Charles Kennedy MP responds to tuition fees open letter

Chris Mills has blogged Charles Kennedy’s reply to the open letter organised by Sophie Bertrand asking all MPs to honour their pledge on tuition fees.

Former Liberal Youth Executive member Sophie Bertrand wrote last month on Lib Dem Voice:

We all know that the [Browne] review is merely a suggestion for how the government should approach this situation. Yet the fact that Nick and Vince seem to be jumping on the Browne bandwagon leads me to expect the worst. It would seem that they need reminding of the slogan we fought with during this year’s General Election – building a fairer Britain. This is why a group of us have got together to write an open letter to our MPs urging them to honour their pledge to fight higher fees. An abstention is NOT a no.

Here is Charles Kennedy’s reply in full (reproduced with permission):

Dear Ms Bertrand,

Thank you for your communication regarding the Browne Report and the issue of university tuition fees.

There are long-established reasons as to why I find it impossible to join in both with the direction and thrust of the Coalition’s approach to tuition fees. As well as the NUS pledge which I signed at the last general election, personally I find it impossible to reconcile what would be a change of stance on my own part and a departure from the approach which I set out as UK party leader in the previous elections of 2001 and 2005.

Accordingly, I shall be voting against the Coalition’s proposals on university tuition fees.

In doing so I cast no aspersions whatsoever on the conclusions arrived at by any others. These are testing decisions being taken against an extremely difficult economic backdrop; it is incumbent upon us all to recognise the sincerity of the motives among those who arrive at a different outcome.

Obviously, this policy relates to England – but I am concerned greatly by the potential impact upon the Scottish tertiary sector as well. (I am mindful here of my role as Rector of the University of Glasgow). I will continue to urge Westminster government ministers to cooperate closely with their Scottish counterparts to help ensure that across the UK as a whole we maintain a level playing field in terms of educational opportunity and research capacity.

There remains much more to be discussed, debated and decided as these matters proceed. Rest assured that I shall continue to work constructively in the best interests of university students – present and future – as events continue to unfold.

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to make contact.

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  • Sophie Bertrand 18th Nov '10 - 1:14pm

    Thank you for printing this and for the continued support and publicity from Lib Dem Voice. However, I should clarify that I resigned from the Liberal Youth executive in September.

  • James Harrison 18th Nov '10 - 1:19pm

    Charles also sent an email to all students at the University of Glasgow highlighting his position on fees. Very much welcomed! Hope he stands for re-election as Rector here in February!

  • Whatever people may say about Kennedy, he was, and still is a man of principle. Something that does not seem to be prevalent among today’s politicians.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Nov '10 - 2:36pm

    Can’t understand why this news about the repayment threshold is receiving so little attention:
    “But between the report being published and the ministerial announcement on the changes, it was decided this “new system” would start in 2016 when the students leave university and not in 2012 when they start. The small change means that the £21,000 will only be worth around £18,500 in today’s money due to inflation, saving the Treasury millions of pounds.
    They will also now only be reviewing “average earnings” every five years – resulting in a significant lag between inflation and repayments.”

  • John Roffey 18th Nov '10 - 2:42pm

    @ jayu

    Very much agree with what you say – the standards in public life have fallen alarmingly – Blair/Brown have led the way.

    I believe it is incumbent upon Lib/Dem politicians to lead the way back – it is almost as important, if not more important, as reducing the deficit as it was these fallen standards which got us where we are today.

    @ Adam Bell

    I believe this can be achieved only if Lib/Dems recognise that it is just those MPs who are part of the Coalition who are required to defend its actions – this is not the case for the other MPs or the Party members. If this is not recognised soon, the Party will be tarred with the same brush and it will take a long time to remove the stain.

  • @Anthony

    You are right as usual – I suppose there’s an ironic danger that in the understandable fury over the pledge issue what is actually being proposed by the government might get lost in the noise – all we can do is keep pointing out the facts. I urge everyone to have a read of this….

    and I hope A doesnt mind me repeating his own comments after reading it

    Anthony Aloysius St …

    This just gets better and better. [I have a slight feeling he lapsed into sarcasm at this point..]

    So not only is the proposed repayment scheme no more progressive than the one introduced in 2006, but the Higher Education Policy Institute says the government has got its sums so badly wrong that the new regime won’t actually save the government any money (!).

    And on top of all that the number of students may have to be cut by about a third to keep the total debt to acceptable levels.

    What a mess.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Nov '10 - 3:01pm

    Those figures appear to be based on an assumption that inflation will be only about 2%. On that assumption, the time-lag in adjusting the threshold will mean that on average it will be another 5% lower in real terms – or only around £17,500 in today’s money.

