Episode IV: A Dying Hope*
When I was only two Margaret Thatcher took away free school milk, yet somehow I still got mine through my primary school days. When I was a student and I was old enough to do something about it she started to completely phase out grants for students and replace them with loans.
So it was that one of my first campaigns and indeed I think my first public march was on Westminster in the late 80s shouting for 'Grants not Loans'. The basic argument is the same that the more people have to pay for their own education the more you price out those with ability from the poorer areas of our country who might just make a difference to our world.
I'm going to cite an interest in this as one of those who wouldn't have gone to university without assistance was the son of late french polisher and a quality controller in a shirt factory. He lived in a two up two down without an inside toilet, bathroom or telephone. The only advantage he had over some on the other side of the Derry walls was that as a protestant he would have a vote when he came of age. Because that person was the first of the Glenn's to go to university my father. He went on to a career in teaching when he affected the lives of many and inspired them either to take maths seriously or to get involved in computers when they were still a novelty and then beyond.
The issue of fees has been a hot potato in Lib Dem conferences for a number of years now, not least because we delivered the removal of top up fees in Scotland when we were in coalition. So therefore imagine my shock when Vince Cable today announced that he was asking Lord Browne to look into the idea of a graduate tax as a matter of 'priority'. Seeing as we stood on a platform of removing fees for students when we could afford it to suddenly start talking about a graduate tax is a reversal in our commitment to education.
I also recall that Vince defended the VAT rises with a glib comment that he never stood in front of the VAT Bombshell poster. Well lucky him. However, I was proud to be there for the launch of that poster in Glasgow. I still say that VAT is a regressive tax and has no place in a progressive society that looks out for those least able to look after themselves. Especially as even those who don't pay income tax pay some VAT.
I'm equally glad to say I've waved a placard saying grants not loans. Kept on fighting to do away with the unfairness of the Students Loans Company. Glad that in Scotland our party has backed a minimum income guarantee for students and that we were fighting as recently as May to do away with top up fees as and when we could afford to do so.
I do not agree with Vince that this is a priority. I object to the fact that he even thinks it is. A student priority at the moment is a way for our recently graduated to find employment, and by that I mean paid employment. Sure internships give skills but no money and that is not what our brightest spent 3 or 4 years to get their Bachelors or Masters degrees to go on to. Having graduated in the last major recession I know how tough that can be.
* Not yet it isn't I'll be fighting on.