Opinion: Tuition fees and inconvenient truths

Wednesday, 21st November 2012 is, to use Mr Roosevelt’s words, “a date that will live in infamy”. Indeed, it was a day that finally brought the government to its knees. The coalition had well and truly been smashed to pieces.

Well, that’s what you’d believe if you were a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party.

What really happened? A student protest that was never aimed at achieving anything (and indeed it didn’t). The protest of November 2010 aimed to lobby MPs in the run-up to the vote on raising tuition fees. For all the cost and effort put into organising it, this week’s protest had no such aim, and subsequently, no tangible outcome either.

I was amused to read a press quote from the National Union of Students (NUS):

Nick Clegg won the trust and votes of young people and their parents by signing the pledge, but has now lost them once and for all by breaking it.

Presumably the NUS would be just as ferocious towards Labour’s track record and current stance on fees? If anything, as an active student unionist over the last two years, noticeable from NUS’s leadership has been the complete absence of any criticism towards Labour. It is, of course, a completely irrelevant fact that many of NUS’s leadership are Labour Party members.

Having introduced fees in the first place and then trebled them to £3,000 (on both occasions, in a majority government), we now know Labour were planning to further double fees, had they continued in government (thanks to Julian Huppert for pointing this out!). As I recall it, that now-famous pledge to oppose higher fees was also signed by Labour MPs. As they now support fee levels higher than before, surely that’s a broken pledge from Labour too? But for all this, don’t expect an apology from Labour any time soon – and don’t expect the NUS leadership to be demanding one, either.

NUS also forget that even though seven million people voted Lib Dem in 2010 and hence to abolish fees, 19 million voted for parties who were certain to raise fees. This is akin to NUS President Liam Burns breaking one of his key election promises last year because the majority of students’ unions had voted the other way.

But for the NUS leadership, these facts are an inconvenient truth they would prefer to be ignored. The pointless protesting, without any aims or outcomes, shall go on.

* Mo Saqib, previously working for Simon Hughes and John Leech, is a former two-term officer from the University of Manchester Students' Union and also served on the National Union of Students' higher education committee.

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64 Comments

  • An arrogant article and I will only say one thing…you believe that…

    The pointless protesting, without any aims or outcomes, shall go on.

    Those students who felt they had their votes bought at the last election might well have some specific aims and outcomes at the next.

  • The trouble is, it’s not the facts that count, it’s the headlines. That is a fact that Nick Clegg and his team in government persistently fail to recognise.

    The student tuition debacle, whatever the unpalatable reality behind it (i.e. student tuition has to be paid for by somebody at some time) gave everyone else a stick with which to beat us, which they seized with alacrity.

    Nick failed to observe the need for “political choreography” in order to dodge the blows that would inevitably land as a result. Emerging into the Rose Garden with a sombre rather than self congratulatory tone would have helped, as would admitting that with 8% of MPs, the Lib Dems were being forced into political compromises they found very difficult.

    We are where we are with this one. What we need to focus on is on actually delivering other key objectives that were in our manifesto and making sure we derive the full benefit from them, in particular green initiatives, increased personal tax allowances, the pupil premium etc.

    It’s all in the headlines and choreography. That’s what Clegg has to remember. Until he can learn to become more proficient in both, we are not likely to recover as a party under his leadership and on this score, time is rapidly running out and events (Europe, economy etc.) are not doing us any favours.

  • “Is there a good comparison of the Coalition’s graduate tax and the NUS’ proposed one?”

    The system this government has introduced simply is not a graduate tax. The whole point of it is to reduce the amount of higher education funding that comes from taxation – which of course is the diametrical opposite of the policy the Lib Dems campaigned on in 2010.

    In legal terms, these are absolutely still loans, and they are loans whose terms of repayment can be unilaterally changed by any future government at will.

  • Dominic Curran 26th Nov '12 - 12:36pm

    @peebee

    Care to engage with the factual content of the article, or are you happy to simply lob abuse at people?

  • I agree that getting positive media coverage is crucial, but how you go about doing that with a bi-partisan, tribalist press is less obvious.

  • “Care to engage with the factual content of the article, or are you happy to simply lob abuse at people?”

    I’m not sure whether there’s anything there worth ‘engaging’ with, but that little gem about politicians being justified in breaking signed pledges to the electorate because most people voted for parties with a different policy is worth noting as something rather special.

    Think of all the time and trouble you could save by abolishing all those tedious party conferences and federal committees, and simply deciding your policies by opinion poll. Bring back the death penalty? Right away, sir. Leave the EU? Consider it done. Your wish is our command, just so long as you keep us in a job …

  • jenny barnes 26th Nov '12 - 1:30pm

    Privatising things that should not be commodities, like health care, education, social housing…

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '12 - 1:32pm

    Surely the inconvenient truth is that before the last election, Clegg (and others) promised to vote against increasing tuition fees and that there would be “no more broken promises”. He made cloying references to a new kind of politics. That is what people remember and react against, more than the details of student funding per se. Clegg made it personal at the time, and reinforced that with his awful apology broadcast.

    And I have to say that I have some sympathy with peebee’s comments: this is probably the worst article I have read at LDV. It just seems to be full of unsubstantiated claims, and hypocritical digs at Labour and the left. The same criticisms of Labour had authority when we made them before the election, but ring hollow now that we have done what we accused them of. The article doesn’t offer any defence of the actions our leaders took, it doesn’t explain why the author believes the current system is better than the alternatives, it doesn’t even make clear what the author actually thinks about tuition fees, just that he dislikes lefties.

    @Dominic Curran
    One problem is that there is little factual content in the article, but to consider a few points being made …
    19 million people voted for parties who said they would look at the Browne report: we chose to take a position against tuition fees regardless of that. Perhaps that was foolish or dishonest, or both. The other parties deliberately downplayed their position on fees; we were the party that made a big deal of it and persuaded our candidates to sign the pledge. We actively chased the vote of students and young people on the back of this. That does make us look worse than Labour and the Conservatives and damages our credibility on every issue.
    The NUS were opposed to Labour’s position on fees: that’s why they wanted individual politicians to sign a pledge.
    The pledge was not simply to “oppose higher fees”: specifically, it was to “vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”
    The only individual MPs from any party who broke their pledge were those who signed it and then voted for an increase in fees (or abstained): perhaps Mo can name or count the Labour MPs who did that, rather than make a vague unsubstantiated assertion that the whole party should apologise for a broken pledge.

  • The trouble with this argument as with so many relating to tuition fees is that people did not vote Lib Dem for them to be as bad as, or even slightly better than, Labour. Labour lied, we get that, they lied on other things as well and that is one of the reasons why for me they are a long, long way from even being in the marketplace for my vote. But everyone who signed the pledge and did not vote against the rise lied too.

    @Dave Page You need to re-read the pledge. It was a both and, not either or, scenario. “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.” MP’s could have brought pressure to government to make a fairer system yet still vote against the rise in fees. The pledge did not allow you to vote for a fairer system if it included a rise in fees. To keep arguing differently will just put peoples cross in a different box come 2015.

