By Sarah Thomson, National Union of Students Executive, in personal capacity
There are three words you can bet NUS President Mandy Telford won't be saying on Sunday 2 October (the day of NUSís national demonstration against student hardship) - and those words are "Tax the rich".
In March, NUS Conference voted to end seven years of retreat by passing a motion from Salford University Student Union calling for no fees, a living grant for every student and increased taxation of business and the wealthy to fund education. Since this victory for the Campaign for Free Education, which produced the motion sponsored by Salford, Telford and her friends in the NUS leadership have gone astonishingly quiet. Last year, they lost no opportunity to tell the world that NUS supported "targeted" (ie, means-tested) grants; now they lose no opportunity to - stay silent.
We need to make sure the wider student movement doesn't follow their lead!
Without the call to tax the rich, campaigning for free education makes no sense. How else are our demands going to be paid for? Taxing the poor perhaps? Cuts in the NHS? Stealing sweets from small children? Over the last 20 years, the rich have got richer while the vast majority lose out.
Students will not win free education unless we build a united front with the labour movement and others campaigning to defend public services, fighting for a government which redistributes society's wealth to pay for all the services people need.
Say it loud and say it proud: TAX THE RICH!
Liberals are no alternative
Scenting student votes, the Liberal Democrats have - on education funding at least - made one of their periodic feints to the left. Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has attacked the £1,000 a year means-tested grants proposed in the Government's HE funding White Paper as "miserly" and called for a more generous allowance to be funded through progressive taxation.
Sounds good: until you get to the (rather large) small print. The grant the Lib Dems are proposing would be heavily means-tested and set at only £2,000 a year. So much for "miserly"; what do they mean by "progressive taxation"?
In fact, this is a simple repetition of the Lib Dems' familiar pledge to increase the top rate of income tax from 40% to 50% - welcome, but pretty tame and certainly nowhere near enough to fund the education system properly.
At a debate held by Sheffield University union on October 20th, CFE Chair Alan Clarke challenged David Rendel, the Lib Dems' higher education spokesman, to commit to a living grant for every student. Rendel replied that the CFE's demands were far too radical. Yet another nail in the coffin for the idea that the Lib Dems are any sort of left-wing alternative to new Labour!
Campaign for Free Education
Ring 07811 370 623,
or write to CFE, c/o Coral Harding, UELSU, 4-6 University Way, London E16 2RD.