The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 5th December 2003

Sinn Féin leaders confer after elections

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by Daphne Liddle

PRIME Minister Tony Blair last week admitted his future was on the line as he faces possible defeat over the issue of student tuition fees.

Currently 145 Labour MPs have signed a motion opposing the plans, announced in last weeks’ Queen’s Speech, to allow universities to charge up to £3,000 a year in top-up tuition fees. And it emerged in questioning last week that £3,000 might not be the limit. The wording of the Bill would allow universities to charge “variable fees”.

This could lead to a two-tier system of universities, with prestige universities with big, expensive science and medical research programmes charging much more than other universities and students opting for the courses they could afford rather than those they were best qualified for.

Working class students would effectively be barred from many of the top courses.

 Or it could lead to all universities – and they all claim to be cash-strapped – putting their fees up to £3,000 a year – ruling most working class students out of university altogether.

 This is the very opposite of what Blair claims he wants. He says he wants to see around 50 per cent of all young people going into higher education, with opportunities made much wider.

 The problem is that this increase in the total number of education places must be funded somehow.

 The logical solution would be an increase in income tax. Those who graduated to get good jobs would end up paying higher taxes and effectively repaying what the state has nested in them – without saddling them with huge debts at the very start of their careers, as Blair is proposing.

 Blair met his own backbenchers in Wednesday morning in an attempt to quell the mounting opposition to top up fees. He told them there might be some minor concessions but that he was determined to see the principle of the Bill implemented.

 He has also postponed the introduction of the Bill until the New Year to allow more time to pressurise some of the rebels in his own camp.

Blair sees this as part of his plan to be a “reforming” premier, equipping Britain to cope with modern times. This seems to consist of allowing private enterprise free access to plunder every part of public services, including education.

 The Labour leader came very close to defeat on the issue of foundation hospitals and admits that now “my authority is on the line”. He told MPs he may quit if he does not get his way.

Many back bench Labour MPs who are unhappy with his policies on increasing privatisation at home and his dragging Britain into the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq, will see this as an opportunity to get rid of Blair – who is now a liability to Labour’s election prospects.

 The Liberal Democrats and Tories are opposed to increasing tuition fees, but for different reasons. The Tories say they want to restore the grant and free tuition but restrict university entry to an elite few as they did in the old days.

 Blair also faced a lobby of Parliament on Wednesday organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). Students from all over the country, including delegations from Scotland and Wales, came to Westminster to urge MPs to vote against increased tuition fees.

 NUS national president Mandy Telford said: “This lobby is just one of the tools NUS is employing in its campaign for to defeat top-up fees and win a fairer funding system.

real and ugly

“The very real and ugly threat of top-up fees must be defeated and it is vital that MPs recognise exactly what these proposals mean”.

Former Cabinet Minister and Chief Whip Nick Brown last Tuesday said 145 Labour MPs had now signed a motion opposing the Bill.

 “I don’t think social justice comes from loading young people from families of ordinary means with a large amount of debt.

 “I don’t think social justice comes from putting obstacles in the way of youngsters from the very poorest households from going on to higher education at all.

 “All the academic evidence suggests fear of debt deters people from less prosperous backgrounds.

 “And I don’t think social justice comes from allowing the most privileged of higher education institutions to increase their fees and just take in rich people.”

 We must now do all we can to pressure our MPs to throw out this Bill, throw our Blair and throw out all his privatisation policies – along with Government support for the US occupation of Iraq. 


Crisis in Belfast

THE OUTCOME of the northern Irish elections has pushed the Good Friday Agreement to the top of the agenda again in Westminster. Sinn Féin’s sweeping gains have confirmed their position as the leading nationalist party in the occupied north of Ireland while the success of Ian Paisley’s hard-line Democratic Unionists (DUP) reflects the crisis in the loyalist movement.

Whether the DUP sits at the table with Sinn Féin or not is a matter for themselves to decide. What they must not be allowed to do is veto the restoration of the power-sharing institutions that have been suspended for over a year.

Paisley’s people say they are not willing to sit down and negotiate with Sinn Féin in government but they do talk to the republicans on the local councils. What the DUP really objects to is the Good Friday Agreement itself and the power-sharing principles that undermine loyalist domination in the north of Ireland. Their tactics are only a cruder and more blatant sectarian version of the game David Trimble’s “official” Ulster Unionists have been playing for the past year. And it only works because the British government approves of it.

British imperialism signed up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It is a solemn and binding agreement sanctioned by the Irish government and the United States. But almost as soon as the ink was dry on the paper British imperialism tried to claw back the concessions made to reach the consensus that has guaranteed the current cease-fire with the IRA. They use the loyalists and the hold they have over much of the Protestant population for their own strategic need to prolong partition and retain political and military control of the occupied Six Counties. It’s an old trick but it never works in the long run.

Sinn Féin’s sweeping gains in the northern Irish elections cannot be ignored by the Government. The Government must not be allowed to continue using the unionist parties as an alibi for not implementing the Good Friday Agreement. The labour and peace movement in Britain must demand the immediate restoration of the devolved government envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement, with or without the DUP.


No to top-up fees

The despicable plan for student top-up fees will be put to the House of Commons in January giving Labour MPs a golden opportunity to defeat the Blair government on a key plank in the Blair agenda.

The proposals, deferred for a month in face of mounting criticism from the back-benches and the public, could force students to pay fees of up to £3,000 for every year of study, repayable when they graduate. Though there is some provision for the destitute, top-up fees will invariably reduce the already small number of working people who go into higher education.
Blair says there will be “no retreat” over top-up fees and when asked whether he would resign if he lost the vote in Parliament, he admitted that his “authority was on the line”.

All the more reason for opposing it. The sooner he goes the better. Speed the day!

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