Damage to economy may lead Labour to reconsider pledge to abolish tuition fees

Labour’s pledge to abolish tuition fees may need to be reconsidered because of the “damage that has been done to economy”, Sir Keir Starmer has suggested.

The Labour leader would not be drawn into whether he still stood by a commitment to abolish university tuition fees, first made during the 2020 leadership contest.

As Sir Keir outlined his party’s agenda for 2023 in a new year’s speech, he emphasised that Labour would need to be honest and “cost everything” that it puts into its manifesto for the next general election.

Asked about whether he stood by his pledge to abolish tuition fees by The Times newspaper, Sir Keir said: “University tuition fees are not working well, they burden young people going forward. Obviously we have got a number of propositions in relation to those fees that we will put forward as we go into the election.

“But I have to be honest about it, the damage that has been done to our economy means that we are going to have to, and we know we will, cost everything as we go into that election and we will do that with discipline as we have done it so far.

“I am not going to spell out our manifesto in advance … but I can say that every commitment we make will be absolutely fully funded. That is a cast-iron guarantee as we go into that election.”

The suggestion from Sir Keir came during a speech in which he emphasised that Labour would not get out its “big government chequebook” if elected at the next general election, and claimed the party would inherit a “damaged economy and country” from the Conservatives.

During the leadership race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn in early 2020, Sir Keir had pledged to uphold Labour’s commitment to abolish tuition fees.

“Labour must stand by its commitment to end the national scandal of spiralling student debt and abolish tuition fees,” he said at the time.

“Under the Tories, tuition fees have tripled and young people are leaving university with nearly £60,000 worth of debt. Let’s be blunt: we need to end the scandal of spiralling student debt.”

Tuition fees were first introduced under Labour by Tony Blair at the maximum price of £1,000, but the Tories have seen them increase to up to £9,250.