Thursday, 13 June 2013

Tuition fees: a continuing misunderstanding

In a basically fair piece in today's Indy, Mary Dejevsky betrays a misapprehension about the tuition fees issue. She writes:

much of the criticism directed against this government has related not to any incoherence, but to the apparent closeness of the two party leaders and the sense that both have forgotten their party roots. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has repeatedly come under such fire. It began when he dropped his election pledge not to abolish university tuition fees,

 Given the election arithmetic in 2010, it was never realistic to expect the student loans system to be abolished. Both Conservative and Labour parties went into the general election on manifestos including a continuation of the system. Indeed, Labour had commissioned a report which recommended removing a cap on tuition fees altogether. Liberal Democrats (plus Plaid and the Green Party) would have been outnumbered ten to one if the subject had come to the vote. No, where Nick and most of his fellow-ministers were to be criticised was in breaking a personal pledge (over and above the manifesto policy) to  vote against a rise in tuition fees, a pledge which most back-bench LibDems, including all the Welsh members, honoured.

She is right to point out that LibDems in government have power beyond their numbers and certainly more than Nick's predecessor, Charles Kennedy, had. The particular case she has in mind is armed intervention in the Middle East, but it is true of several other matters - such as civil liberties - too.

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