulfment by neoliberal ideology has sent British politics into an ever-descending spiral of despair, where the right-wing nightmarish policies of last decade are the manifesto pledges of the Labour Party today.

As Noam Chomsky said: “If you saddle students with large amounts of debt, they’re unlikely to think about changing the world”, yet change is sorely needed. A handful of decades left to save ourselves from an environmental catastrophe with the potential to wipe out civilisation, even less time until inequality leads to either an Elysium-style dystopia or mass riots and bloodshed, and growing disenchantment from the formal political system—the future is bleak and we’re not educating a generation to be able to fix it.

Both our need and want has now outgrown what the current political system has to offer—half-baked measures designed to give the appearance of change in a system so rigid it props up an otherwise spineless crop of political parties wont cut it anymore. More now than ever we need to have the courage to extract ourselves from a two-party system that hasn’t served our interests for a long time, and more than ever we need free and accessible education that gives us engaged and critical thinkers, not ’employable’ robots.

You can choose to be placated by £6,000 a year and a slight tinkering with the tax system if you want, but all it will do is continue us on our downward trajectory. I’m going to keep fighting for free education, and a radically different political, economic and social system, before it’s too late.

Bradley Allsop on how Labour’s promise to lower tuition fees to £6,000 is the symptom of a cynical politics where the ‘right-wing nightmarish policies of last decade are the manifesto pledges of the Labour Party today’. Originally published in the Huffington Post.