Jeremy Corbyn – I did not make a commitment to write off student debt
This morning Jeremy Corbyn became the last interviewee on the Andrew Marr Show before the party conference season begins in September. With a potential general election on the cards at any time, there was much to discuss. In particular, Marr chose to delve a little deeper into Corbyn’s plans for alleviating student debt after the Labour leader declared he planned to ‘deal with it’ shortly before Britain went to the polls in June:
Marr: A lot of people in this country are burdened by high levels of debt because of the student loans they’ve had to take out, and you said shortly before the election ‘I will deal with it’. What did you mean by ‘I will deal with it’?
Corbyn: It was in the context of an interview with the New Musical Express, and an interview which I also did with the Independent which pointed out there was a massive overhanging debt that many people dealt with. I recognised it was a huge burden. I did not make a commitment that we would write it off because I couldn’t at that stage – I pointed out we’d written the manifesto in a short space of time because there was a surprise election – but that we would look at ways of reducing that debt burden, recognising quite a lot of it is never going to be collected anyway… The point we absolutely made was that we would abolish the student debt from the time we were elected, and were we now in government, we’d be taking measures to ensure that the 2017/18 students did not pay fees, or we would reimburse them if we couldn’t get the legislation through. We were completely clear about that.
Marr: That bit I completely understand. But if you were a young voter and you heard those words ‘I will deal it’, you might have thought ‘Jeremy Corbyn is going to relieve me of my debt’, but you won’t.
Corbyn: What I said was we would deal with it by trying to reduce the burden of it. We never said we would completely abolish it because we were unaware of the size [of it] at that time. John McDonnell has established a working party to look at this policy and we will be making a statement on it in the near future which will set out what out plans are for the future.
Jeremy Corbyn – The BBC ‘needs to look very hard at itself’
Marr also sought Corbyn’s view on the recent revelations made after the BBC published details of the salaries it offers to the corporation’s 96 best paid staff, specifically the disparity between men and women:
Marr: You’ll have seen the letter from all my female colleagues to the BBC’s Director General. What is your message to the BBC about that?
Corbyn: I would sign the letter with them. I think the BBC needs to look very hard at itself. The point you made… earlier about the treatment of older women is I think, a very important one, but also this gender pay gap is appalling. We would insist on a strong gender pay audit of very organisation and we would also look at a 20 to 1 ratio between the chief executive and the lowest paid staff in every public sector organisation, and the BBC is very much public sector.
Marr: The pay ratio may have a big effect on famous actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and people who at the moment BBC license payers want to see in top leve dramas and films made by the BBC. Would the 20 to 1 pay ratio affect people like that?
Corbyn: If he is employed directly by the BBC, yes. If he is employed by somebody else then that’s a contractual matter for the BBC and somebody else, but I do think the BBC, which is a wonderful organisation and I actually support it… I think it needs to look at itself because the levels of pay are quite astronomical. The pay gap, rather, is astronomical.
Marr: And do you think that there needs to be more legislation on the pay gap across the piece?
Corbyn: Absolutely. We need to have a gender pay audit done in every company. We need strong imposition of equal pay legislation across the piece. There is about a 20% gender pay gap in Britain, but there’s also the question the promotion of women. And that is not just at the top level – that gets all the news, the BBC gets all the news, these big companies get all the news. What about those women working in the National Health Service, those women working in local government, those women working in small companies where the women know they’re being paid less than a man doing more or less the equally the same job. That’s the area of discrimination in our society which is so serious, and often the loss of women’s career progression opportunities when they take time out for having children… come back and find the man who they were working alongside the year before has shot up the scales and moved somewhere else.
Justine Greening – It should be easier to change your gender
Another story to have made waves today was the announcement by the Education Secretary and Equalities Minister Justine Greening that the government was preparing to consult on how to speed up the process of legally changing one’s gender. Greening spoke to Sophy Ridge about her proposals:
Greening: Today we’re announcing that in the autumn we’ll be launching a consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. And the moment, if you want to change your gender, it’s a very complicated process. It’s quite intrusive as well, and it’s very bound up in going to see your GP and a whole medical process that then gets kicked off. What we want to do is try and streamline the process, make it easier, de-medicalise it and make it less intrusive, and we’ll be consulting on how to do that. And I think 50 years after we began the decriminalisation of homosexuality, although we’ve had huge progress on LGBT rights, there are still areas like this where we think we can do more, and we want to take those steps.
Ridge: Some people may have a concern listening to this about the idea of making it easier, making it quicker to change your gender. For most people this will be the biggest decision you will make in your life, so isn’t it right that these things take a bit of time?
Greening: I think it’s about helping it to take place more effectively. And we know in other countries for example, the Republic of Ireland or Malta, they have a very different approach on this that’s much more about a legal change of your identity that’s then followed by the medical process that people go through.
Ridge: So would you like to see then the UK having the same system as the Republic of Ireland or Malta, where people can effectively self identity their gender?
Greening: I think it’s one of the things we need to be looking at, but the bottom line is, at the moment we have a very complex lengthy process. it is time to streamline that, make it more straightforward, to de-medicalise it and to stop treating people changing their gender as though it’s some medical problem that they need fixing. Actually, this is a choice that people are making, and we need to make that choice more straightforward in a way than it currently is.
