A REPORT in the Mail on Sunday confirmed that a Labour government under Sir Keir Starmer would remove charitable status from fee-paying schools. The immediate consequence of this would be to subject the fees to VAT, which is currently set at 20 per cent but could go higher. This would be nothing short of catastrophic – for the entire education system.
Starmer was himself the beneficiary of a private education. He attended Reigate Grammar School between 1974 and 1981. In 1976, it turned from a state grammar into a private school, a casualty of the 1970s trend for closing grammars.
Let’s be fair and admit that Starmer had no say in where he went to school, fee-paying or otherwise. That was his parents’ decision. (As it happens, his wife was also privately educated).
But the more interesting fact in the Mail on Sunday’s report is that it turns out that Starmer has personally helped his former school to raise funds so that some children whose parents might not otherwise be able to afford Reigate’s fees can go there.
According to Reigate Grammar’s own website, Starmer was the guest of honour at a fundraiser held at the East India Club in January 2017, 18 months after he entered Parliament. He ‘spoke of his fond memories of his time at school and of the first-class education he received which laid the platform for his successful career’.
So it was OK for Starmer to enjoy this ‘first class education’. But any parents who wanted the same for their child would under his government have to pay an extra 20 per cent on top of the tens of thousands out of taxed income they would already pay each year to send their offspring to a school such as Reigate Grammar.
This story is important.
It tells us much more about what kind of leader Starmer would be if (or should that be when?) he makes it to No 10.
It shows that he is so weak that he is capable of being pushed around by the hard-left elements in his party to keep them happy. Imposing VAT on school fees has nothing to do with raising revenue. It is all about class war, pure and simple.
To hell with Starmer’s own principles – i.e. that he has been willing actively to help poorer children get into a good school.
To hell with the 90,000 children who – it has been estimated – would be forced out of a private education if VAT were bolted on to school fees because their parents wouldn’t be able to afford it.
To hell with the closure of some excellent private schools whose numbers would surely drop to unsustainable levels following the VAT hike.
To hell with the teachers in those schools who would then lose their jobs.
And to hell with the fact that the state education system is so woefully inadequate that it couldn’t possibly absorb another 9,000 pupils, let alone 90,000.
None of this would matter to Starmer in his quest for power.
Every education expert the Mail on Sunday spoke to warned Starmer that imposing VAT on school fees is a terrible idea. One said it was a ‘tax on aspiration’ which would affect families applying for bursaries.
Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP for Reigate, perhaps summed it up best when he said: ‘It is a fantastically stupid policy.’
It isn’t just stupid, though. It is also enormously hypocritical. For Starmer was until recently very happy to help poorer children go to his former school.
This issue alone may well cost Labour the votes of the hundreds of thousands of parents whose children go to a private school.
The Tories, languishing in the polls, would do well to exploit it to the full.