Thursday, 9 December 2010

I didn't sign the pledge!

In the unlikely event of my being elected to the Westminster parliament, it seems that I was not committed to voting against the rise in tuition fees. A search through my "Sent" folder reveals that I did no more than commit myself to the party manifesto, in an email to the NUS. Perhaps a few more senior LibDems should also have been wary of planting their tick on the NUS pledge Web page.

Nevertheless, I think I would have taken my cue from the resolution at this year's Welsh LibDem conference and also shown solidarity with Mark Williams, Roger Williams and Jenny Willott, who are to be congratulated on sticking to their guns. Jenny felt she had to resign her PPS position as a result. If this were Labour or even the Conservative party, the whips would no doubt ensure that she would be cast into the outer darkness as punishment for her indiscipline. I trust that the Liberal Democrat leadership will be true to the party's tradition of respecting members' consciences and in due course recognise her undoubted ability with a position in government. (My feelings about Mark & Roger's being excluded from the Welsh Office are already on the record.)

The different nature of the Liberal Democrats has escaped at least one BBC political journalist, who stated that the party was weaker because the leader had not exercised tight control over them. On the contrary: both the party and the House as a whole were strengthened by the open debate today. This was adult politics, not the playground politics of "whose gang is bigger and harder". Yes, there was some trivial party point-scoring, from both sides (the growing deficit may be a fact, but did so many coalition spokespeople need to go on about it?) but there were many thoughtful contributions, too. One had some respect for the Labour MPs, like Jeremy Corbyn, who proclaimed that they had always opposed tuition fees, even when their party was in government. Labour's summing-up by Gareth Thomas was from the school of Ben Elton, but David Willetts was masterly, even if one did not agree with all his arguments.

More, I hope, when the official voting figures become available.

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