    Moreover the current £15,000 threshold was introduced in 2006 and has not been adjusted for inflation since. If it had, it would be around £16,900 now.

    The end result of all this jiggery-pokery is that in real terms the new threshold will be only about 3% higher than the one introduced by Labour in 2006.

    And that comparison includes eight and a half years’ inflation, estimated at only 2% a year. If it turned out to be 2.6% or more, the new threshold would actually be lower in real terms than the 2006 one.

  • Colin Green 18th Nov '10 - 3:22pm

    Good on Charlie. In fact there are plenty of Lib Dem MPs who have said they will stand by their pledge. Sadly, the party’s reputation has already been damaged beyond what can be repaired by our MPs doing the right thing.

  • Paul Pettinger 18th Nov '10 - 3:34pm

    As Ming Campbell said, a sober Charles Kennedy is the best leader we could have.

  • @AAS

    I think you should write a letter to the Guardian or ask to be able to write an article for LDV to try and get the point across, I just don’t have confidence that the mainstream media will pick any stories up which require actual research.

  • @AAS

    I would also suggest emailing an MP, preferrably both Liberal and Labour MPs, to try and get a response/ have the issue raised.

  • Hooray for Chuck

  • Nick (not Clegg) 18th Nov '10 - 4:15pm

    @ Paul Pettinger

    And perhaps a “sqiffy” CK is the second best!

  • What a better Government we would have if he were still leader. This is the principled approach to politics we thought we were promised by the Leadership. It’s politicians such as this that spent years building the reputation that is currently being thrown away.

  • Kennedy is a sound politician, and I agree with his stance.


    @steve_way: If Kennedy was still leader we wouldnt have gone into coalition – there would have been a Tory minority govt, followed by 4 months of utter economic chaos and market carnage, followed by a Tory majority last month. Better than what we have now? If you think so. I dont.

  • @ Geoff
    I absolutely agree with you but surely that is the fundamental problem, the Lidems entered a coalition with a party that is wholly opposed to raising taxes.

  • At least some Lib Dems have a conscience. It’s a pity more do not follow suit.

  • @Mboy
    Two things, firstly I believe that you’re presuming he would not have entered coalition with the Tories. I accept he would have preferred a Labour / Lib Dem coalition but I think that’s a leap too far. His leadership was far less dictatorial than Clegg so would have taken into account the breadth of views. A coalition involving Kennedy as leader would have had red lines and prinicples. I would rather have had an uneasy coalition than one where it is hard to spot the difference some days.

    Secondly, while he was leader a succesful coalition was formed in Scotland where there was a far greater tempering of Labour policies than the impact Lib dems seem to be having in the current Government. Despite the majority of views to the contrary I don’t believe the Tories wanted an election any more than any other party. They would have believed there was more of a threat of a link with Labour and would therefore have been forced to concede more or face remaining in opposition. Clegg played his hand prior to the results and the fact he was clearly to the right of the party meant the Tories knew they could avoid certain concessions.

    In particular in light of the topic of this debate, the Tories knew that Clegg had tried to change the position on fees previously so would be less likely to make it a deal breaker.

  • ‘MBOY
    if Kennedy was still leader we wouldnt have gone into coalition – there would have been a Tory minority govt, followed by 4 months of utter economic chaos and market carnage, followed by a Tory majority last month. Better than what we have now? If you think so. I don,t.

    I have heard this a few times ,please can you tell me what evidence you have that this would happen.
    Who knows the Tories may have turned on Cameron for not getting a majority.and the Lib Dems may have turned on Clegg for getting less seats than last time, even after the leader debates and all the publicity he got.
    Andrew Edinburgh

  • John Roffey 18th Nov '10 - 7:29pm

    Party members have been placed in an impossible position by having to defend policies introduced by the Coalition, which conflict with L/D policies and explaining why important L/D policies are not included in the Coalition plans – tuition fees the best example to date, but clearly there will be more.

    To avoid spending the remaining time of the Coalition in this schizophrenic state, I would suggest the best approach would be for the Party to start working on it’s next manifesto – this would be sensible just in case something goes wrong and a snap election occurs.

    If those necessarily required to keep the Coalition functioning are viewed as ‘seconded to the Coalition’ [who are responsible for voting to keep the Coalition afloat], the remaining MPs and the Party members can work cohesively towards securing the Party’s future.

    It would be necessary to make this clear to the public, so that Party representatives can go about their business without having to defend the Coalitions actions at every turn. If these matters are raised, the simple argument that we joined the Coalition because we believed it was important to have a strong government at this extremely important time for the Nation – we knew, as a just a small part of the Coalition, we would not be able to get many of our policies included, but a few are better than none.

