In the news: Paul Farrelly

January 31, 2003

An MP for all of 19 months, Paul Farrelly is already the focus of a looming Labour backbench rebellion against the government's plans for higher education.

Mr Farrelly's early-day motion condemning top-up fees could hardly be more apposite, providing a rallying point for the scores of MPs who oppose the government's plans to raise fees to £3,000 as announced in last week's white paper.

So far some 170 MPs have signed the motion, and Mr Farrelly believes that many of them will continue to fight top-up fees, including voting against legislation for their introduction. He said: "There will be vigorous opposition in the parliamentary Labour Party and organised opposition in the Labour Party outside Parliament."

A grammar school boy who went to Oxford University to study politics and economics, Mr Farrelly, 40, benefited from free higher education and maintenance grants. His opposition runs deep: "I was the first in my family to go to university. I resisted pressure to leave school and get a job. It was hard. How much harder will it be for people from modest backgrounds to resist these pressures when differential fees are introduced?"

A former journalist who worked at The Independent on Sunday and The Observer , Mr Farrelly, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, could run a high-profile media campaign against top-up fees. "The consultation period on the white paper is up to April 30, and I will actively and vigorously oppose differential fees during the consultation in the hope that it will lead the government to change its mind," he said.

It is a tall order, especially if fledgling political careers are placed on the line. Yet somehow, as Mr Farrelly pays tribute to his Labour-supporting grandfather who fought in the world war one trenches and who later fed young Farrelly's educational aspirations, he does not seem the sort to back down from this particular fight.

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