Ed Miliband's university fees pledge dismissed as a 'headline grabber'

Labour leader Ed Miliband's announcement that his party would reduce maximum university fees for students in England has been labelled 'confused' and 'mistimed' by public affairs professionals.

Ed Miliband: U-turn on tuition fees
Ed Miliband: U-turn on tuition fees

The announcement that Labour will reduce the maximum university fee for students in England from £9,000 to £6,000 comes as the party gathers for its annual conference in Liverpool.

George Hutchinson, head of public affairs at Burson-Marsteller, dismissed Miliband’s move as an ‘awkward announcement’ unveiled before the leader’s speech and questioned ‘whether it was just there as a headline’.

He added: ‘It's what he says, and how well he says it, on Tuesday that will determine if this is a good week for Ed Miliband.'

Lexis corporate head James Thellusson said he believed this would be one of a number of ‘eye-catching’ announcements this week ‘designed to differentiate Labour’. He also saw the move as a ploy to ‘beef up Ed Miliband's lacklustre leadership ratings’.

Thellusson revealed consistent messages are key to Miliband gaining support: ‘The fact it isn't a firm policy commitment will create doubts. Consistency breeds trust.’

The president of the National Union of Students Liam Burns said Miliband’s inconsistency would prevent him from gaining student backing in the next general election. He told the BBC: ‘If they think this is going to be a manifesto policy, then I'm sorry - this isn't going to win support of students.

‘Going into the context of a Parliament where the majority of people promised not to increase fees at all, to simply go back to a position of "well, we're only doubling it", well that's not quite good enough.’

While Burns, the media and the Conservatives have branded the policy as a U-turn after Miliband voted against tuition fee increases last year, Ketchum Pleon’s corporate & public affairs MD Jo-ann Robertson said she saw the move as confusing.

Robertson said: ‘Ed Miliband seriously risks confusing both the Labour Party and voters by announcing positions that sound like policies. He must not risk further alienating the youth vote from politics, as they already feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats in government.’

Robertson believes the announcement is also mistimed: ‘It is too early in the electoral cycle for Ed to be offering specific and detailed policy decisions. What the Labour Party and the public need to hear is his broad vision for the country.’

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