Comments made by Jeremy Corbyn in an interview just days before the General Election claiming he would “deal” with student debt have sparked a fiery debate about Labour promises to young voters.
It was widely reported at the time that the leader had “hinted” that he would eradicate historic debt for thousands of recent university leaders.
But the party has been accused of “lying” to students and graduates after a number of top names on the left denied that Corbyn had promised to “wipe” tuition fee debt after polling day.
Yesterday Corbyn himself clarified his stance, insisting on the Andrew Marr show that he had not made a commitment to abolish the debt because he didn’t know how much it would cost at that stage.
Corbyn told the BBC presenter: “I recognised it was a huge burden, I did not make a commitment we would write it off because I couldn’t at that stage.
“I pointed out we had written the manifesto in a short space of time because it was a surprise election but that we would look at ways of reducing that debt burden, recognising quite a lot of it is never going to be collected anyway and try and reduce that.”
While the party vowed to abolish tuition fees as part of their official election campaign, a promise to student debts - worth £100 billion - was not included in the Labour manifesto.
However, Tory universities minister Jo Johnson hit out at the Labour leader, writing in a blog on HuffPost UK: “Over five million people have student debt. Jeremy Corbyn told each of those people he would get rid of it.
“That was a deception, calculated to win people’s votes and trust - a promise thrown out as soon as the ballot boxes were opened.”
Almost two-thirds of under 25s (62%) voted for Labour in the election, with pollsters declaring age the “new dividing line in British politics”.
But who is right?
Here is what Corbyn told NME in that controversial interview just six days before the election.
He told the magazine: “Yes, 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 yet - I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all this - but I’m very well aware of that problem,” Corbyn continued.
“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.”
Speaking yesterday, Corbyn said that shadow chancellor John McDonnell had now established a working party to look at this policy and that a statement about Labour’s plans would be announced at a later date.