Labour’s flagship pledge to scrap tuition fees is little more than an undeliverable “ploy” to get support at the ballot box, according to students taking part in a HuffPost UK/Edelman focus group.
The policy was one of a number to be contained in the party’s manifesto leaked to the media on Thursday – an incident described as a “complete cock-up” by one student.
As well as dismissing Labour’s chances of getting in power to deliver the pledge, the youngsters also argued that tuition fees should not be abolished, and instead lowered from the current level of £9,000 a year.
The focus group - carried out in conjunction with the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London – were virtually united in their belief that Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t up to the job of being Labour leader, with just one describing him as “refreshing.”
Of the eight taking part in the group, only one was certain to vote Labour, with two backing the Tories, one the Lib Dems and the others currently undecided.
Professor Philip Cowley, the Director of the Mile End Institute, said: “The lazy assumption is always that students will just vote en masse for whoever promises them reduced tuition fees.
“But this is a good reminder that voters are more astute than that – and are often sceptical about what can seem like obvious bungs to acquire their votes – and that students have a range of interests and concerns, not just their education”
The focus group, part of HuffPost UK’s Beyond Brexit series, was held in London and focused on students’ views of politics and policies in the run up to the election.
While some described the Conservatives as “slimey”, and “the nasty party”, others bounced back Theresa May’s slogan of “strong and stable” - including the one student certain to vote Labour.
One Lib Dem voter, who had previously backed Labour, said she did not like the way Labour “just hate the rich”, while another student who was wavering between the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens argued: “The left have better politics, but the right are better at politics.”
Other words associated with Labour included “inept”, “omnishambles” and “NHS”.
Theresa May was seen by one student as “there to clean up the boys’ mess”, while the Labour supporter in the room praised her as a “good leader” who will perform well in the Brexit negotiations. “She’s lucky, she has an easy job. She’s got a terrible opposition. She doesn’t have to do anything,” he said.
Views on…Tuition Fees
Lauren, English student at Cambridge (unsure whether to vote Labour, Lib Dem or Green): “It’s a very easy thing to say in the run up to the election, but they haven’t really given any costings on it. I don’t really think tuition fees are the issue, it’s the face that they are so high and the fact that the interest is so high…It sounds very good but I’m not convinced it’s a promise they’ll be able to deliver on, or get into power to deliver.”
Tom, Political Economy student at Kings College (Conservative): “I think it’s more of a ploy to get young people out to vote Labour.”
Yasmin, student at Exeter (Lib Dem): “If they’re trying to do that in order for young people to vote Labour it’s not going to work because most of us who are in education - for us it doesn’t matter anyway because we already pay.”
Alice, English student at Kings College (Unsure whether to vote Lib Dem or Labour): “I’m not in favour of scrapping tuition fees, but I don’t think they should be nine grand a year. For my degree I have four contact hours a week. It means I pay about £58 an hour. But why should I get a degree for free that gives me personally so much and enables me to have higher earning power for years of my life. I’ve very happy to pay a bit for that, I think that’s fair. If I was someone who didn’t want a degree I would probably feel a bit bitter.”
Felix, Law student at the London School of Economics (Labour): “If you make it too cheap then its just going to encourage a load of people to go to uni literally just to have a good time, because it is a good time.”
…the manifesto leak
Lauren: “I feel with the state of the Labour Party currently it is either a cynical ploy to get all these soundbites like ‘no tuition fees’ and then not to have to actually put all their reasoning for another week. Or is it dissent and ineptitude within the party, both of which aren’t particularly good reasons to support Labour in the election.”
Rosie, Education student at Goldsmiths (Undecided): “I think it reflects the current state of the Labour Party the fact that you can’t really tell if it’s a move to get it out first or its just complete cock-up really.”
Yasmin: “I think Theresa May has been handed this awful plate so…she’s kind of there to clean up the boys’ mess. I’m quite centrist but I lean to the left, but she’s very sort of right-wing so I don’t love her, I don’t agree with a lot of what she says but I also want to trust her, she is our Prime Minister, I don’t want to hate her, I try not to hate her, I try not to get sucked into the media that says awful things about. Our generation especially are very quick to believe what we read and believe the headlines.”
Lauren: “She has a very, very strong track record that indicates her position on a lot of policies which is very right wing and very authoritarian and very security focused.”
Tom: “She’s lucky, she has an easy job. She’s got a terrible opposition. She doesn’t have to do anything. She doesn’t have to campaign, doesn’t have to say any policies, she just has to be there and she’s going to win. I think she’s a good leader and will negotiate well in terms of Brexit negotiations.
Rosie: “I think she needs to put herself out there more to win the trust of the country, I think she needs to do the leadership debates.”
Lauren: “Nasty party”
Alice: “Austerity…Slimy. Michael Gove is slimy. Privilege, but almost unaware of that privilege.”
Tom: “Strong and stable.”
Felix: “Strong and Stable as well.”
Alice: “Privately educated.”
Sean, Law student at the LSE (Conservative): “I don’t think they’re as far right as everyone makes them out to be.”
Yasmine: “My ideals are left wing ideals but I don’t think the Labour Party represents left win ideals a lot of the time and I don’t like the way that although, yeah, they are opposite the Conservative Party I also don’t like the way that they just hate the rich because by hating the rich, by hating capitalism, by hating the elite, you’re not going to win their vote and that’s what you need. As a political party you need everyone’s vote.”
Lauren: “The left have better politics, but the right are better at politics…. I think the Labour Party is often unfairly treated. On the BBC this morning they said ‘oh they are proposing radical policies like nationalising the railway’ but that’s actually a policy most of the country agree with but the Labour Party gets tarnished as radical when its not, its just fair.”
Lauren: “Jeremy Corbyn could have been like Bernie Sanders if he’d organised properly. The left does it better in America.”
Sean: “Passionate and well meaning, but slightly deluded.”
Tom: “I think he’s stuck in time warp to bring the UK back to the seventies.”
Alice: “I disagree. I like a lot of what he says about nationalising certain services. Just because things were that way in the seventies doesn’t mean it’s actually not a really good idea in a forward thinking way as well… I’m more concerned by policy and actually I’ve found certain little things with Corbyn really refreshing and made me like him.”
Rosie: “He’s a useful person to have in the Labour Party but not as leader. He’s useful to keep Labour accountable to those sort of left wing ideals but not to lead and not direct the policies so much in that direction…. I think Jeremy Corbyn needs to go.”
Lauren: “I think a lot of his policies are viable policies and they could work but there isn’t a party, there’s no wider sense of what the party currently stands for to support anything.”
HuffPost UK is looking at voters’ priorities outside the hubbub of the election campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017. Beyond Brexit leaves the bubble of Westminster and London talk to Britons left out of the conversation on the subjects they really care about, like housing, integration, social care, school funding and air quality
NOTE: This focus groups was made up of students in higher education, living in London, aged 18-29. The focus group was conducted on Thursday 11 May.