Tories consider tuition fees flip-flop

The Tories are considering scrapping tuition fees
The turn was signaled by her most senior minister, Damian Green, who said a national debate may be needed on the issue. Photo credit: Getty

The UK Conservative party is considering a startling about-face on university tuition fees to entice young voters to the party.

Millions of students in the recent election voted Labour, which under Jeremy Corbyn vowed to scrap tuition fees, damaging the Tories' lead in the election campaign.

The turn was signalled on Saturday (NZT) by her most senior minister, Damian Green, who said a national debate may be needed on the issue.

Mr Green was delivering a speech to a think-tank which campaigns for the Conservative Party to adopt liberal policies. 

Asked about his message for students who backed Labour on its tuition fees policy, he described it as "clearly a huge issue".

He added that the only way to cut fees and maintain standards and student numbers would be by raising taxes, and that a national debate was needed.

Mr Green said the Tories were doomed unless they responded to the surge in support for Labour, especially among the young, and called on the party to "change hard", and added that the party had to be ready to "recast our core beliefs in a manner that captures the prevailing mood of the era".

Mrs May recently derided Mr Corbyn's pledge to axe tuition fees, and said the fees would remain.

The Tories are 30 points behind Labour among 18- to 35-year-olds, and Mr Green said if young people" feel the world isn't giving them an even break they look for radical change, even if what is being promised, by populists, is just a better yesterday".

Mr Green also said the Tories - including Mrs May - had to tone down their rhetoric, warning: "You can deliver a hard-nosed message without using the wrong language."

He also mentioned a re-consideration in the Conservative's approach to capitalism amidst criticism of its austerity policies, and said the party needed to adapt to the changed political landscape or risk "serious long-term damage to the party's electoral prospects".

"The discontent with capitalism since the 2008 crash, which is vaguely expressed as being anti-austerity, needs to be tackled head-on."

Mr Green's comments are believed to have been sanctioned by Ms May. 

His speech in London was reported as indicative of the scale of Tory alarm at the growing popularity of Mr Corbyn, but it's thought it will spark concern among traditionalists who have warned against a panic reaction to Labour gains at the election. 

Mrs May could face claims that such major changes could further undermine her claim to be "strong and stable".