    As to pointless protests, well most are really if you only look at the end result. I grew up in an age of protest against nuclear weapons (that are still here), closing pits (which are generally closed) , saving the GLC (the HQ of which is now a hotel) the list is endless. Presumably they wanted to keep the item on the agenda, if so your article proves they have to a small extent succeeded.

    I must also take issue with your statement relating to the millions that voted for parties supporting an increase. They have their representation in the Tory and Labour MP’s they elected. The 7,000,000 who voted Lib Dem are the ones short changed by reneging on the pledge the others don’t come into it.

    As for the NUS and Labour biased political opportunism. Just about anyone who has been to Uni knows this. Most of us didn’t become two time officers and members of national committees though. I assume they were different back then ???

  • @Simon Shaw
    “As the new system is “a fairer alternative” to the previous Student Finance System, does that mean that (on balance) those MPs who voted for the new system complied with the Pledge?”

    No because they voted for a rise…. It was cleverly worded to ensure there was a lack of wriggle room. As I stated above it was pressure for a fairer system not vote for one. Effectively this removes the option to say higher fees are a price of a fairer system.

    “I certainly think it shows the dangers of signing “political pledges” written by other people.”

    Quite. This pledge may have achieved some votes, but breaking it will probably lose more. Once made it should have been a red line. It is now probably more about trust than tuition fees.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '12 - 2:41pm

    As RC puts it, Clegg made an enormous error at the start of the coalition by allowing an image to be put across as if the Liberal Democrats had almost equal influence to the Conservatives in it, and by allowing an image in which he and those other MPs who obtained government posts looked very pleased with themselves over it – and then (as the leadership does) spoke of this as if his views and ways of presenting it were shared by all Liberal Democrat members.

    He’s had plenty if time to regret and repent of these errors in presentation, but he’s carried on with them. The basis of his speech at the 2012 Brighton conference was to carry on presenting himself and the party in this way.

    The result is to hide the fact that the reality of the balance in Parliament after the election inevitably meant the coalition would be far more Conservative than Liberal Democrat in policy. Looking pleased with themselves and going on and on about how wonderful it is to have Liberal Democrats “in government” without making it clear that far from it being “in government” in the sense of a Liberal Democrat government, it’s a minor influence in a government predominantly of another party, just makes it look like all they really wanted was these posts, everything they said in the election campaign was just what they thought might get them these posts. Making out the Liberal Democrats have more influence in the coalition than they do just means people look at its mainly Conservative policies and think “I didn’t realise that’s the sort of things Liberal Democrats support – but now they are in government and supporting them, I know better – I certainly won’t make the mistake of voting for them again”. All this is before you get to the issue that whoever is in government would have to make difficult and unpopular decisions in the current economic climate. With the Conservatives in government, “difficult” tends to mean “hitting the poor the hardest”, we never seem to have “difficult” decisions which are difficult because they hit the wealthy the hardest.

    So, as RC says, the better presentational position at the start would have been to have put on a very sombre image, one which regrets that the Liberal Democrats having only a small share of the MPs cannot do very much in the present Parliament, and one which accepts the coalition as it is, only because it’s what the people voted for combined with how the electoral system distorts it. In this way, the small concessions that have been gained from the Conservatives could have been presented as victories, but the presentational mistakes made at the start and still being made now by Clegg and those close to him makes them seem like defeats.

    Looking at it logically, the idea that the Liberal Democrats have “lied” because they did not implement their manifesto promise is daft, because how could any party with so small a share of the total number of MPs implement all that was in the manifesto? Which of course is even more why it was such a bad presentational mistake to boast about us having implemented “75% of our manifesto” without even checking how the figures that were quoted as that were arrived at. It’s the exaggeration of our real power in the coalition and the pleased-with-himself image of Clegg that have dragged us down on student loans. Also the decision to make such a big thing about this policy in the election campaign – which cannot be blamed on the party activists as the leadership is trying to do. The party’s democratic mechanisms may have insisted that this policy stayed in place as a manifesto commitment, but it was not the party’s democratic mechanisms which insisted this policy more than any other should be singled out, put to the forefront of our campaign, made the one policy on which a formal “pledge” was signed, and so on.

    The possibility that we would be in a no-majority Parliament has existed since the big upward turn in the Liberal vote in 1974. For the leadership and its defenders to have claimed that it somehow took them by surprise is ridiculous. All the above should have been carefully thought through and planned for in advance. These mistakes should not have been made. We have been VERY badly led. It would be nice if someone in the leadership were to have the guts and honesty to admit that rather than, as was in the Brighton conference and media interviews given around that time by the leadership and those close to it, a patronising and dismissive tone taken towards any party member who is less than happy with the leadership.

  • “Peter, since the new fees system both includes a rise in the “headline” fees (not necessarily in the amount actually paid), and is fairer, then anybody who signed the NUS pledge broke it one way or another.”

    Absolute nonsense. Clearly, the implication of the pledge is that raising fees would not be a fairer solution. And that is precisely what the Lib Dems told us at the last election. Lib Dem policy was (and still is, as far as I know) to abolish fees altogether and fund higher education through general taxation.

    The point is that those Liberal Democrats MPs who voted against raising tution fees – those such as Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy – did not break their pledge. They voted against raising fees and continued to advocate, as a fairer system, the policy the party had fought the election on.

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '12 - 2:55pm

    @Simon Shaw & @Dave Page
    It has been debated before whether or not the two parts of the pledge are mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that they are, since a fairer system might involve smaller (or zero) fees, much like the system we campaigned for before the general election. The pledge only falls down in principle if the only fairer system involves increased fees, forcing MPs to decide which part of the pledge they are going to break (if they make that choice within the current parliament). I don’t think there is any mileage in Lib Dems defending themselves by claiming the pledge was fundamentally flawed: if only a fool would sign such a pledge, why did we? Equally, we can go round in circles arguing whether the pledge meant a “fairer alternative” to the previous arrangements or a “fairer alternative” to fees in general, but our manifesto committed us to a policy (which as far as I know is still Lib Dem policy) of removing student fees altogether so voters could be forgiven for believing we wanted something fairer than fees.

    That still leaves the question of whether the new system is fairer than the old system or a system with no tuition fees. Since we have always opposed tuition fees and criticised Labour for their dishonesty, then it would be a bold move for Lib Dems to claim that what we are doing now is the best approach of all. So is it fairer than the old system?

    I bristle slightly at bald statements that under the new scheme students pay less. What this means is that they pay less per month because the payments are capped, but compared to the previous system they pay off a larger debt that increases at a faster rate over a longer period, so overall they pay more. If I loaned you a fiver, and then suggested that rather than pay me back six pounds next week you could instead pay me back four pounds every week for a year, I don’t think you’d accept that you were paying less.

    Since somebody has to pay the fees (the individual student or every tax payer), “fairness” must address who should foot the bill. Again, insisting that the student should pay directly is a change from previous Lib Dem policy.

