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David Cameron fights to regain the media offensive over tomorrow's tuition fees vote. And gets a little help from the IFS

By Paul Goodman

That's the aim of the jet-lagged Prime Minister's speech this afternoon on student finance, at any rate - to get some TV coverage this evening, and grab if not the headlines, then at least some space in the papers tomorrow.

It's quite well put-together, and has two main purposes.

The first is to put himself on the side of change for the better, arguing that the present university system is "unsustainable, uncompetitive and unfair", and that "passion" is obscuring the truth about the Government's reforms.  He makes as much as of the social justice case as he can, arguing that Oxford and Cambridge take more pupils from Eton and Westminster than "from among the 80,000 pupils who are eligible for free school means".  It's interesting that he's not scared of (or been scared off) mentioning Eton, and this is a sign that, with Tory poll ratings generally in the late 30s and early 40s, he feels that his credibility isn't exhausted.

The second is to attack Labour's shift towards a graduate tax, as indicated by Alan Johnson's Times article this morning, claiming that it would send "the very worst kind of message, at a time when we desperately need to drive enterprise and growth in our economy".  He claims that "the very lowest earners", on little more than £6000 a year, would have to pay back.  That depends, of course, how such a tax would be established, but he's right to point out that graduates paying back more than the cost of their courses is a feature of "open-ended" schemes.

The IFS is riding to the rescue, saying that "the Government's proposals are more progressive than the current system or that proposed by Lord Browne".  Cue voices from the left crying that they always knew the IFS was a capitalist front, and others from the right saying that they always knew the IFS was fair-minded.


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