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Home > Politics

And a 5 billion top-up-voucher please

22 January 2004

Speaking on Monday's Newsnight Top-Up Fees Special and again in today's Prime Minister's Question Time, Tony Blair has defended university top-up fees. His grounds? That the current system is unfair on the 'general taxpayer'.

"Why," asks Mr Blair "must the general taxpayer be made to pay for university students' education?" He goes on to remind us that it costs more to educate a university student than it does to educate a primary or secondary school one. Who knew?

And it's not just Tony - the taxpayer card is being played right, right and centre-right today. Just look at the front page of today's Sun...

....which attacks mental Muslim cleric Abu Hamza for costing The Great British Taxpaper 1m a year. The paper breaks the 1m down as...

Cop Guard... 250,000

Legal Bills... 250,000

MI5 Watch... 500,000

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Abu Hamza (until you remember what an ungrateful, psychotic, fundamentalist, loon he really is).

And let's not even speculate on how the Sun's expert team of researchers settled on the 500k figure for 'MI5 watch'. Are our security services really so accountable that every operation is a) itemised and the cost made public and b) rounded up to the nearest 500k for the benefit of tabloid journalists? Or do they perhaps mean that Hamaza has been give a special MI5 wristwatch like that one Roger Moore used in Moonraker to stop the centrifuge? We'll probably never know.

The point is that both Blair and Murdoch are posing the same rhetorical question to support their arguments:

"WHY MUST THE TAXPAYER FOOT THE BILL FOR THIS UNACCEPTABLE THING?"

The answer: because that's what taxpayers are for. To pay taxes. To pay for things that they most people don't necessarily want or use, but that the country needs. Things like libraries and plastic chairs in town halls and providing legal aid to guilty people and higher education to middle class students. If you don't like it, you can always move to a pay-as-you-go country, like... well... nowhere.

But then again, maybe Blair does have a point. Maybe top-up fees are the way forward when dealing with things that the majority of the public doesn't want to pay for.

Perhaps we should demand that the United States pay top-up-fees every time they want our troops to fight one of their wars.

Obviously he'd have to be means tested first - we're not ogres - but assuming he can afford it, President Bush should be asked to repay the British costs of invading Iraq.

After all, it'd only be 5 a week for a billion weeks. And studies have shown that Presidents who invade oil-rich nations will earn much more over the course of their presidency than those who don't.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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