Liam Fox – Any transitional Brexit deal must end before 2022
The International Trade Secretary Liam Fox appeared to relax his previous stance on the likelihood of a prolonged transitional deal after the UK leaves the European Union. Whereas before Fox has sought to keep such a deal to a minimal amount of time, he now conceded that he had no ideological objection to a longer lasting arrangement, but told Andrew Marr that it should be concluded by the time of the next general election:
Marr: Let me turn to the big area of discussion in Britain recently which has been transition arrangements with the EU as we prepare to leave. You were talking yourself about these being weeks or months, and then suddenly you have fallen into line with the rest of the cabinet and said ‘No, a two year transitional period, as the Chancellor wants, would be completely acceptable… Is that two years and not a day more, or could it be three years, could it be four years? What’s your thinking?
Fox: Well, first of all I’m actually more clear in my own mind that leaving the European Union is the right decision for the UK. I think I’m more certain about that than even I was at the time of the referendum. And I think that because our economy has been very robust, our foreign direct investment is at a record level, we’ve seen our economy continue to grow with record employment and falling unemployment, rising confidence among our manufacturers. So it seems to me that we should go into this with a great deal of confidence. And I want to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019. Now, once we have done that, once we have fulfilled our promise to the British people, we can look to see what we are going to do in terms of making that a smooth transition for our businesses to give them maximum certainty and minimal disruption. And frankly, having waited for over 40 years to leave the European Union, 24 months would be a rounding error. Whether that’s 23, whether that’s 25 is not a huge deal…
Marr: Or 36 or 48?
Fox: …Nor is it an ideological one. It’s about the practical issues we would face. About for example, getting any new immigration system into place, getting any new customs system into place. That’s a practical issue. And I think we would want to get it out of the way before the election. I don’t think people would want to have it dragging on, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a transition that makes it as smooth as possible. I think that’s what businesses would want us to have in Britain and I think that’s what our investors abroad would also want to see.
Marr: So any transition period in your view must end by the time of the next British general election?
Fox: I think we would have to be very clear it was time-limited and it was limited in its scope… There’s a lot of discussion to be had but I don’t think that there’s any great ideological blockage on the concept of a transitional or an implementation period as I would rather put it.
Marr: So it could be up to three more years in your view up to the next election. The reason I’m pushing that point is that during that period we could still be paying into the EU, we could still be under the ECJ, we could still be accepting, to all intents and purposes being inside the single market rather than alongside it. And to a lot of people that would not feel like Brexit, and you know there are people around who want to use the transition period as a way of trying to subvert or avoid the Brexit decision itself.
Fox: That is why I think it is imperative that we leave the EU first and that any implementation period is done voluntarily alongside the EU to minimise any disruption.
Vince Cable – People will want an ‘exit from Brexit’
And finally Sir Vince Cable, the recently crowned leader of the Liberal Democrats, has spelled out in a little more detail his forecast for delivering a second referendum on Brexit. Interviewed on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Sky’s Niall Paterson asked Cable about the prospects of delivering a second referendum and where the Lib Dems would focus their efforts in the meantime:
Paterson: Not that long ago, you pooh-poohed the idea of a second referendum. You’re now firmly of the opinion that that question needs to be put again to the British public after the end of the Brexit process.
Cable: What I did pooh-pooh was the idea of just re-running the last one. No, it happened, you don’t just disrespect the result, but we’re now waiting to see what the consequences are. It could all turn out wonderfully well… anything is possible, but I think it’s unlikely. I think we’ll get some very damaging economic consequences. I think public opinion will shift, the sheer complexity and the horrors of this are just becoming apparent. If that happens, people will be looking for what I call an ‘exit from Brexit’ and in that context a second referendum becomes relevant.
Paterson: But provide the justification for putting a different question to the British public… but with the two same possible outcomes – leaving the European Union, remaining within the European Union. A brief look at social media this morning after we said you were coming on the programme – ‘Ask Vince why on earth he wants to subvert democracy once again’.
Cable: Well, I don’t want to subvert democracy but that was a snapshot of public opinion when that happened under very different circumstances. A lot of young people are coming through, 16 – 18 year olds who haven’t had a vote. I don’t think many of the people who voted to leave, I’m sure many of them thought it through but some certainly didn’t vote to be poorer. And if it becomes clear that…
Paterson: You haven’t convinced the British public that… given both of the outcomes are exactly the same as when we voted back in 2016 that this is actually on the deal itself. How do you get to that stage? Are you just waiting for the negotiations between the UK and the EU to collapse?
Cable: Absolutely not. And I think the way you’ve put it, which s about what we do in the waiting period is absolutely the right way. At the moment, there is no appetite for this. We’re not yet at the end of the process. What I think there is an appetite for, is for keeping those elements which are good for Britain and work for us, which are the single market, the customs union, the common research, and I want to work with people in other parties to make sure that those are safeguarded… In the immediate future that is the objective. But at the end of the process, there is a separate issue which is – are we happy with the outcome? Do we want to jump over the cliff and hope for the best, or do we want to go back to the European Union?