More than 1,000 MPs and parliamentary candidates have signed a pledge to vote against higher university tuition fees, with 15 current and former Labour ministers defying the party line.
The National Union of Students today released the names of some 200 Labour, 400 Liberal Democrat, 200 Green and 200 UKIP candidates who have promised to oppose any rise in fees in the next parliament.
Just 13 Conservative candidates have made the Vote for Students pledge, compared with a third of Labour candidates and two-thirds of Liberal Democrats.
Labour and the Conservatives both have been accused of hiding behind Lord Browne’s independent review of fees and funding by refusing to declare their position on the tuition fees cap until the review concludes after the general election.
But, according to today’s NUS document, Labour candidates who have broken ranks by declaring their opposition to a rise in fees include Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, Tony McNulty, the former Home Office minister, Jon Cruddas, a former deputy leadership candidate, and Roberta Blackman-Woods, parliamentary private secretary to David Lammy, the higher education minister.
Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats’ election manifesto makes clear its commitment to abolishing university fees. Both the party’s leader, Nick Clegg, and its Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, have signed the NUS’ Vote for Students pledge.
Other signatories include Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Respect’s Salma Yaqoob.
Aaron Porter, NUS president-elect, said students would scrutinise every candidate’s position on higher education funding. Those who had refused to sign the document could expect to be treated with “great suspicion” by students, their families and the wider public, he added.
“It is encouraging that so many of those likely to be taking seats in the next parliament have made a firm commitment to protect the system of student fees from further damage,” Mr Porter said.
“It is particularly welcome to see so many senior figures and former ministers taking a clear stand on this issue.
“The only disappointment is the silence from so many Conservative candidates. Students look set to swing the election in a number of key seats, and to win our respect and our votes politicians must come clean on fees or face the consequences.”