Telegraph turns on NUS over fees

Today’s Telegraph reports that the NUS would prefer to remove almost all of the hardship grants than charge higher fees.

The Daily Telegraph has seen emails from Mr Porter and his team in which the NUS leadership urged ministers to cut grants and loans as an alternative to raising tuition fees.

In private talks in October, the NUS tried to persuade ministers at the Department for Business to enact their planned 15 per cent cut in higher education funding without lifting the cap on fees.

I’m not sure this is anything other than an exercise in the dark arts on the day of the tuition fees votes – reading the article, it appears that the NUS responded to a query along the lines of the “here are our unmovable parameters – what would you do?” and given the rock of a rise in a fees and the hard place of removing grants, chose the latter.

But as a number of Lib Dem bloggers have noted, the NUS is more than a little confused on their policy. Millennium Elephant compared the two schemes as follows:

The Coalition proposes that new graduates pay an amount every month proportional to their ability to pay, with additional help for the lowest earners, repayments to be capped at either thirty years or a maximum total payment (“paying off the loan”).

The NUS proposes that graduates pay an amount every month proportional to their ability to pay, with additional help for the lowest earners, repayments to be capped at either twenty-five years or a maximum total payment (“for fairness”).

The five year difference in repayments is because the NUS scheme also means going back to everyone in the UK who has already graduated, regardless of the finance scheme in place at the time, and asking them to pay a graduate contribution also. Is there a register of people with degrees? If not, I’m sure the nation’s graduates are sufficiently masochistic that, on receipt of a letter asking if they had graduated, they’d all reply “Yes! Harder! Tax me harder!”

Caron Lindsay, writing in direct response to today’s Telegraph, points out an additional irony

Look at it this way. We’re being held to account for an NUS pledge which the NUS themselves no longer support. Their scheme, not a million miles from that proposed by the Coalition, was, I’m sure, not drawn up of the back of an envelope overnight. You can tell the close relationship between Labour and the NUS by the sheer number of key NUS figures who’ve made it into Government – like Phil Woolas and Jack Straw. This pledge was never meant to deliver the abolition of fees, it was meant to trap the Liberal Democrats. You can bet your life that if we’d ended up in coalition with Labour, we’d be voting on the NUS scheme tomorrow night. We should never have signed it.

I’m still not sure how those who say we shouldn’t have signed any pledges at the time are quite working their way through the mire. How were our candidates supposed to respond to students? “Yes, our policy is 100% in line with your pledge but GET THAT PEN AWAY FROM ME I’M NOT SIGNING ANYTHING!!” What, really, will our candidates do with pledges next time round?

What frustrates me personally most of all in all the mess surrounding this issue is the sort of internal, party democracy issue that won’t wash with the protesting hordes because it takes more than a minute to explain. But our party policy, voted on at conference by party members still stands. Over several years, many attempts from leaders within the Lib Dems to remove our policy of free tertiary education were defeated by our grass roots. The left within the party, fearing that it would not make it to our most recent manifesto organised themselves to ensure the party committees charged with writing the policy contained enough people of the right left views to maintain our policy into the 2010 manifesto. And yet this organisation within the party was not enough to see our strongly held views implemented by the party in government. And still the grassroots party has options. We could bankrupt our own party by demanding a special conference. I don’t dare think how much blood there will be on the carpet at our next scheduled conference in Nick Clegg’s backyard. And there is still the nuclear option of 75 quorate local parties demanding a new leadership battle.

As I write, John Leech MP has just concluded his intervention in the debate by telling the House of Commons he has no doubts that had the Labour party still been in government, they would have implemented the Browne Review themselves. I share his cynicism. The Labour party care nothing for students beyond embarrassing the government. When I cast my eyes over the short list of Labour candidates who signed the NUS pledge [XLS file], there seems to be a fairly strong correlation between those who signed it and and those who were fighting off a credible challenge from the Liberal Democrats. The Labour party don’t care about student finance, as their history in government shows quite clearly, they are merely able to use it opportunistically to humiliate the Lib Dems. The Conservatives needed their arms twisting to amend the Browne review into something even the IFS can call progressive. Ultimately, William Cullerne Brown has it right:

For students, there is a counter-intuitive conclusion. If you lean to the progressive side (as presumably most of the protesters do) and want to make a difference, which party should you join? Join Labour and you know you will be turning yourself into cannon fodder. Join the Lib Dems and it is now clear that you really can make a difference. Hang the effigies by all means. But Clegg’s despair is in fact a great reason to get one of those yellow membership cards.

In his article on these pages on Sunday, David Allen suggested the tuition fee vote might be sufficient to bring down the government. From May to December, we have had the imponderable question about what difference the Lib Dems are making. Are the concessions we have drawn from the Coalition worth the price we are paying, in our own eyes and in the eyes of the voting public? At least if the government falls, and the Liberal Democrats are annihilated at a subsequent general election, we would find out the answer. The Labour party would have to put away the onions that give them their crocodile tears, write on their blank sheet of paper, and finally get the balls to decide which of their unaffordable schemes they would actually save. Or we would see what untempered Conservatism looks like. Is the pyrrhic victory worth it?

* Alex Foster is a contributing editor at Lib Dem Voice, and received a grant for the first of his degrees. His second degree was a part time MA and as such he financed up front fees from part time work. You can decide for yourself if Film Studies MA was worth the money by reading his academic writing.

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16 Comments

  • Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the NUS think: they are following – and hesitantly at that – not leading, the demonstrations. Nor does it matter what Labour are proposing as an alternative. Clegg is attempting to rush this ill-considered legislation through because it’s become an embarrassment. The haste is political.

