Labour introduced tuition fees having come to power saying it had no plans to do so* and after promising in its 2001 manifesto that "We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them".
The minister who pushed fees through the Commons in 2004 was Alan Johnson. He admitted later that Labour was open to the charge that it had broken its manifesto pledge.** Behind the scenes he had fought and won a battle with the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown and his advisor Ed Miliband who wanted to introduce a graduate tax. Mr Johnson advised Labour's new leader "for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax"*** and has consistently argued that a graduate tax won't work.****
The asterisks are referenced below the article.
He goes on:
However, today the shadow chancellor tells the Times [subscription required] that his leader - by strange coincidence Ed Miliband - is right that "there is a strong case for a graduate tax, which may offer a fairer way of sharing costs between individuals and government."
The Conservatives opposed fees - including David Cameron, who wrote the party's 2005 election manifesto which promised "We will restore real choice in higher education by scrapping fees". He and they now say that choice will come by doubling fees.
The Lib Dems opposed fees, then pledged to oppose any increase in them and now say that that is, in fact, the right thing to do even though, they also say, that it's not what they would have done if the electorate had elected a Lib Dem majority government.
Politics is an extraordinarily opportunistic affair. It likes the familiar tune. It likes sound-bite and it likes fury, some of which, some of the time, signifies next to nothing.
I say next to nothing because while there are pros and cons regarding a graduate tax, no party that I am aware of is offering no increase in costs. I am a Labour supporter but to hear the party crying out against Tory cuts and against tuition fees when it was, to a large extent, the last government that necessitated the cuts and would have to cut now if it were still in power, and who introduced tuition fees in the first place, strikes me as pretty well white noise and none-too-convincing fury. It isn't a fury for something, not even particularly against something. It's stage fury on an uncertain stage.
Labour doesn't offer a socialist programme because it can't without a dramatic change in both the global and the local economy. The socialist models on offer look neither inviting, nor particularly socialist.
If I had to define electable socialism-as-it-is for myself, it would be a tendency, or preference, to favour the unfavoured at the least possible inconvenience to the voting public, which is the voting-public-as-it-is.
So that is where the where-it-is is. Though things may yet change. Everything is as-it-is until it isn't. And, actually, where-it-was, say twenty odd years ago, or even ten years ago, is not where it is now. The Euro looks interesting, in a Chinese sort of way.
ps The graduate tax seems fairer to me: the better off paying for the less well off over the long term. It wouldn't be without difficulties - people losing jobs, people between jobs, people downgrading, people trapped in jobs - but, given the ethos, the principle would work. The trick is to develop the ethos. Slow business, I suspect.