Miliband makes vow on tuition fees


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The Independent Online

Student tuition fees would be capped at £6,000 under Labour plans unveiled by Ed Miliband in a crowd-pleasing eve of party conference announcement.

The Opposition leader said the £1 billion move to cut the maximum charge by £3,000 would be funded through a levy on high-earning graduates and a tax hit on bankers.

As well as pleasing activists, the move will heap pressure on the governing parties, especially the Liberal Democrats whose U-turn on opposing fees sparked student riots.

Mr Miliband said he wanted to use the annual gathering, being held in Liverpool, to show hard-working families "that Labour is back as the party of them".

As well as the fees reduction, he will use his set-piece speech on Tuesday to offer radical measures to end "rip off" household energy bills and over-expensive train fares.

In interviews with two Sunday newspapers, Mr Miliband said graduates earning more than £65,000 a year would pay higher interest on their student loans to help fund the lower cap.

The rest would be found by cancelling, for the financial sector, the Government's cut in corporation tax.

"Parents up and down the country are incredibly worried about their sons and daughters," Mr Miliband told The Sunday Mirror.

"We want to take action to make it easier for people to go to university and not feel burdened down by debt."

He told The Observer that David Cameron and Nick Clegg risked destroying the ambition of a generation by "loading the costs of paying off the deficit onto our young people".

Ditching the Government's proposed cut in corporation tax from 28% to 23% was "fair" because "we shouldn't be cutting taxes for the banks at the moment", he said.

Coalition sources said the corporation tax cut for banks was already offset by the bank levy and suggested better-off graduates would find ways to get around the higher rates.

And Universities Minister David Willetts said it represented a cynical u-turn.

"Ed Miliband promised a graduate tax and now he's accepting fees have to increase to finance universities in tough times.

"So why should students trust anything he says? He says one thing to become leader and within a year does a u-turn.

"It makes Labour's vote last year against fee increases look completely cynical."

Ministers initially claimed that fees over £6,000 would be the exception but official figures show more than a third of English universities have been granted permission to charge fees of £9,000 as standard from 2012.

Students starting degree courses from next year face average tuition fees of almost £8,500.

On its opening day, the conference will vote on a package of internal reforms championed by the leader approved yesterday by Labour's ruling National Executive Committee.

The changes include giving non-member "registered supporters" voting rights in future leadership elections, if they reach 50,000 in number.

Their votes will count 10% in the electoral college, rather than diluting the union section as initially proposed.

Also agreed by the NEC today was a review of conference voting arrangements and the weight given to union votes - proposals will be brought forward by next March.

Mr Miliband said: "I want to change our party to make us more outward-looking, so we spend our time talking to the public and not ourselves."

Labour is drawing up plans that would bar train-operating companies from competing for and renewing franchises if they fail to meet a set of conduct standards, including on prices.

Energy firms would be forced to pool all the electricity and gas they produce to encourage smaller operators to join the market and force down spiralling domestic bills.

Mr Miliband will give details in his keynote speech on Tuesday.

Several senior Labour politicians and trade union leaders have also rallied round another proposed reform - the creation of a fund to support people on low incomes to stand as Labour general election candidates in a bid to widen the party's appeal.

Former cabinet ministers Alan Johnson and John Prescott, shadow health minister Diane Abbott, London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone and the general secretaries of four big unions are among signatories to a letter in The Observer urging the leadership to back the Labour Diversity Fund (LDF) campaign.

Campaigners said only 9% of would-be Labour MPs at the 2010 poll were from manual work backgrounds, down from 13% in 1997, making it less likely Labour could win back the mainly working class votes it has lost since 1997 and needs if it is to return to power.

A programme announced by the party was a "sop" which failed to take into account the rising costs of candidacy - put at around £4,000 per individual, a campaign spokesman said.

In the letter, the senior figures said: "Where is the next Aneurin Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Margaret Bondfield or Jennie Lee to come from?

"The cost of candidacy is rising and at the last election the number of candidates for the Labour Party from professional backgrounds was over 80%. In contrast, those from manual working backgrounds have gone from an already low of 13% in 1997 to a mere 9% in 2010.

"Is it any coincidence therefore that the Labour Party polled its lowest number of low income voters at a time it also had its lowest number of representatives from low incomes?

"Therefore, if the Labour Party is to continue to be the true people's party into the 21st century and wishes to win back the five million predominantly working class voters it's lost since 1997, then it has to reflect those who it wishes to represent."