UK Politics

Miliband rejects invitation to join student protests

Ed Miliband has rejected an invitation from student leaders to take part in protests against tuition fee increases.

The Labour leader has backed peaceful protests against fees and told the BBC he had been "tempted" to take to the streets to talk to demonstrators.

Asked if we would join future protests, he said: "We'll see what happens."

But a spokesman later said Mr Miliband had rejected an invite to join the protests and would not be taking part in any demonstrations.

The Conservative Party accused Mr Miliband of "dithering" and said he could not make his mind up on this and other key issues such as tax.

Student leaders are planning a further demonstration next Tuesday and other protests are expected in the run-up to a Commons vote on the tuition fees proposals before Christmas.

'Applaud'

A group co-ordinating protests against the planned rise in tuition fees and cuts in university funding said it would like Mr Miliband to attend the march and meet them to discuss Labour policy.

Simon Hardy, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: "We would very much like it if he could come and attend the march on Tuesday."

Mr Hardy said the group would also like a meeting with Mr Miliband to discuss Labour's higher education policy.

But a spokeswoman for Ed Miliband said: "Ed will not be going on any demonstration."

It is understood if he had a meeting with a student group he would speak to the National Union of Students, but no such meeting is planned.

In an interview with BBC Radio Four's Today programme on Friday morning, Mr Miliband was asked whether he agreed with Labour MP David Winnick who said Wednesday's protest in central London, which led to 35 arrests and thousands of pounds of damage, was "marvellous".

Mr Miliband said he was "obviously" not in favour of violent protests but he understood the depth of anger that people felt about rising tuition fees and cuts in university budgets.

"I was quite tempted to go out and talk to them [protesters]," he said.

"I applaud young people who peacefully demonstrate. I said I was going to talk to them at some point, I was tempted to go out and talk to them."

Asked why he had not, he explained: "I think I was doing something else at the time, actually."

As to joining students on future protests, he said: "We'll see what happens". And asked whether he would actually lead a march in sympathy with students, he said: "Don't overdo it".

Graduate tax

The protests were "an indication of what is happening to this country," Mr Miliband added.

"I think peaceful demonstrations are part of our society and of course as Labour leader I am willing to talk to people who are part of those demonstrations.

"People have a sense of anger and a lot of the anger is quite justified. A government came in, it made a series of promises and it is breaking those promises. It is going to make life a lot harder for a lot of people up and down the country."

During the Labour leadership campaign, Mr Miliband suggested he would be prepared to join a march against public sector cuts and he took part in last year's demonstration to raise awareness about the dangers of climate change.

Mr Miliband told the BBC he backed a graduate tax as an alternative to the proposed doubling of tuition fees as it would be fairer and based on ability to pay.

However, shadow chancellor Alan Johnson, who introduced tuition fees as an education minister, has spoken out against a graduate tax and said the policy has yet to be decided.

Mr Miliband also suggested he believed the 50p top tax rate should be permanent, despite Mr Johnson saying it should be dropped when the economy had recovered. He was also pressed on what he meant by saying he would stand up for the "squeezed middle".

But the Labour leader said the party needed to re-engage with the public on issues such as immigration and low pay after losing touch in its final years in office.

Conservative Party Chairman Baroness Warsi said: "Ed Miliband can't seem to make up his mind on anything.

"He spent this morning dithering over whether to attend student protests, who the "squeezed middle" are and whether he agrees with his shadow chancellor on tax policies. No wonder Labour's policies are a 'blank sheet of paper'.

"The only thing he knows for sure is that he is a socialist and will stick up for the trade unions."

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