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The media is taking you for a fool about Labour’s “student debt pledge” – here’s the truth

Stemming from an interview on The Andrew Marr Show, various media outlets have published articles that attack Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for ‘breaking a pledge’ on wiping student debt.

However, the Labour leader never made the pledge to begin with, and it certainly wasn’t in Labour’s election manifesto.

Just to be clear:

Labour DID pledge to scrap tuition fees in their manifesto – they still maintain this stance.

Labour DID NOT pledge to wipe off all existing student debt in their manifesto – they said they wanted to if they could fund it.

The Andrew Marr Show

During the interview, Marr raised the subject of historical student debt with John McDonnell, having previously raised it with Angela Rayner.

Marr: “But you will try to pay off that historic debt?”
McDonnell: “Well, we’ll look at what we can do. It’s a real ambition that we’ve got…”
Marr (interrupting) “It sounded like a promise at the time, that’s the problem.”
McDonnell: “What Jeremy said is young people are coming out of college now with debts of £50,000. They cannot even think of getting a house or getting on the property ladder, so we’ve got to tackle that… but the issue is, the system has to be tackled anyway because it’s falling apart.
Marr: “Ok. Very simple question: For students who have accumulated debt in this country, would a future Labour government help them out by at least dealing with some of that, or not?”
McDonnell: “We’re going to try to. We’re going to try to. It’s a real ambition of ours. I don’t want to promise something we can’t deliver…
Marr (laughing and interrupting): “Obviously it was promised a few days before voting!”

An ambition, not a pledge

From this interview erupted a flurry of misinformation that has since gone viral, accusing McDonnell of confirming that Corbyn was ‘rowing back’ and breaking ‘pledges’ and ‘vows’.

However, Jeremy Corbyn did not promise that historical debts would be wiped. There has never been anything in the manifesto that suggests this. It was not a pledge.

Even the BBC tried getting in on the fake news action with this carefully worded article that did its best to blur the lines between Labour’s manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees and the statements made about writing off existing student debt.

During an interview with NME magazine in early June, Corbyn did talk in some detail about the Labour pledge to scrap student fees, as well as discussing historical debts.

NME reported that Corbyn said “he will work to reduce existing student debt if they win the upcoming election”.

In more detail, he told NME that:

Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.

This quote is clearly an exploratory statement. Corbyn also explained that he did not have a simple answer for this. He spoke about how unfair the ‘historical misfortune’ of student debt is. Though he did say that he will ‘deal with it’, it was clear that this would be by exploring the situation. He made no vow, pledge or promise.

To be clear, again, there has never been a pledge to wipe historical student debt. Corbyn has expressed a keen interest to explore ways to reduce or clear historical debts. This ambition is still very much alive and will be approached by talking to economists about the best way to tackle a very complicated problem in a broken system.

Fake news

Following the interview, there appeared to be a burst of fake news. The Independent ran with:

 Student debt: Shadow Chancellor rows back on Jeremy Corbyn’s pre-election pledge to ‘deal with it’ 

This headline is extremely questionable. An official pledge would not be worded in such a relaxed way. It was a heavily slanted article that was clearly incorrect.

Calling it a ‘pledge’ was an outright lie – an unusual one, considering the fact that The Independent had previously reported how Corbyn was ‘looking at ways’ to reduce tuition fee debt of former students.

Guido Fawkes pushed the deceit even further, writing that:

During the election Jeremy Corbyn vowed “I will deal with” those who had the “historical misfortune” of large student debts, promising he would “ameliorate” their situation and write it off

Of course this isn’t the first time that Guido Fawkes have published fake news, as Evolve Politics reported previously. Then today, it reposted a video of Good Morning Britain with the headline “ASHWORTH CONFIRMS LABOUR BREAKING STUDENT DEBT PROMISE”. This was based on Susanna Reid’s question to Jon Ashworth about Corbyn “clearing up the debts that students are carrying with them” – which Corbyn did not claim he would do. Ashworth merely repeated that it is an ambition.

Spreading the truth

With plenty of real Tory U-Turns happening, it is extremely frustrating that fake news about Corbyn is still going viral. However, it is something that Labour supporters are used to after a campaign based on smears against the Labour leader. The best way to combat such pathetic behaviour by media outlets is by calling out desperate lies with the truth.

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