  • MBoy,

    “If Kennedy was still leader we wouldnt have gone into coalition – there would have been a Tory minority govt, followed by 4 months of utter economic chaos and market carnage, followed by a Tory majority last month. Better than what we have now? If you think so. I dont.”

    Did Andy Coulson write the script?

    No, let’s not be facetious. Let’s instead knock on the head once and for all the deceit that if the Parliamentary Party had not propped up Cameron’s right-wing Tory government, Cameron would have called a second general election and won an outright majority. In May, the Conservatives, despite Ashcroft’s money, the enthusiastic support of much of the print media, a deeply unpopular Labour government and a terrible economic mess, only managed to get 36%. What makes you think they would have done better if they had called a second general election? The electorate does not have a record of being kind to Prime Ministers who cut and run. Look what happened to Ted Heath in February, 1974 when he called his “Who runs the country?” election. He saw a comfortable opinion-poll lead collapse. And what happened to Harold Wilson that October? Again, a comfortable opinion-poll lead collapsed, leaving Labour with the slimmest of slim overall majorities that soon succumbed to byelection losses. Cameron would have taken an incredible risk and could have ended up flat on his face. Would the Tory Party have forgiven him for that any more than it forgave Ted Heath?

  • Can anyone even dare imagine what we could have had if we had a coalition with ‘principled Libdems'(whatever that is)? I am just salivating at the thought of us really going toe to toe with the tories – and being seen to be doing so. It would have raised the reputation and popularity of the Lib Dems far beyond our wildest dreams. Labour would have been well and truly sunk. Such a shame that the leaders are such numpties. I am very frustrated.

  • Charles 4 Leader 18th Nov '10 - 9:26pm

    Charles Kennedy is the best thing that ever happened to the Liberal Democrats.

    I say, let’s get rid of the joke that is Clegg and bring back Charles.

  • @Sesenco – Your conclusions from history are at best questionable. Harold Wilson twice, in 1964/1966 and February/October 1974 having won power but unconvicingly, called an early election and succeeded in improving his party’s position – albeit in October 1974 without the secure majority he sought. Doing this is not really ‘cutting and running’, which I would normally understand to be calling an early election to take advantage of short-term popularity. Also comparable would be the National government in 1931 taking office and winning a massive endorsement from the electorate.

    Heath didn’t cut and run either – despite having a secure majority he called an unnecessarily election 3 1/2 years into his term of office, supposedly on a point of principle and got booted out, a situation not really comparable to the hypothetical situation of Cameron taking office as a minority government and calling an early election .

    Other early elections where things went against the incumbent government are also not really comparable. In 1923 Baldwin called an early election to seek a mandate for a major change in policy (in favour of tariffs) which the electorate refused him. A similar situation in 1885/86 when Gladstone adopted home rule. And Attlee in 1951 called an unnecessary election, when it was clear that the government had run out of steam, and lost.

    There is of course no iron rule that says minority governments assuming office and calling an early election for a working majority must improve their position. But there is clear precedent for this happening from 1966 and 1974 and the only precedents the other way are where there was a major change of policy.

    It is highly likely that had Cameron assumed office leading a minority administration, the momentum would have been with the Tories, and he would have either got his way due to Labour/Lib Dems not wanting another election or called an election as soon as the opposition parties ganged up on the Tories on a substantive issue.

  • @matt: Um, did you not notice that the polls now in our time-line would not correspond to the polls in a time-line where there had been economic and political chaos for 5 months as a result of deadlock in Parliament? The polls now represent the natural opposition to the certainty of the next 5 years of cuts, which everyone expects to happen. If we were under a chaotic minority govt, the polls would represent the public’s fear of the continuing chaos.

    @Steve Way: The comparison with Scotland is not valid. New Labour hardly exists in the Scottish Parliament, and the proportions of seats was only 1:2.9 (LD:Lab) instead of twice that as it is in Westminster now.

    @Sesenco: As Iain points out, it is only history and precedent that I’m replying on – rather than wishful thinking as you are.

  • MBoy,

    On the contrary, the wishful thinking is yours: your wish to believe that Clegg’s narrative is true. Liberal Democrats are fast coming to accept that Clegg deceived them. Will you be the last to hold out?

    Iain Sharpe,

    In 1966, Harold Wilson waited 18th months before calling a second general election. He didn’t call a general election every three months until the electorate gave him what he wanted, which is what the Cleggmaniacs are telling us that Cameron would have done.

