Tuesday, January 27, 2004

of variable fees and the end of Labour.
That's that, then.

Leading fee rebel Nick Brown is to back the government's controversial plans to let universities charge variable fees in the Commons today, Guardian Unlimited can reveal.

The former chief whip told the site: "The concessions that the government have made are good enough for me. I'll be supporting the government tonight."

. I thought at first what motivated the rebels deep down was the feeling that the fees vote was a last ditch defence of Labourism, as represented by the view that public services should be provided collectively through general taxation. Of course, to most new Labour types this is simply an embarrassing ideological legacy. What they seem to fail to realize is that general acceptance of taxes is based on the reciprocity principle. The less people get out of the system, the less willing they seem to be to put into it.

Government supporters like to draw an artificial distinction. The very poor, they say, are “paying for” the education of the very rich. More accurately they are contributing to it, as they will continue to do after the legislation goes through. And it’s not just the rich that will have to pay under the new regime. As far as I can make out, the fees will be paid back by graduates whose families earn average income and even below. It will effectively be an extra tax paid by graduates from the date they get their first meaningful jobs. That tax will also be paid by the wealthy, of course, but with much less impact.

Naturally, the very rich won’t like having to pay more towards their children’s education. Now they will be joined by middle income taxpayers, who under the proposed system will be much more amenable to politicians calling for reductions in the taxes that also pay for the education system, amongst other things. Since it’s middle Britain that Blair is supposed to appeal to, get set for creeping disillusionment with Blair to intensify into a sense of outright betrayal. In short, the measure stacks the deck for a fundamental shift to the right in British politics.

I was under the impression that this conception motivated a lot of the rebels. They were not prepared to abandon their entire political raison d’etre for the sake of Tony Blair’s credibility. Maybe it is, for a lot of them. But for others, the whole thing seems to boil down to being a power play for Gordon Brown, who can now say that he has saved Blair and claim his reward at some point in the future.