    I think the biggest problem for the party on this issue is that it has been led into a complete mess with collateral damage meaning we are now distrusted on unrelated issues (e.g. electoral reform). The leadership has shown too much enthusiasm for the new student finance system to belatedly use the excuse that it is the best we could achieve in a tory-led coalition. Perhaps clarifying what our policy now is would be a better way forward than a simpering apology that leaves people unsure whether Clegg was apologising for making a promise or for breaking it, and whether the party thinks student fees are good or bad.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '12 - 2:59pm

    The student fees and loans system is about what the Liberal Democrats could be expected to get from the current situation. They have gained some useful concessions from what the Conservatives originally proposed, which do in fact make the scheme quite close to a “graduate tax”. In fact the generosity of the scheme in writing off loans is such that it’s now being predicted that it will end up subsidising higher education with government support more than Labour’s proposals. If our presentation of our situation following the general election was the honest one that we have an essentially Conservative government where the Liberal Democrats can exert some selective influence, maybe we’d have got some credit for that.

    I agree with the original article that the NUS demonstration was pointless. I have little time for those who suppose the answer to any government policy you don’t like is to organise a march. The Trots may fondly imagine these marches will eventually lead up to a revolution. Reality is that it’s a sign of general withdrawal from democracy – rather than using the power which democratic gives us to choose our leaders (actively through involvement in the political parties, not just passively through voting), we suppose the best we can do is to act like peasants faced with an immoveable aristocracy, begging and pleading with them to have mercy in us.

    Serious grown-up politics accepts that if you want the government to pay for some policy, you must also suggest how the government should raise the money to pay for it. The reason we have not been able to go further with higher education funding is that actually the general public AREN’T willing to fund it when it comes to actually paying more taxes. Suggestions the Liberal Democrats have made for collecting more taxes have generally been dismissed by all others across the political spectrum. Remember “granny tax”? Which was actually a sensible redistributive measure, not that you’d realise it from the coverage it got. Ditto the “charity tax”. How many takers are there for “mansion tax” let alone a property tax of a scale large enough to raise serious money such as enough to pay fort higher education? I’d listen to anyone opposing the current higher education funding system if they were honest enough to say what THEY would propose to pay for it. Not just vague “tax the rich” stuff, which the Trots will do, but realistic worked out stuff that gives approximate budget figures.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “Looking at it logically, the idea that the Liberal Democrats have “lied” because they did not implement their manifesto promise is daft, because how could any party with so small a share of the total number of MPs implement all that was in the manifesto? ”

    But that has never really been the charge, rather that MP’s made a pledge and did not stick to it. No one should have expected that tuition fees were going to be scrapped in this parliament, but they could reasonably have expected Lib Dems to vote against their rising…

  • @ Steve Way

    “No one should have expected that tuition fees were going to be scrapped in this parliament, but they could reasonably have expected Lib Dems to vote against their rising…”

    If the vote had been successful in blocking any settlement, how would that have achieved anything other than creating a funding crisis in higher education, the responsibility for which the Tories would have had no hesitation in laying at our door?

  • I think the Lib Dem leadership missed the point entirely about the enormity of the task that faced them in 2010.

    Voters in the UK are used to one party government. The leadership just assumed that they would understand what multi-party coalition government is. In fact, for most people alive in Britain today, it is an absolute novelty and something that needs explaining right from the very beginning.

    The sad truth here is that our voter base (and in fact many commenting here) still doesn’t understand what it means: that you can get some, but only some of your policies implemented and that by choosing to prioritise some things, you have to sacrifice others. Would the voters have been any more forgiving, for instance, if we’d insisted on free tuition and had to sacrifice the £10,000 personal allowance, for example?

    Laying bare the hard facts of political life right from the start would have helped. Regaining our lost credibility with the voters is going to be tough and I’m not sure Nick Clegg is the person to do it. This is really dreadfully unfair on someone who I still think is an honourable man with good values, but stuck with a horrible set of circumstances and brutal and unprincipled political opponents.

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '12 - 4:45pm

    @RC
    I think voters probably understand multi-party government better than Clegg et al. It is our Lib Dem leaders who have given the impression from the beginning that this coalition is a meeting of minds with a shared vision, hence the Rose Garden love-in, and silly comments from Clegg about there not being a fag-paper’s difference, nothing to disagree about in the next leadership debates, and the coalition agreement being mostly Lib Dem. A more grown-up and pragmatic presentation of the reality of coalition government would have been better from the outset, but now our credibility is diminished.

  • Simon Bamonte 26th Nov '12 - 5:40pm

    I’m completely sick of people like @RC who underestimate the public by constantly saying they “don’t understand” things like coalition government because millions of people who voted LD in 2010 are now disappointed. Have you ever entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, the public do understand this coalition but simply don’t like it? Has it ever crossed your mind that this party may actually be wrong? That, as @Matthew Huntbach rightly keeps saying, our leaders led the public to believe we had a) more power than we did and b) that our party now fully bought into Tory policy (much of which wasn’t in the coalition agreement)? It seems, from some posters on this site at least, everyone who disagrees with the new LD policies in coalition are either stupid, misinformed or (my favourite) “Labour trolls.” So far on LDV, I’ve seen students, the disabled, public sector workers, left-wing LibDems and a large part of the electorate called names and basically written off because they are against things the coalition is doing in government. It seems that principles and deeply held beliefs are now “out of fashion” in this party, while anything that furthers our grip on power is lauded and praised, even if it flies in the face of beliefs we as a party have held for ages.

    You can keep on insulting the voting public, those who are adversely affected by this coalition, centre-left LibDems like me and anyone else who disagrees with you, that’s freedom of speech. But don’t be surprised when the people whose intelligence you insult and those who you broke your promises to decide they’ll never vote for you again. This party, in insulting its ex-voters and people who once believed in you, is acting very similar to the New Labour government towards its middle to end period. We are supporting policies and acting in a way that is completely the opposite of our party’s constitution. Why are you all surprised that, when Clegg says we have more power than we really do, the public rightly ask “Ok, then why not use all that power to stop the Tories doing things you don’t like?”

    Oh, and we should also remember that trust is probably the most important thing to the electorate. Labour never fully recovered from losing the trust of the electorate based on their lies and broken promises, and rightly so. Any party who campaigns on “no more broken promises” and “a new politics”, but breaks promises and continues the same old corrupt and morally bankrupt politics deserves to be trounced in the polls.

    We will never recover until we have leaders in our party the public can trust again. And we will also never recover so long as we treat the electorate with contempt when things don’t go our way, even if it is our own fault things are not going our way. The arrogance that blames everyone else for problems of our own making needs to go as well. It does us no good to act like a Labour or Tory light party. If we’re going to continue on this path, we may as well split in two.

  • @RC
    “If the vote had been successful in blocking any settlement, how would that have achieved anything other than creating a funding crisis in higher education, the responsibility for which the Tories would have had no hesitation in laying at our door?”

    Sorry did the pledge have a convenience clause that I missed ? It would have retained the hard won reputation for integrity the loss of which has helped cost Councillors seats, candidates deposits and will still be a factor in 2015.

    If it was a manifesto commitment yours would be a valid excuse, but as coalition was the best outcome to be expected this should have been thought of in advance. This was a cast iron pledge that was clearly broken. I know some want to contend it was not but surely by his apology even the leader of the party accepts it was.