    If Cameron really had thought that he could have won an overall majority in a second general election, then why didn’t he call one? Is it perhaps because he was advised that he would be taking an unjustified risk – and might even lose?

  • Cameron is not going to call a GE.

  • “where there had been economic and political chaos”

    Which was exactly what Cameron and Osborne said would happen if there was even a hung Parliament.
    I believe the spin now about hypothetical chaos no more than I did then.
    The Thatcherite cry that “there is no alternative” to the coalition is a fantasy.
    It was a choice.
    A Labour coalition was always unlikely with Brown as the obstacle just as much as the arithmetic. But it was not impossible. Who knows what the negotiations with Labour or the Conservatives would have yielded with someone other than Nick in charge ? There is also any number of ways the coalition could have been set up that would have been different to the current arrangement. Different ways of allocating ministers, policy and responsibility etc.

    There was also the option of confidence and supply.

    And the option to let the Conservative run a minority Government was not some fantasy but the main lever in the negotiations. Unless Nick was even more foolish than some have painted him the implicit threat and bargaining chip in the negotiations was that we would walk away if Nick was unhappy. He had to be prepared to carry that through no matter what he or his spinners say now. So it was a real option.

    And for those who have not been living under a rock, even with Nick acting as Cameron’s human shield and it being the Liberal Democrats who have sufferred the brunt of public anger and a poll shock, the Conservatives polling is growing steadily worse while Labour is leading them. Undeservedly true, since they don’t have many policies or appear sure of which cuts they agree with, but they are the opposition and that’s politics.

    With the planned cuts had Cameron went to the polls quickly he would have suffered not only the wrath of a public who had only just seen the back of six months of intense campaigning, but also all of the blame for the cuts without the Liberal Democrats to act as a handy fall guy.

  • And to get back on topic, thank god we still have someone like Charles in the Party.
    He may be the only hope of winning the AV Vote if Nick is willing to swallow his pride and persuade him to be the frontman in the campaign.

  • This is the best observation I have seen – thanks A.

    Stockholm syndrome is a psychological shift that occurs in captives when they are threatened gravely but are shown acts of kindness by their captors. Captives who exhibit the syndrome tend to sympathize with and think highly of their captors. When subjected to prolonged captivity, these captives can develop a strong bond with their captors.

    The hostage endures isolation from other people and has only the captor’s perspective available. Perpetrators routinely keep information about the outside world’s response to their actions from captives to keep them totally dependent.

    It might not be entirely true – but it is the kindest.

  • @Mboy
    The comparison with Scotland is valid, the maths don’t matter Labour could not govern without the Lib Dems in Scotland and the Tories could not realistically govern in Westminster without them.

    The Tories would have known that the Lib Dems were really talking to Labour (rather than just as a sop to their left wing) and this would have forced more concessions. The problem is that Clegg didn’t really want more concessions he is a fully paid supporter of the current coalition plans (just watch him cheer and pat Osbourne on the back as he ruins another few thousand public sector workers lives). TheTories have helped him ditch some of those pesky policies that the party insisted were in the manifesto.

  • At least one Liberal Democrat is sane…

  • Whether a minority Conservative could have won a majority at an early GE will remain a moot point.
    What is sure is that the uncertainty would have resulted in a great deal of financial instability.

  • Dan Falchikov 19th Nov '10 - 10:15am

    Nice to see the loons out early again. There is an old Scottish saying which Charlie K would no doubt appreciate, ‘if ma auntie had baws she’d be ma uncle’. Which nicely sums up both the ‘we’re doomed’ posts from so called Lib Dems and the ‘what ifs’ from the Labour poseurs.

  • Good to see childish insults in place of a substantive contribution.
    Always a sure sign of strong argument.

  • @Dan Falchikov

    So are you going to address their points or just insult them… because if it’s the latter you would have been better off not posting to begin with.


    Not the case at all. Vince Cable himself said that this ‘financial instablity’ argument was nonsense… just a TOry plow to scare people into voting for them ‘you may not like us, but vote for us…. or else!’.

    Yet no facts to back this up. No other European country with hung parliaments has suffered ‘financial instability’ due to them. It would have required the Lib Dems backing the Conservatives up on the bulk of their economic program…. and they would have for their own good and everyone elses, but it would have allowed them to vote against fees and other iniquitous policies and force the COnservatives to make up the money in otherways (other cuts, raising taxes instead of lowering them).

