The Sketch: The deficit excuses everything – even this most brazen U-turn

  • @SimonSketch

New politics, lesson 52. U-turns don't exist any more, or if they do there is no shame in them.

Vince responded urbanely to the indignation of New Generation MPs: "Roads to Westminster are covered with the skidmarks of politicians changing direction." (Ribald laughter.)

The Lib-Dems might have signed in blood their opposition to raising tuition fees, but now they can wave it away with the nonchalance of The Jew of Malta. "Thou hast committed fornication. But it was in another country, and besides the wench is dead."

It's an entirely new game, and Labour hasn't decided how to play it. A direction change of this magnitude would have caused a parliamentary riot a couple of years ago. They couldn't muster a street corner argument. "The current economic climate" is one get-out. "The compromises demanded by coalition" is another. The fact the Labour party campaigned on no tuition fees before introducing them is a third. All we can do is enjoy the ride.

You'd think a party that had spilt such blood on university fees would be ready to unleash itself on the Government. But Ed Miliband didn't mention tuition fees at his parliamentary party meeting. Nothing. The fact that he wants a graduate tax and his amiable shadow Chancellor won't think of it – that's another complicating factor.

On the plus side, Ed is sitting much better on the front bench. He clasped his hands together firmly, in a good, manly, adult way and gripped them between his knees. You can't pull food out of your teeth with your hands like that. Good work!

John Denham gave a rollicking opposition speech about opening doors for able students. The ulterior purpose was to say how Labour is the party of aspiration, an ulterior purpose always fractalises the message.

Vince said he'd never advocated a pure graduate tax – only "a progressive graduate contribution". That's as different as alligators and crocodiles.

One of his arguments seemed to hit home: the bottom 30 per cent of graduates would pay back less than they are now and the top-earning 30 per cent would pay back more than they are now. Did that sound good to Labour? Too good, their brows furrowed in perplexity.

But pledges decay into promises and thence to undertakings, indications, aspirations, and general directions of travel – before bouncing into pledges to do the opposite. Who knows how things will turn out in 40 years?

One argument really doesn't wash: graduates earn £100,000 more over their lifetimes – therefore they should pay more for their education. That won't happen in the future – not with the massive oversupply of graduates. You'd think a graduate would have worked that out.