    Plus have you not noticed that Tories are using trust issues against Clegg (AV campaign) for breaking the pledge and will continue to do so.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th Nov '12 - 7:01pm

    In legal terms, these are absolutely still loans, and they are loans whose terms of repayment can be unilaterally changed by any future government at will.

    A statement which is also true of every other penny of deficit spending in which the UK government engages.

    It’s a loan. Future governments will set the terms – taxes – by which it’ll be repaid.

    But that has never really been the charge, rather that MP’s made a pledge and did not stick to it. No one should have expected that tuition fees were going to be scrapped in this parliament, but they could reasonably have expected Lib Dems to vote against their rising…

    Even that’s a losing proposition. If the LD MPs had all voted against the legislation, then the NUS would be bashing them for breaking their promise “to vote for a fairer system”.

    It was a stupid promise which should never have been made.

  • @Andrew Suffield
    “Even that’s a losing proposition. If the LD MPs had all voted against the legislation, then the NUS would be bashing them for breaking their promise “to vote for a fairer system”.”

    Except they never promised that, read the pledge, you’ll find the words you have placed within quotes are not in fact a quotation…..

  • What would have happened had Lib Dem MPs dug in their collective heels and refused any increase? Perhaps it is fruitless to speculate now, though I cannot help agreeing with much of what RC has written.

    I think that a generally perceived crisis in Higher Ed funding could have ushered in a new system with more all round agreement. However, I still do not understand why, if the present system is currently more expensive (the money is still coming from the government) why changes to increased tuition costs could not have been deferred to beyond 2015. The only explanation that I have is that it comes down to accounting procedures about what constitutes spending or borrowing.

  • Steve Way is spot-on. Prior to the 2010 election the Pledge led to a ‘perfect storm’ for the LibDems. The uncompromising wording of the pledge; Nick Clegg’s stress on the ‘New Politics’; the LibDems’ claims for ‘an end to politicians saying one thing and doing another…..’; the ridicule of Labour for ‘lying’ when they raised tuition fees – all this left the party tied, locked and bound to that pledge. I am certain that the least worst option (there was no best option) would have been for ALL LibDem MPs to have voted against a fees rise, this would have been uncomfortable for the Coalition and the Tories, but in the long term the LibDems would not be in such a hole. I do find that all the discussion re. the merits or otherwise of the present fees system and is it or is it not fairer, and for whom etc etc.. is just academic whistling in the wind. To the electorate I think the Fees issue is dead simple, namely …..promise made/ promise broken. It was voters have come to expect from all politicians.

  • Ed Shepherd 26th Nov '12 - 8:43pm

    Some professional politicians made a specific pledge to vote in a particular way. Some of them didn’t stick to that pledge. It’s understandable that many people who were influenced by that pledge to cast their 2010 GE ballot in a particular way are angry. Some of these annoyed people take part in demonstrations. The demonstrations have the effect of drawing continuing publicity to the pledge. That’s what demonstrations are for. Demonstrations don’t change things by themselves but they influence debate by continuing to draw atttention to the issue. That’s why this issue is being discussed on LDV today. I remember the often frightening strikes and demonstrations of the 1980′s. They often seemed a waste of effort that damaged the demonstrators more than their opponents. They didn’t change the government but they succeeded in keeping certain issues in the realm of public debate and showing that there was an alternative point of view to the prevailing orthodoxy. At the ballot box and in the dwindling coffers of some political parties, the folly of making and breaking this tuition fees pledge is already making itself evident. It’s no point blaming the Labour Party or the Tories. After all, they didn’t make that pledge.

  • Anger is the way people express ignorance, so it’s ironic that this is about education.

    Frankly it is long past getting tedious.

    Labour is deaf to it’s own complaints. Labour continually proves it is a dishonest party, and it expects us to overlook their track record of dishonesty while they point fingers only recently removed from their ears.

    Labour messed up the economy and after they lost the General Election they refused to enter negotiations over entering a coalition because they didn’t want or know how to clear up the mess they made. They have yet to show they are capable of accepting their failures are their own responsibility.

    Labour is still capable of deluding itself, and it continues to do so every single day. It has not learnt; it shows it is not learning; one wonders how additional teaching could benefit them.

    While the student finance system has improved with our reforms, HE funding is still problematic and can’t rely on international students forever. Likewise the NHS, a 50% real-term funding increase over 10-years is still now, as it was always going to be, unsustainable. ID cards, Trident – what a waste! And I’ll only mention the ‘dodgy dossier’ in passing – what price an invasion?

    Labour’s inflation-driven money rivers ran dry. Their means proved fraudulent. They scaremonger because they need to promote a culture of fear to prosper electorally.

    Yes, the new student finance system is still a system of loans, with rates that can be set by the government of the day. That’s why we need a LibDem government, because only the LibDems can be trusted to be fair.

  • @Oranjepan
    Labour are all you mention and more, the Tories are as bad or worse, but this is about neither of those but Lib Dem integrity. I didn’t vote Lib Dem for them to be just better than Labour I would rather they set their sights considerably higher…..

    “Anger is the way people express ignorance”

    A bit simplistic and at times plain wrong. What about the anger at the invasion of Iraq, was that ignorance, or has it been shown to be justified ? People who have been lied to have a right to be angry. That said I fail to see how those who did not vote Lib Dem have that right (with the exception of new students who did not have the chance to vote).

    “That’s why we need a LibDem government, because only the LibDems can be trusted to be fair.”

    You use the word trusted and that is the heart of this, you earn trust by being trustworthy, not by breaking pledges. This is tedious, the apology was perhaps too little, too late and depending on your take on it, apologising for the wrong thing. The constant attempts to justify breaking the pledge, such as this thread are just counter-productive .

    The Party line needs to be either denying breaking the pledge or apologising for doing so, it can’t be both.

  • RC Do you speak of Clegg’s opponents in his own party?

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '12 - 11:25pm

    @Simon Shaw
    “In my book those graduates who are high earners paying more back (in real terms) over their working life, than those who are low earners, is a key element of “a fairer alternative” .”
    Because it is repayment of a loan, then higher earners could pay more per month and reduce their debt quicker, therefore paying off less over their working life. This lack of progressiveness (is that a word?) is one reason that many have criticised it for being less fair than a graduate tax, and we have another squeezed middle who earn enough to repay their debt but not enough to pay it off quickly.

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '12 - 11:41pm

    @Simon Shaw
    But aren’t we back to the difference between paying more per month but less over the lifetime of the debt which is paid off quicker?

  • Steve,
    yes, it’s about LibDem integrity – we showed we care about fairness and are not above reversing our view to ensure we get a fairer result for the public.

    Despite how this has been portrayed by others who’ve been less than open or honest about their private motivations, the humiliation of our leadership is a perfect demonstration of the fact that we care about policy more than personality.

    It’s a tough dilemma, but do you prioritise honesty or fairness? If I try to be honest I think it is wrong to attempt to prejudge political outcomes because you can never know the full facts beforehand, so honesty is at best your best guess and fairness is always more important.

    That we’re being hammered for prioritising fairness over honesty by people who are deliberately misleading and know better is the best joke of the century so far!