    The Liberal Democrat Party raised expectations by making a pledge that they are now refusing to honour in a campaign that focused on not breaking promise. Clegg created the “dreamers” he now sneeringly tells to grow up.

    I am watching BBC footage of police charging on horseback into groups of young adults and children. I am looking at footage of injured protesters and injured policemen. This is heart-breaking.

    Every Liberal Democrat MP who signed a pledge and broke her or his word is responsible for the scenes on the streets of London today.

    Clegg and Cable this morning seemed to be channelling Margaret Thatcher refusing to change her mind on the poll tax. I believe there are many decent people in your party but I am ashamed to have voted for you and I hope many of you are ashamed of what your party has become. Only you can save yourselves now.

  • I watched Aaron Porter this morning on TV News when asked about the leaked emails.

    He said that emails had passed between him and Cable but that the exceprts used were selective and out of context and suggested this had been done by a special advisor to Cable, whom he named, rather than by the D Tel.

    What is going on when Cable’s office is leaking stuff like this which has obviously been ‘doctored’ to put Poirter/NUS in a bad light.

    Pretty tawdry politics and not the Brave New Future that Clegg promised the electorate.

    I also agree with a lot that W C Brown states but as I pointed out to him I think he is way off if he thinks students will want to join the LibDems. I reckon most of their uni members will already have chucked their cards in.

    These protests will continue for some time and the students look as though they will continue their campaign right up till tghe next GE and they are well enough organised not to have to join a political party to do so.

  • vince thurnell 9th Dec '10 - 4:31pm

    Nero and Rome springs to mind.

  • David Lawson 9th Dec '10 - 4:40pm

    Mean while you’re at 8% in the polls, it’s really about time you got to grips with the anger against your party instead of this broderline denial.

    Sadly this point at least is right. I know the organisers of this forum are trying to keep some focus but the combination of requests not to talk about tuition fees with ultra detailed political obsessive lead stories gives the feel of the string quartet playing on the deck of the titanic. Tuition fees is an existential issue for this party.

    We have no tribal loyalty to fall back on. People vote LD because they choose to.

    It need not have been this way – it all went weird when Vince announced the package and said what a good idea it was. What got us to lead the way on a proposal that just weeks before we said we would not support and weeks before that we said we would oppose?

  • Jonathon Wilson 9th Dec '10 - 4:53pm

    It’s a strange question about what Labour would have done. You don’t honestly think we would have voted for these proposals if we were not in Government?

  • Jo Swinson commented just now that it was a difficult decision – wrong!
    It is is simple you stood in the election to vote against any rise in tuition fees – so now do exactly what you promised the electorate! Our children will be sadlled with years of debt – as someone had stated earlier this is the Tories and LibDems Poll Tax moment! and we know what happened to Thatcher

  • It doesn’t matter what Labour are doing, or what Labour would have done had they won the election.

    It doesn’t matter what the NUS propose.

    It doesn’t matter what the Tories want to do.

    It only matters what lobby those who took the pledge go through. This is the point that Clegg and Cable don;’t seem to get. They made a promise, the made films about other parties breaking promises, they courted the student vote.

    They either keep the pledge or lose their integrity and the integrity of the whole party will be affected.

  • Matthew Gaughan 9th Dec '10 - 5:55pm

    David Blunkett, who first introduced tuition fees (“the Blunkett botch”), opposes the measures, which says it all about Labour’s opportunistic hypocrisy on this issue. Is there a party that hasn’t U-turned on tuition fees? (Interesting to see what happens in Scotland.)

  • @David Orr 5.19

    I think the really bizarre situation with Swinson is that students in her Scottish constituency won’t be paying any fees. Scottish or Welsh LibDem MPs voting for or abstaining on an English student vote really do a lot of damage to the cohesiveness of the UK.

    It really gets quite bizarre with Alexander campaigning in Scotland to prevent the privatisation of Scottish forests and presumably going to support the coalition policy of privatising English forests. How many more such situations will follow.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th Dec '10 - 7:01pm

    I suppose the leaking to the press of extracts from private correspondence for political advantage is an appropriate conclusion to this squalid little affair.

  • A very sad day, this is. Do you have to make it worse by taking pot shots at Labour too? Shameless.

    If Labour had been in power, they would certainly not have cut the teaching grant by 80%. Have you actually read the Browne Report?

  • “I’m still not sure how those who say we shouldn’t have signed any pledges at the time are quite working their way through the mire. How were our candidates supposed to respond to students? “Yes, our policy is 100% in line with your pledge but GET THAT PEN AWAY FROM ME I’M NOT SIGNING ANYTHING!!” What, really, will our candidates do with pledges next time round?”

    That depends on whether those candidates had any principles (as I believe about 1/3 of the successful ones turned out to today).

    Goodbye and good riddance to the Lib Dems as an electoral force.

    Yours,
    A Protester

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th Dec '10 - 1:21am

    @Chumpo
    They all have principles. It’s just that in two-thirds of cases, the principle in question was the norm of reciprocity, otherwise known as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Dec '10 - 9:06am

    it doesn’t matter what the NUS think: they are following – and hesitantly at that – not leading, the demonstrations

    Actually they were leading most of them.

    If Labour had been in power, they would certainly not have cut the teaching grant by 80%.

    Yeah, just by 70%. That would have been so very different, right?

  • David Allen 7th Jan '11 - 1:37pm

    “In his article on these pages on Sunday, David Allen suggested the tuition fee vote might be sufficient to bring down the government.”

    I have only just discovered this misrepresentation. What my article argued was diametrically the opposite. It argued that were we to have voted down the Bill on fees, Cameron would not have dared to break up the coalition and call an election.

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