Mole rides to the rescue

AS Labour MPs line up to batter the Government on university top-up tuition fees, Tony Blair can count on the support of one loyal East Anglian backbencher – Ipswich's Chris Mole.

AS Labour MPs line up to batter the Government on university top-up tuition fees, Tony Blair can count on the support of one loyal East Anglian backbencher - Ipswich's Chris Mole.

Chatting to regional journalists and their partners at a reception he hosted with Cherie Blair at 10 Downing Street last night , the Prime Minister said he is confident of victory in the Parliamentary battle at the end of the month, even though the Labour Party is deeply split over the issue.

There's no doubt in the mind of Chris Mole that top up fees are right. The University of Kent educated former leader of Suffolk county council has comes to the Prime Minister's aid with all guns blazing.

"The government is right to aim for 50% of students to achieve a degree level qualification and to ensure universities have the funds to provide top quality teaching and research.

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"I welcome the proposals for a graduate contribution scheme that is about as close to a graduate tax system as can be achieved. This approach reduces the dependence on assessment of parental income and only requires loans to be repaid once an individual is earning more than £15,000 per year."

Part of his reasoning is that funding will become available for the long awaited university for Ipswich. "The way is now open in the next comprehensive spending review for the Chancellor to invest in additional student places. If additional tax revenue were to be diverted to subsidising student loans, I do not believe we would not get the investment we need in a new university based in Ipswich."

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At the moment, he's in a minority. Some of the weekend statements from the top-up fees rebels were blood curdling. Leading Labour rebel Jeremy Corbyn predicted the "pincer movement" on Mr Blair created by the Hutton report and the top-up fees issue could "seriously damage" the Prime Minister's authority and even lead to Mr Blair's downfall.

"If he loses the vote and has a problem over Hutton, is he then going to be able to carry on as Prime Minister? I think probably not if he loses both of those issues."

Labour former minister Doug Henderson said a "large schism" had opened up within the party. "Educating the British people is not just about educating the elite - it's about trying to raise the standards for everyone. The Government has said that it's a matter of principle that they introduce variable fees . . . it's a matter of principle for me that variable fees are not introduced."

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Nick Brown said allowing universities to charge different fees would keep working class students out of the best.

Sir Bill Morris, former general secretary of the TGWU and still a powerful force in the Labour movement, warned the Government had "lost its way" and its "moral authority" over tertiary education. "It's an exercise in political incompetence of the kind we've not seen before and the Government has got to get a grip of this particular issue."

n The state of Arkansas last week executed a mentally retarded man who had been on death row since 1979. Thank goodness membership of the European Union precludes us from ever reintroducing such barbarity.

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