    Regarding anger, when I went on the march against the invasion of Iraq there was noticably little anger. People disagreed, strongly, reasonably, justifiably, but not angrily. When I stood aside to watch the student fees protests and riots, I saw chaos, confusion, irrationality, violence and lots of anger. The former had a clear political conscience, the latter was simply unrestrained selfish emotion.

    To be angry is to be ignorant.

  • @Oranjepan
    It is not a case of reversing ones view, or the policy would have been changed. It is quite simply the case of not be open and honest with the electorate. This was not a policy changed after months of negotiation, or even after the fact changed. This was a pledge thrown away after a few days of negotiation.

    The best the Lib Dems could hope for after the 2010 election was a hung parliament. Both of the other parties supported fees, and both were committed to “considering” Browne. Therefore this was entirely predictable. Either a principled red line would be stated or the pledge would be broken. The reports of the negotiations in the books available make no mention of this being a sticking point. So not a sensible reverse of policy, but a pledge that the leadership never intended to keep.

    To feel passionate or angry is not ignorant. To express either through inappropriate action is. The behaviour of some of the students on the first fees march was inexcusable. So was buying their votes with a false promise. When Blair did this with “top up fees” he was rightly criticised by some Lib Dem MP’s who now fail to see the irony or trying to wriggle away from their own lies.

    To blindly and tribally justify blatant lies to the electorate is far more ignorant then to feel aggrieved when lied to…

  • @orangepan “liberal democrat integrity” about tuition fees? This must be the original oxymoron. Most of the discussion has been about the political justification and outcome. It’s about the pledge. Having candidates sign a pledge and then betray it was massively stupid and damaging. Our opponents will ensure that we are never allowed to forget it. Does anyone seriously think that the Tories were not aware of the potential political damage to our party by the policy? The fees hike was a financial choice and we wnt along with it

  • well, that’s where I can’t agree.

    The policy has not been thrown away, it has been downgraded to an aspiration on account of political reality and the fact that being in government means we have to deliver workable policies. In the meantime we find ourselves advocating for a half-way house of no up-front fees.

    That’s the honest position, on that we must be fair.

    You say the best that LibDems could hope for in the GE2010 was a hung Parliament, again I don’t agree. After the first TV debate at the height of Cleggmania there were some voices proclaiming their belief that anything was possible – or have you quickly forgotten?

    I wasn’t one of them, but I still hold the ambition to see a LibDem government unencumbered by coalition. To parrot a line, I fight for maximum LibDem votes, maximum LibDem seats and maximum LibDem influence.

    Anyway it’s completely irresponsible to go into an election without a realistic idea of what would happen if you come out the other side as a victor. As I think many party supporters have since discovered – if you put yourself in a dilemma, you will chop yourself up.

    Abolishing student fees was a huge commitment made unfeasible by circumstance, as reflected in the number of MPs in government who refused even to negotiate on the idea. It was a flashy idea, which I think is still desirable, but like land tax etc just not a priority.

    How many years did we warn ourselves not to create a hostage to fortune? The student pledge was the perfect example of one: we surfed on a wave of acclaim, then we faced a wipe-out and the inevitable rebuilding process.

    In the event I don’t think anyone (even Vince) quite recognised what the impact of a financial upheaval on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis would have. 10% of the national revenue base was eradicated in two years, meaning calculations were being ripped up almost as soon as they were drafted, as long-held economic assumptions were smashed.

    This wasn’t a bust like those which happen every decade, this was a once-in-a-lifetime crisis built upon the cumulative failures of successive governments.

    Anyone who blames LibDems for addressing the actual situation in a time of global need hasn’t yet fully woken up to what actually happened. When the riots happened things looked like they were turning really ugly.

    So let’s look at what we have achieved: we’ve regained stability while delivering on a whole range of our promises. We’ve raised the income tax allowance threshold, we’re reindexing pensions, we’ve stopped Post Office closures – to name but three. Everyone is trying to claim credit for these because everyone sees them as good, despite the fact that everyone else fought us tooth and nail, preventing real action when they had the opportunity.

    It’s quite comical really, the people who leave the LibDems aren’t the people who want to influence our party direction in a democratic manner, they’re the people who derrogate their personal responsibility by blaming whichever leader of the day is in place.

    And I have to laugh dismissively at the conjunction between ‘politics’ and ‘lies’ – there’s an ancient quote about how everything and nothing in politics is a lie, because politics is conditioned by an individual’s situation and perspective. So, in politics, to call out a ‘lie’ is to mislead oneself, and is absolutely inadvisable.

    It does say something about one’s facility with language though… if you can’t do better than criticise ‘lies’ then you’ve already lost the argument, if for no grander reason than because you’re not attempting to engage with your opponent on their terms. No empathy, no MP!

  • @brianD
    nobody does cover-ups as badly as LibDems. We’re constitutionally incapable.

    Because we believe being open and transparent is better than going through the motions and pretending, it’s simply that much more painful to admit.

    For others who don’t it’s easier for them to repress their mistakes and forget, but that’s why they don’t learn.

    Anyway, let me restate, the student fees pledge was a hostage to fortune. Whoever wrote it did so with malicious intent and is responsible for the ill-feeling and violence which has disrupted and distorted the political debate in this country. Who was this and when will they apologise?

  • “Higher earning graduates pay more. Lower earning graduates pay less.”

    Of course, what you mean is “Higher earning graduates pay more than lower earning graduates, but graduates on average pay a lot more than they do now”. That’s the whole point of the new system – a huge shift towards payments by graduates and away from funding from general taxation.

    You argue “fairness” on the ground of how the payments are shared out between high and low earners, but what we were told by the Lib Dems before the last election is that the tuition fees system itself was unfair, and that higher education should be funded from general taxation. On that view, the new system is much more unfair than the old.

  • Tom Richards 27th Nov '12 - 11:05am

    Just to flag up the IFS report on the fees here: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/6346 – worth a read – in many ways the most interesting passage is the one (pasted below) which basically says the system should be good for disadvantaged students, so long as they are well informed. In other words, if the new system deters disadvantaged students, it’ll be because it’s been poorly communicated to them rather than because of its actual financial structure. This has some interesting implications for the NUS – arguably, they’ve done more than anyone else to misrepresent the system as one which will financially disadvantage poorer students (which it won’t) than anyone else. Surely it’s the job of the NUS to explain to its members why they shouldn’t be deterred – doing exactly the opposite seems pretty irresponsible.

    Incidentally, I still think, on principle, Clegg shouldn’t have broken the pledge (even though it was misguided). Liberal Democrats should be better than broken promises on flagship policies.

    What does this imply for university attendance amongst disadvantaged students? The progressive features of the repayment system should provide some grounds for optimism: as long as students are well informed and not averse to the kind of debt involved – repayments of which only depend on one’s ability to pay – participation rates should not suffer. But there are grounds for concern if students have difficulty understanding the complexities of the new system – which are substantial – or if they are deterred by the prospect of higher borrowing regardless. Efforts to increase participation amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds will require clear, precise information to be provided about the costs and benefits of going to university in both the short and long run. Only time will tell if that goal has been achieved.

