Education Secretary Justine Greening accused Labour of lying over its election promises on tuition fees. The problem for Greening is that Labour didn’t lie.
Except it isn’t a U-turn at all. As McDonnell told Marr:
Let me just be clear. What we said in our manifesto was that we will scrap tuition fees – we will scrap tuition fees.
And the scrapping of existing debt was always an “ambition” from the start; something the party wanted to look into in the future. Corbyn stated in an interview with the NME during the election campaign:
First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it.
But in terms of existing debt, Corbyn said:
Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden
Corbyn was frank:
I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this… And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.
A party of liars
But while Corbyn is trying to lead a party based on less spin and more honesty, the Tories appear to be a party of liars. Amber Rudd managed to squeeze four lies into just 34 seconds of the leadership debate during the election campaign. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, meanwhile, are known as serial liars. And the Prime Minister herself has been accused of lying on numerous occasions.
McDonnell and Corbyn didn’t lie. They have been honest. And they didn’t make a U-turn. What McDonnell said on Marr was consistent with what Corbyn said during the election campaign. Greening is grasping at straws, perhaps desperately trying to hide the fact that the money she found for schools down the back of a sofa isn’t enough to stop real-terms cuts to their budgets.