James Forsyth

Will the Tory right oppose a graduate tax?

Will the Tory right oppose a graduate tax?
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One of the vulnerabilities of the Coalition is that when Labour moves position one of its flanks can be exposed. When the Coalition agreement was drawn up, it seemed sufficient that the Lib Dems would maintain the right to carry on opposing tuition fees as both Labour and the Conservatives were in a favour of them. The Lib Dems would still be able to tell students, a key constituency for them, that they were the only party committed to abolishing fees. But as soon as the Labour leadership contenders started moving rapidly towards a graduate tax, the Lib Dems had a problem.

The Tory leadership rapidly accepted the need to help out their junior partners and began looking at ways that its plan for variable fees — eg a market that would allow Oxford to charge more for economics and management than the University of the West of England does for a BA in media and cultural studies — could be turned into a graduate tax.

I suspect that the right can live with a graduate tax as long as it is linked to what people’s education cost and is not just another tax. In other words, the Tory parliamentary party would accept it if the tax system was merely used to claw back what people would otherwise be charged in fees. But if the graduate tax came either in the form of a permanently higher rate of tax for graduates or as a flat rate fee, then I would expect there to be considerable opposition to it on the Tory benches.