  • The main problem is the cost of university education is expensive and the student takes on a large debt risk, particularly if the decision is based purely on obtaining a more rewarding career.
    For what I’ve seen tuition fees discourages mature students from returning to education as on a financial basis they are not likely to break even on debt to future earnings especially with this austerity. It therefore is against what is needed: This is education throughout life when needed. Human interests change throughout life.
    Perhaps , the basis of a 3-4 year block study for a degree is wrong and we should be working towards a 1 year diploma – then work full time for earnings – 1 year higher diploma – then more work for money – 1 year advance 1st degree equivalent and so on, thus keeping skills up to date.
    As soon as a finished my 3 year BSc Computer Science degree it was out of date in just a few years.
    I just don’t like the idea of the ready acceptance of debt.
    If you got the odd £40k and enjoy studying, yes, go ahead and go to university.

  • Oranjepan. “It was…… [Abolishing student fees]……. just not a priority”. With respect, until Friday 7 May 2010 the abolition of student fees was one of THE priorities promised by the LibDems to the electorate. To downgrade its importance post-election is, and has been as damaging to the LibDems as the ‘about-turn’ on the pledge itself. This re-writing of history has been the cause of accusations of the three-letter ‘L’-word, I shall say ‘duplicity’. Surely it is best to describe the Fees issue as a well-intentioned cock-up.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '12 - 1:37pm

    Martin

    What would have happened had Lib Dem MPs dug in their collective heels and refused any increase? Perhaps it is fruitless to speculate now, though I cannot help agreeing with much of what RC has written.

    So how WOULD we have paid for it? That is what politics is about – if you want state services, you set a budget which balances their provision with ways of raising money to pay for it. As RC puts it, what if we had insisted on big rises in income tax to pay for it? Or any other forms of tax? Well, the Tories would not have supported us on that. Would Labour have come running top our aid to support us in our battle against the Tories on this issue? We would need to appoint a Minister for Porcine Aviation should that happen.

    This is why I find much of the attacks on the Liberal Democrats on this issue, and general discussion of it to be juvenile, as it almost all seems to be based on the juvenile notion that government spending money really is “free”. Sensible discussion might at least acknowledge that if it’s not paid for through taxation it would have to be paid for through state borrowing which actually IS what is being done – the state borrows the money, lends it to the students and guarantees its repayment, just in a disguised form so it doesn’t appear on the balance sheets. A non-disguised form would have been fairer, though since future generations would pay off the loans and most of those paying it off would be graduates, it would in fact be much the same people paying much the same amounts of money.

    The evidence suggests that what the Tories said when the LibDems tried to dig their heels in on this one was “Righty-ho, we’ll cut back the number of university places so we can afford to pay for it from existing taxation. How many unis do you want to see closed down, Mr Clegg?”. Recall, the sort of unis they would want to see closed down are not the sort of unis top Tories send THEIR kids to. They’re the sort of unis people like Mr Gove would be very keen on closing down, and what a wizard scheme if it could be done in a way that the LibDems get the blame for it?

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '12 - 1:43pm

    Ernest

    As soon as a finished my 3 year BSc Computer Science degree it was out of date in just a few years.

    That’s why a Computer Science degree which concentrates on “what the market wants now” rather than more general principles, is a mistake. The general principles I was taught in my Computer Science degree over 30 years ago are still very applicable today, even though there have been huge changes in the details of the technology. The degree then might have been criticised as too theoretical and not practical enough. Had it been “practical” in the way many wanted it to be then, it would have been all Cobol and Fortran on IBM mainframes. Which is what I tell the Computer Science students I teach today when they say “Why do we have to study this stuff?” about some of the stuff we make them do.

  • Mark Pack. OK I take your point entirely.

  • @Oranjepan
    “After the first TV debate at the height of Cleggmania there were some voices proclaiming their belief that anything was possible – or have you quickly forgotten?”

    Really ?? I’m a bit of an anorak yet saw no serious commentator during the election predicting an outright Lib Dem win,

    “It does say something about one’s facility with language though… if you can’t do better than criticise ‘lies’ then you’ve already lost the argument, if for no grander reason than because you’re not attempting to engage with your opponent on their terms. No empathy, no MP!”

    Lies, especially blatant ones should always be criticised, whether Blairs dodgy dossier or Clegg’s pledge. Look back on the debates at the time and the broader arguments were done to death then using language that may even meet your seemingly high levels.

    You wish to avoid the word lie because it doesn’t fit your tribal view, I on the other hand have no such reticence. I applaud much of what has been achieved, I do not believe that the minority party can achieve all of it’s manifesto, but the truth is this is a matter of a personal pledge, signed freely not a manifesto commitment.

    You state those who drafted it should apologise, why ? It is those who did not plan for the ramifications of signing it that should be sorry.

  • Simon

    “How on earth can you say the new system is more unfair than the old.”

    I don’t think I can explain it for you any more simply than I already have, so I’ll just repeat what I wrote in the comment you were replying to. I’ll add a bit of emphasis to try to help you, though.

    You argue “fairness” on the ground of how the payments are shared out between high and low earners, but what we were told by the Lib Dems before the last election is that the tuition fees system itself was unfair, and that higher education should be funded from general taxation. On that view – because it represents a huge shift towards payments by graduates and away from funding from general taxation – the new system is much more unfair than the old.

    I hope that helps.

  • Chris. You have touched on the one and only fact that is important in the whole Fees story. Put simply the question of “who pays for university tuition, (a) the State, or (b) the student (whether the entire cost or a proportion thereof)”. These two alternatives are in fact, in principle, poles apart. We, the voters, can only assume that prior to the last election, the LibDems had a settled will re. the funding of university fees, and that was that the State should foot the bill. We must also presume that the party believed that this was ‘fair’ not only to students but also ‘fair’ to all those who pay tax in all its forms. It is very black or white. Since the election many LibDems have been championing the ‘fairness’ of student financial contribution to the cost of a university education. You do not have to be an arch-cynic to see that this is enthusiasm for the exact opposite of their party’s supposed principled beliefs. I would add that many contributors on this site seem to very cheerful about the demise (if that’s what it turns out to be) of the ‘abolish fees’ policy. This has made the party appear to re-making policy in public and ‘on the hoof’. It also has the appearance of disunity.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov '12 - 11:29am

    Steve Way

    Oranjepan
    “After the first TV debate at the height of Cleggmania there were some voices proclaiming their belief that anything was possible – or have you quickly forgotten?”

    Really ?? I’m a bit of an anorak yet saw no serious commentator during the election predicting an outright Lib Dem win,

    I think Oranjepan is talking about immediately after the first television debate. Had subsequent television debates resulted in the LibDem poll share rising more, it could have reached the tipping point whereby Liberal Democrats benefit from the distortion of the electoral system. So anyone who put down that initial big rise in the polls purely to Clegg’s skills (as many did) might at that point have supposed a LibDem majority was a possibility.

    As we know, Clegg petered out after that. A big part of the poll rise was actually due to LibDem activists getting their boots on and doing literature delivery immediately prior to the election being called. Another big part of it was the novelty factor – Clegg’s failure to make any impact up to that point served him well, as people had no idea who he was and what he was like, so encountering him for the first time and finding he was no worse than the other two and a bit more fresh tended to get them thinking “Oh, this is something new I haven’t thought about before, maybe I will vote LibDem” just as the pollster knocked on their door.

