Lots of media coverage about a parting of the ways between Lord Mandelson and the Prime Minister. Lord Mandelson seems always to be involved in some skulduggery and backbiting. Being one of his friends is a dangerous privilege. This little spat looked to be fairly innocuous, until today's announcement about Higher Education funding. The BBC are reporting that the Business Secretary has written to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, informing them that the budget for higher education next year will be almost £400 million less than this year. Lots of questions follow this announcement. I'll draw attention to just two of them.
Firstly, the fact that Lord Mandelson has made this £400 million 'cut' public is significant. It totally undermines the Prime Minister's strategy of fighting the coming General Election on the basis of 'Tory cuts' against 'Labour investment'. Admittedly, it will not have huge impact immediately before Christmas, but its out there now. Watch the David Lammy interview on the BBC link, to observe ministerial discomfort. He sounds like a schoolboy after being caught with his hand in the sweet jar. Personally, I applaud Lord Mandelson for his action. Its not that I necessarily support his 'cut' in higher education funding, (I don't) but he has injected some honesty into the debate about future public spending. No meaningful debate can take place whilst the Government carries on misleading us all about the need for spending reduction. The honest debate we need is 'where the axe falls', not whether. Gordon Brown must be spitting nails today - again.
And then, there's the impact on Wales. Lord Mandelson's announcement applies to England only, but application of the Barnett Formula will deliver a proportional cut in the block of money available to the National Assembly Government. Don't know how much this will be, but 5% of £400 million is £20 million. Its unlikely that the whole Assembly block reduction will be passed on to education, because of a commitment to this sector made by Carwyn Jones, the First Minister. But it will have to come from somewhere. I hear peals of laughter and sighs of relief from an allotment somewhere in Cardiff West. Whatever, Lord Mandelson has drawn back the curtain a little on what's in store for us all.