Tuition fees are a dead end for Labour. We need to stop obsessing about them.

It’s easy to understand why many in the Labour Party start focus so much of their views on education with an opposition to tuition fees.

Free education has long been a symbol of what some on the left regard as everything we in the Labour Party stand for with regards equality and it was only with a grudging acceptance that many put up with Tony Blair and Alan Johnson introducing tuition fees in the first place.

It’s not surprising then, when the Tories tripled tuition fees, that many took it as an opportunity to repudiate the policy wholesale and try give ownership of it to the Tories (with some continuing the facile argument that Blair is just a crypto-Tory anyway).

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Labour’s clumsy advances on Vince Cable risk making us look stupid

Are Labour really so clumsy as to openly court Vince Cable and pretend we’re privately best chums with him?

The way I see it this strategy has two broad aims:

  • Orientate the party for a potential post-2015 coalition with the Lib Dems, with Vince Cable as Leader.
  • Destabilise the coalition, increasing the likelihood of a collapse and snap election, in which Labour would emerge as the largest party.

The question really is whether such a strategy will work or whether we will end up with egg on our faces.

We know Cable has had his vanity stroked before, but he’s not that stupid, even if he was vain enough to mouth off about News International to a couple of young, female (undercover) reporters.

The public aren’t so stupid either, and can well see what we’re up to. It risks looking like indulging in childish student politics when there are such big issues that need tackling.

It feels like there is little to gain and instead we just look daft, after spending years slagging off the Lib Dems (with Ed’s insincere ‘I want to destroy them’ line as a clumsy (albeit effective, seemingly) pitch during the Labour leadership election) then suddenly we sincerely love Vince Cable and declare that we could work with him tomorrow, regardless of parliamentary arithmetic.

It’s like banging on about what a leader Charles Kennedy is to undermine current Lib Dem leaders. ‘Well, the problem with Nick Clegg is that he’s no Charlie Kennedy’, as if we really, really liked Charles Kennedy and secretly supported him. It might work to wind up Nick Clegg but it doesn’t really achieve much.

We didn’t secretly love Charles Kennedy, and while Vince Cable may say things that chime with a lot of Labour members and supporters he is still in a Coalition with the Tories and his party will not be holding back any punches when it comes to campaigning against us in an election.

Similarly, Lib Dem supporters aren’t that stupid either, and they’re not (all) secret Labour supporters. Seeing a couple of prominent Labour politicians suddenly act as if they’re best buddies with Vince Cable is not going to make Lib Dem supporters more likely to demand Nick Clegg’s head on a platter.

Surely the result will be the other way round and they’ll see what we’re up to (a plot so visible you can see it from the moon) and rally round Clegg instead. To many Lib Dems, Labour are just as bigger enemy as the Tories and we should be aware of that. Those who used to vote Lib Dem as a centre-left alternative have now left the party and have started to support Labour again. Those who remain are not secret Labour supporters yearning to break free.

While speculation about Cameron’s job grows daily, it’s understandable that Labour want to stir up the hornet’s nest a bit but it all has the feel of the silly season about it. Supposedly even Thatcher at the height of her powers had up to 100 Tory MPs who disliked her and wanted to get rid of her (I think I read this in Alan Clarke’s diaries, so take it for what you will).

Of course, some parts of the media will play along, like the Daily Mail, out of a general dislike for David Cameron, who they blame for not being Margaret Thatcher. So they’ll happily print stories designed to needle and destabilise him and it’s part of Labour’s job as the Opposition to provide these stories. I can understand that.

I’m all for a bit of mischief making but like when we stormed to a Greggs at the height of the Pasty Tax furore and pretended it was all a coincidence, can we at least try and show a bit of class and do it cleverly without making it blatantly obvious to all and sundry what we’re up to?

Maybe we’re enacting a clever bluff, to secure Clegg’s position and further our chances as the only ‘progressive’ vote in 2015 to better enable us to build a majority.

Nah, I don’t think so either.

UPDATE: Seems I might have overestimated some Lib Dems. Though in fairness I suppose you could argue Ming is angry at Vince for the sake of coalition unity so it’s not quite the same thing.

The teflon has well and truly come off Cameron’s coating #pmqs

I watched PMQs for the first time in a while today and was stunned at how weak David Cameron came across.

Usually when you watch PMQs you get a lot of people saying your own guy was great, while the other guy was weak, but you can generally tell the most from the reaction of the MPs both in front of and behind the party leader.

Even when Cameron’s jokes are bad, for instance, he used to get a good laugh from the MPs behind him. His attacks, while at times completely irrelevant to the actual question asked and often duplicitous in the extreme, would also find a roar of approval.

Meanwhile for Ed Miliband, his jokes and attacks would be jeered viciously by the Tory backbenchers (nothing wrong with that per se, it’s all part of the combat of PMQs) while Labour MPs would sometimes struggle to raise much cheer and it often came across as half-hearted. This simply reflects the morale of the MPs, who pay close attention to the polls and the response they get when speaking to constituents (the idea that all MPs are grossly out of touch is always something of a myth. Some are. Most aren’t).

Watching PMQs for the first time in a couple of months, in which time Cameron has suffered the biggest drop in personal ratings ever apart from Gordon Brown, and is now more unpopular than Brown was in the run up to the last General Election and indeed more unpopular than Ed Miliband, I was struck by the change in atmosphere in the House of Commons.

Aside from the genuinely funny exchange about mobile phones, where Miliband skewered Cameron over his texting of Rebekah Brooks and signing off with ‘LOL’ and Cameron retorted with a funny line (that even Miliband burst out laughing to) about Gordon Brown throwing mobile phones at his staff, pretty much every joke Cameron tried to deliver fell flat, including a dreadful line about how Miliband was having a ‘bad day’ that even his most loyal backbenchers couldn’t raise a titter at.

Meanwhile, Miliband dominated the despatch box in a confident manner, continuing to ad-lib while sorting his sheets in front of him and getting large cheers from his backbenchers as question after question hit their mark.

It wasn’t all one way traffic by any means, Miliband’s comments about Cameron getting training for his appearance at the Leveson inquiry fell flat as Tory MPs jeered him for bringing it up, which seemed to nonpluss him momentarily, and Cameron’s line about Gordon Brown throwing phones was probably the funniest of the session.

Nonetheless I was surprised at the change in atmosphere. Cameron’s excuses have stopped working. Earlier in his premiership it looked like he might have a Blair-like teflon coating, where criticisms bounce off where they would find the mark on lesser politicians. Other politicians, like Gordon Brown or John Major, often had the reverse issue when Prime Minister, where every criticism would stick like glue regardless of how fair they were. Watching Cameron today it felt like whatever teflon coating he had has well and truly come off.

Listing all the things the government has done to get growth while we’re in a double dip recession, avoided in the Eurozone, looks complacent and nonsensical. Bringing up people like Alistair Campbell at every opportunity, as if that somehow wins the argument, doesn’t even raise a cheer from his own disgruntled backbenchers anymore. It’s old newsand even his own backbenchers are bored of him rolling out the ‘it’s all your fault’ line after two years in the job.

None of the events of recent weeks since the government’s disastrous budget means Labour is somehow walking to victory at the next General Election, or even that we have become favourites to win.

However it has opened up a space, an opportunity to be heard that Miliband looks aware he needs to take.

There’s a lot of work to do but I’m more optimistic now than at any time since the last election.

Game on!