    This built up big expectations that just were not met in the later debates. One was led to suppose after the first debate that Clegg was some super-human type whose skill would astonish one, then one saw a politician who was floundering, missing points he ought to have got, unable to give a good answer to questions which it ought to have been obvious would be raised – particularly when he became seen as a serious contender. He would have been better off with a slow build up, as usually happens with the Liberals, his later performances wouldn’t have seemed so bad had his first one not been so over-promoted.

    The consequence was that the LibDems ended the election its biggest losers. Big expectations had been built up, yet their share of the poll rose only a fraction from the previous election, and they lost seats. This also was a reason the LibDems were weak in the coalition negotiations – they could not use the line “agree with us, or we’ll force another election” because they would be the biggest losers in another election.

  • “He would have been better off with a slow build up, as usually happens with the Liberals, his later performances wouldn’t have seemed so bad had his first one not been so over-promoted.”

    You’re saying that – in the words of the Spitting Image puppet of David Steel – he “surged too soon”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov '12 - 11:00pm

    BIGDAVE

    Put simply the question of “who pays for university tuition, (a) the State, or (b) the student (whether the entire cost or a proportion thereof)”. These two alternatives are in fact, in principle, poles apart. We, the voters, can only assume that prior to the last election, the LibDems had a settled will re. the funding of university fees, and that was that the State should foot the bill.

    You are writing as if The State has some independent source of money, it does not. The State is the people of this country. If The State pays for it, it means the people of this country have to pay for it through taxation. Since graduates will tend to earn more, they will tend to pay more tax, so the difference is not quite so big as you suggest.

    We must also presume that the party believed that this was ‘fair’ not only to students but also ‘fair’ to all those who pay tax in all its forms. It is very black or white.

    Yes, the party believed this and does not say it has stopped believing it. It would be fairer to share the costs out amongst all taxpayers, not just recent graduates. However, whether it is fair or not, the rest of the country does not agree to it. We know it does not agree to it, because the rest of the country is moaning like hell at the cuts in government spending being made, and moans like hell at any suggestion of an increase in taxation. All the suggestions that Liberal Democrats have made about how more tax money could be raised have been howled down. The country would rather give special extra support to more wealthy elderly people (support that poorer elderly people don’t get) than give the money to students – we know that because when the Liberal Democrats proposed stopping this special subsidy for wealthy elderly people, it was howled down as a “granny tax”. When the Liberal Democrats proposed stopping the special subsidy for rich people’s fripperies, it was howled down as a “charity tax”. When Liberal Democrats propose taking just a tiny part of the huge amounts of money that is made and passed around by those lucky to own homes, and made at the expense of those who need homes and don’t have them, it is howled down.

    Therefore whatever the Liberal Democrats may feel is fairest, they are not going to be able to implement it when the rest of the country and its MPs, the other 90% or so of them, don’t agree with the Liberal Democrats. It ought to be rather obvious, but it seems not to be – if you want Liberal Democrat policy, you have to vote Liberal Democrat. In the last general election most people didn’t vote Liberal Democrat – and a year later they voted by two-to-one to support the current electoral system after a campaign in its favour where those who supported it put its weakening of Liberal Democrat influence as the best thing about it. Very well – the people of this country have made it clear, they don’t want a strong Liberal Democrat presence in Parliament. As a consequence, they won’t get Liberal Democrat policy implemented, at least not Liberal Democrat policy that neither of the other parties support.

    Since the election many LibDems have been championing the ‘fairness’ of student financial contribution to the cost of a university education. You do not have to be an arch-cynic to see that this is enthusiasm for the exact opposite of their party’s supposed principled beliefs.

    No, I don’t see it being put that way. What I do see is the argument being put that the current system is not as bad as at first seems, due to loans to pay the fees being available to all who get a university place, and these loans having generous conditions for repayment and being written off after a period of time. We have seen it written so many times since this system as brought in that it means “young people cannot afford to go to university”, yet that simply is not true. Since any young person who gets accepted at a university can get the loan, and since the loan only has to be paid back if they earn enough to pay it back, no young person is in the position of not being able to go to university.

    Pointing out this simple truth does not mean, as you are claiming, that Liberal Democrats regard the current system as now their ideal. Saying something is not as bad as it appears is not the same as saying it is ideal. The Liberal Democrats form one sixth of a government the other five sixths of which is Conservative. This is the only stable government that could have been formed following the outcome of the 2010 general election, and in 2011 the people of Britain backed the system whose distortions made this the only stable government by two-to-one after a campaign where the current system’s supporters put that distortion as the best thing about it. Quite obviously in such a situation the Liberal Democrats are not going to get their ideal policies through, not unless over 40% of the Conservatives also support it, which in this case they did not. Therefore the best the Liberal Democrats can do is to try and at least get a shift of the basically Conservative policies that a five-sixths Conservative government will propose towards the Liberal Democrat ideal. This they managed with the student funding issue, by pushing the loan system towards one with generous repayment conditions that made it more like a graduate tax.

    Faced with a Conservative Party which has within its ranks many who would deride the lower ranking universities and be happy to see them closed down, the alternative the Conservatives could have suggested was to keep some element of state funding of universities at the cost of greatly reducing the number of university places. Support for a massive slashing of university places, mass redundancies for academics staff (something like all the ex-polytechnics closed down) while having full state funding of those universities left would have meant the Liberal Democrats”keeping their promises” on student funding, but how popular would it have been?

  • Matthew

    You make fair points and seem to acknowledge that the exercise is primarily one of juggling with the accounting as the money is getting to the Universities and the government is making it available. Truly the new system is rather Byzantine in its application. The fact it becomes regressive at higher incomes is something of an embarrassment as well. I am sure you are aware that other countries fund higher education much more directly and that it need not be like this.

    You are right about the student numbers (and therefore survival of university departments), however I am not persuaded by the objective that 50% should be going to university(at least as we have understood them). However, it is clear that the whole population benefits from higher education.

    I suspect that the idea was to deal with tuition fees as fast as possible in the rather naïve hope that it would fade away. Sometimes it is better to appear to be pushed into a decision (this is the way Cameron often plays things), so that the factors get a good airing and more people understand why a proposed system is preferred.

    Was there scope for ‘kicking the can further along the road’? – I suspect this was possible

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov '12 - 11:19pm

    Chris

    You’re saying that – in the words of the Spitting Image puppet of David Steel – he “surged too soon”?

    Yes, obviously so. Once this surge had happened and Clegg had been given (wrongly in my opinion) all the credit for it, it placed an enormous burden on him. He had to dominate by his own personality and intelligence both the next television debates. I myself, having been a firm opponent of Clegg beforehand, thinking him a man of little ability and almost no capacity for original thought and from a background which left him out of touch with the way most people live and often saying some rather silly things because of that, after reading the reports of the first debate, supposed that perhaps I had been wrong in my judgement and watched the later debates expecting to see something really superb from Clegg. I did not, instead I saw something which left me feeling “what was all the fuss about?”. Clegg failed to live up to his own billing.

