John McDonnell has denied that he and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner have disagreed over Labour’s flagship manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees.
Senior party sources have told HuffPost UK that Rayner was not informed by the Shadow Chancellor two weeks ago when he announced at a rally that the multi-billion pound policy would actually go ahead.
It is understood she has also privately made plain that she wanted a much bigger role given to early-years education funding, as it targets cash on those in most need.
Rayner raised the point at last week’s ‘Clause V’ meeting that approved the party’s general election policy platform, as well as pointing out the need for a stronger policy statement on child protection.
But the Shadow Chancellor told SkyNews that he had not fallen out with his Shadow Cabinet colleague over tuition fees and instead heaped praise on her.
Asked by SkyNews’ Sophie Ridge if the pair had had a “row”, McDonnell replied: “No, I don’t know where that came from, no.
“No, we’ve always worked closely together on this and she is supportive of our overall education policy, of course she is.
“Angela Rayner for me is going to be the Nye Bevan of the Jeremy Corbyn government because Nye introduced a free National Health Service from cradle to grave, she’s going to introduce a National Education Service (NES) from cradle to grave.”
PoliticsHome.com revealed last week that McDonnell had used a stump speech in Mansfield to declared that the new NES would mean “scrapping tuition fees once and for all so we don’t burden our kids with debt for the future”.
But despite being in charge of party policy on education, Rayner had not been told of McDonnell’s remarks.
The party only finally agreed to include abolition of tuition fees at its Clause V meeting of senior MPs and unions last week.
Rayner and Jeremy Corbyn launched the party’s plans for education last Thursday, but she refused to answer questions about tuition fees and pointed out that her priority was life-long learning.
HuffPost UK has also learned that Rayner’s speech in Leeds alongside the Labour leader was changed against her wishes to exclude references praising Tony Blair and Harold Wilson for their role in transforming British education.
The line - “Harold Wilson spoke of a new Britain forged in the white heat of the technological revolution, and Tony Blair spoke of the need to build an education system fit for a new millennium” - was re-inserted on her insistence.
Rayner, who left school when she became pregnant at 16, is widely admired by Labour MPs for her passion for pre-school and primary education as well as promoting ‘second chance’ Further Education and adult education colleges.
She told HuffPost UK earlier this year that Blair’s government helped give her a chance to change her own life.
”Ideology never put food on my table. I talk about Tony Blair’s tenure, because it changed my life, it gave my children a life that I could never have dreamt of having and I want us to get back to that,” she said.
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror on Sunday, she also signalled that tuition fee abolition - which polls show is popular among voters but is seen by some in the party as a “middle class tax break” - was not her priority.
Rayner said her top three priorities in Government would be reversing the Tories’ £3bn in schools budget cuts, a Sure Start children’s centre in every community and a recruitment drive to attract demoralised teachers back into the profession.