The Conservatives just made another manifesto u-turn but Corbyn's student debt controversy got all the coverage

Greg Evans
Thursday 27 July 2017 11:00
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Picture:(AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday the Conservatives abandoned another key pledge from their manifesto but you probably didn't hear about it.

During the general election, the Tories had vowed to provide free school meals for primary school children in England but it proved to be a source of controversy throughout the campaign.

It was alleged that the government had only budgeted £60m for the meals, which roughly worked out as just 6.8 pence per meal, which is unlikely to buy many cornflakes.

Now it has been revealed that the Conservative party have once again done a major u-turn and scrapped this policy altogether.

Earlier this month, during the parliamentary recess, the breakfast policy was quietly swept under the carpet by the government, during a session in the House of Lords on education funding.

Lord Nash is quoted as saying by the Hansard website:

As far as breakfast is concerned, we do not plan to introduce free breakfasts, although we will continue to work on a number of schemes for breakfast clubs, such as Magic Breakfast.

This now joins the likes of other controversial policies, such as grammar schools, dementia tax, fox hunting, winter fuel payment cuts, ending of the pension triple lock and the scrapping of free school lunches which have all been erased from the Conservative manifesto.

While this piece of news was reported on, it certainly didn't appear prominently on many papers.

It attracted nowhere near the amount of attention that Jeremy Corbyn and his supposed vow to abolish student debt did earlier this week.

In recent days the Labour leader has been accused of backtracking on a promise he allegedly made during an interview with NME to wipe out student debt.

In the interview given in the run up to the election, Mr Corbyn said in regards to student debt:

There is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.

I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem.

And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.

Nowhere within that quote does Corbyn explicitly pledge to eliminate student debt for good, but that appears to be the impression many people got.

The Daily Mail reported on July 19 that Labour had u-turned on their student debt policy, while The Telegraph reported that the party had no plans to write the debt off.

Lord Sugar also called the promise a 'lie', and demanded that Corbyn step down as Labour leader over the issue. While a Metro opinion piece concluded that Corbyn's backtracking on the subject showed that he was unfit to lead a government.

The Sun's Rod Liddle said that this should be a tough lesson for Britain's youth

Corbyn himself was then quizzed over his position on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday

During the interview he said:

It was in the context of an interview I did with the NME and The Independent which I pointed that there was a massive overhanging debt that many people dealt with.

I recognised that it was a huge burden but I did not make a commitment to write it off because I couldn't at that stage.

Our manifesto was only written in a short amount of time as it was a surprise election but we would look at ways of reducing that debt bill, recognising that a lot of it is not going to be collected anyway.

The point that we did make is that we would abolish the student debt from the time we were elected and were we now in government we would be looking into measure for the 2017/18 students wouldn't pay fees or we would reimburse them if we couldn't get the legislation through in time.

Since then a YouGov poll for the Mirror found that only 17 percent of those who read Mr Corbyn's original statement actually believed that Labour would wipe out student debt if elected.

The story looks unlikely to go away anytime soon, but the comparisons to the Conservative's free breakfast U-turn are interesting.

HT Business Insider Channel Four Independent NME Hansard

More: James O'Brien explains why the latest media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are just 'bonkers'

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