    It would have been better for the Liberal Democrats had there not been this “Cleggmania”, because then the emphasis would have been more on their local campaigning, which is (or was) their strongest card. Cleggmania distracted from that. Had Clegg not received so much attention early on, his later faltering performances would not have been such an obvious disappointment. In a way, “Cleggmania” actually turned the election into being about Clegg – it meant people observed him closely and mostly came to the conclusion he was ok but nothing special, actually a bit dodgy on quite a few issues, so maybe better stick to the Labour/Conservative they were more confident with.

    What was needed was for a big LibDem surge to come near the end of the election. Many famous Liberal Democrat and before that Liberal victories have worked in just this way, the Libs working quietly building up support locally, while media commentary doesn’t notice it, the two main contenders don’t notice it, they’re busy slugging it out against each other, and WHAM – when election comes and the Libs win, and the commentators scratch their heads and say “where did that come from?”, and Labour says (because Labour is ALWAYS a very sore loser) “oh, it was Liberal dirty tricks”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Nov '12 - 11:39pm

    Martin

    I am sure you are aware that other countries fund higher education much more directly and that it need not be like this.

    Yes, I’m not saying it need be like this under all circumstances. Saying, as I do, that we have a Parliament due to the way people voted and the way the electoral system distorts those votes there was no possibility of getting agreement for much more generous straight state subsidy of higher education, is not the same as saying it is actually impossible even if there was a will for it and democratic support for it to fund higher education much more directly. It comes down to the same thing again – if you want Liberal Democrat policy, it helps to vote Liberal Democrat, and it would help not to support an electoral system which diminishes the Liberal Democrats’ influence. But most people who cast their votes cast their votes in the opposite way.

    Of course, Clegg has made a hash of this, he and Farron with his “75% of Liberal Democrat manifesto policies implemented”, by grossly over-emphasising the real influence the Liberal Democrats have in the current coalition. Making out the coalition is half (as Clegg’s Rose Garden strategy of appearing to be Cameron’s equal has done) or even three quarters Liberal Democrat in policy (as Farron’s “75% of Liberal Democrat policies implemented” line has done – I appreciate that it doesn’t actually mean that, but that’s what t sounds like it means to most people), is to lose us all the defence line I’ve been carefully developing here. Given what we actually have is a Conservative-dominated government which as such is pushing Conservative policies, the strategy of pretending there’s more LibDem influence than actually is the case amounts to making it seem all these right-wing Conservative policies are what Liberal Democrats really wanted in the first place. That is Clegg and Farron have given us a presentational strategy which amounts to us pretending to be what our opponents accuse us of being, the equivalent of sticking a sign reading “kick me” to one’s backside. That is why we MUST get rid of these two clowns from their leadership positions in the party, if the party is to recover.

  • @bigdave
    you’re confusing two different things: the policy and the pledge.

    My position is that fees were wrong and still are wrong, but it was also wrong to sign the pledge (despite the political impossibility) – apologising for being unable to fulfil a pledge at a particular time does not mean abandoning the principle which informed the making of it.

    I had my doubts about how it would be possible to reform HE funding while Labour were introducing fees after they campaigned against exactly this, and after Labour’s crash filling the hole in the national budget became more important than filling the hole in education.

    This is very simple and everybody understands this. Only tribalists wishing to deflect blame for their own failures put pledges above the bread on the table.

    @Steve Way
    I must apologise for failing to attribute a direct quote and allowing you to interpret this. After the first TV debate a number of people definitely said “anything’s possible”, as indeed it turned out to be.

    If you’d even suggested that a coalition with the tories was a remote possibility most people would’ve laughed you off as a nutjob, but while you’re right that establishment commentators were never going to predict a landslide for us I know several individuals who did dare to dream and still do.

    I should also apologise for giving space to Matthew to offer an explanation on my behalf.

  • Oranjepan. I am not referring to your personal position re. Fees at all. You are naturally entitled to agree or disagree with anything you wish; the opinions of you and me (or any other individual on this site) are of no real import to the point I am making. What is importance is the settled wil and legitimate, official policy and intentions of the Liberal Democratic Party. Prior to the last election the party’s policy for HE funding could not be clearer, it was that the State should fund Higher Education – and not the student. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with this, I am simply stating the LibDems’ official position, as presented to the electorate, was. As far as I am aware this is still the position. Since the election many contributers to this site have put the case in favour of students making financial contributions to their education, the point being that this is ‘faire’ to tax-payers. A fair point of view, except that it is in direct contradiction to party policy. In fact when ‘Fees’ are discussed here, you could be forgiven for believing that LibDem HE policy is the opposite from what it really is. I would suggest that the properly-arrived at policy (on any matter) should be adhered to until it is either changed or endorsed through the proper mechanisms. Quite often this site gives the impression of a political party arguing amonst itself. That is not good.

  • Like many others, I raged at the decision by 28 of our MPs in December 2010 to back a change which was disproportionate in imposing higher fees than the marginal cost to universities of each extra student, broke all principles of intergenerational fairness by requiring post-2012 students to repay fa r more than earlier generations, was a betrayal of their pledge to the electorate and to their own party, and was very bad politics besides and a major contributor to the loss of the AV referendum.

    But we are where we are. We need a clear policy for the lead up to 2015, which is recognised as progressive, proportionate and fair. What are the options?

    A continued call for abolition or a return to pre-2010 levels? A popular message and one I instinctively support, but after 2010 will anybody believe us any more? Not with the current leadership, but I suspect even Tim Farron would struggle to convince. And it will do nothing for current students who will feel doubly short-changed by the intergenerational unfairness of having to pay tens of £000s more than the cohorts before and after them. Are we promising to refund all the excess fees? It is the only way of really saying sorry, but it has a price tag.

    Defend the status quo? Provides consistency for the current leadership, but almost certain to lead to disaster, and gives no assurance that we won’t support further increases in the future.

    Undertake a thorough review of the operation of tuition fees perhaps along the lines of Michael Heseltine’s heavily subsidised replacement of the poll tax. Perhaps seek to take university tuition out of the political arena, with an independent body to set the cap based on the marginal cost of university tuition and the average cost of tuition in other parts of Britain and the EU since we apply the same rates for all, with commitment to provide funding of university overheads and the additional cost of scientific training in UK universities. Seek an EU directive which creates a level playing field.

    Match Labour’s promises on tuition fees whatever they are, in order to neutralise fees as an issue at the next election? Include specific and crystal-clear commitments to help poorer students, unlike the half-promises made in December 2010. But we need to avoid arbitrary and disproportionate distinctions, with 3 x £9k of subsidies resting on whether a student’s parents have income £1 below the threshold for free school meals or £1 above.

    Or explore alternative ways of recognising the cost such as integrating the student loan ‘debt’ with other benefits provided through the universal credit and repayable at the same rate; giving graduates lower tax allowances instead of debts; or deferred entitlement to the state pension (one year later for each year of state-subsidised university tuition).

  • The current coalition has caused the Liberal Democrats to deviate from their principles. By Nick Clegg signing the pledge is makes him look like a leader that cannot keep his promises which causes people to lose faith. I don’t see the cost of fees ever decreasing. The government isn’t going to change this decision anytime soon even with the public outrage and I doubt future governments will either.

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