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 19th Nov '10 - 12:13pm

    Surely the logical answer to the outcome of the general election, if the Tories and LibDems hadn’t agreed would have for the Tories to seek a Grand Coalition with Labour (on the German model) and exclude the LibDems. Think of all the illiberal policies they could have supported together!
    It would have had, for both of them, the disadvantages that it would have made Nick Clegg Leader of the Opposition!
    At the moment Labour can campaign against cuts one by one, but that doesn’t mean that, with the responsibilities of government, they wouldn’t have made many of the same cuts themselves.
    I speak as one, who, prior to the election, had a family member as a strong candidate for a job which disappeared in Labour cuts.

  • “I believe it is incumbent upon Lib/Dem politicians to lead the way back”

    Sadly John it is probably too late for that and the electorate will make their judgement on the Lib Dems before too long. Standards in public life have fallen alarmingly and the Lib Dem’s betrayal has just dropped it a few more notches. They sadly rank us with the other parties now; (it is good however that Charlie Kennedy has retained his intergrity and sense of values).

  • I see no need, as a local campaigner, to support coalition policies which weren’t in our manifesto.

    I am a paid up member of the Liberal Democrats, not the coalition, and as such will continue to campaign for the policies which were decided upon by our members, not 10 men behind closed doors.

    This means I will continue to oppose an arbitrary immigration cap, as it could have negative consequences on my local community, where the largest employer is a London airport, and I will continue to argue the case for the immigration proposals contained in our manifesto. I’ll continue to argue for a quicker raise in the income tax threshold, and I’ll continue to argue for equalisation of CGT and income tax.

    I see no need to ‘take ownership’ of £9000 tuition fees. When I went to university, £3,070 was a difficult enough amount to stomach, and whereas it is clear that abolition of fees is neither fair nor affordable, a trebling of fees will undoubtably act as a strong deterrent to higher education.

    There are some Tory policies I am quite happy to support, like the universal credit (although plans to make unemployed people do manual labour for £1 an hour are quite repulsive) and

    As a member of an independent party, whether MP, councillor or mere focus deliverer, we are not obliged to support every coalition policy. We should use examples of where the 2 parties work well together to prove we have moved beyond the comfort zone of opposition, but also speak out where our voice is being muted in the media, and where there is confusion between Lib Dem policy and Coalition policy.

    We shouldn’t be afraid of “splits in the coalition”. We supported different policies going into the election, we support different policies now. We know it, Tories know it, the public used to know it…….therein lies the danger.

    When I knock on doors and speak to 18 year olds worried about their future, I sure as hell won’t be telling them that £9,000 a year fees are “progressive”.

  • David Wright 19th Nov '10 - 6:39pm

    I agree with Mike Shaw.

  • Mike Shaw said: ‘I am a paid up member of the Liberal Democrats, not the coalition, and as such will continue to campaign for the policies which were decided upon by our members, not 10 men behind closed doors.’

    I hear what you say Mike but I think the public will take a different line as they know the 10 men behind closed doors hold the actual power and always have no matter the political party. At any future local or national elections all parties opposing a LibDem candidate will publicise the LibDem Coalition voting record and statements in support of coalition policies.

    I think the public will easily recognise that it matters nought what the LibDems have as party policy or manifesto commitment when they were so easily ditched for a few trappings of parliamentary privilege and power.

    The reality of political power in government is that actual party democracy can be thrown out the window by the leadership elite – they will give a million and one good reasons why this should be so but the public are seldom taken in by it. It appears rank and file LibDem membership is only slowly coming to realise just how dirty the realities of being in power can be. and how hard it can be to nurture the flower of democracy and make sure the baby isn’t thrown out with the dirty water.

    I originally believed the LibDems might actually have been a real moderating influence on the Tories but I too have been on a recent voyage of discovery and have slowly realised that my understanding of the LibDem Party nationally was largely based on my knowledge of the Scottish LibDems and long-term ScotLib friends. I had failed to understand just how far right some of the LibDems on the national scene had actually travelled. They hid it well from the public but they will never be allowed to pull it off again.

    The NUS tuition fee pledge really bugs me because months before the pledge was signed the party policy and manifesto commitment had already been scrapped following a secret decision by a small LibDem leadership elite looking at policy changes that would be required should a coalition government follow the GE.

    Of itself there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead but to then cynically keep the change secret and allow the pledgers to carry on and mislead students and the wider public in a vote-winning stunt is breathtaking hypocrisy.

    I recognise the need for party policies and manifestos sometimes to be altered because of changing circumstancesalthough the childish whine from Clegg about the state of the economy being the driver behind the tuition fee pledge U-turn is pathetic given the decision had already been made before the books were opened.

    Clegg and his right-wing cohorts obviously saw an opportunity to rid themselves of a troublesome policy and the Coalition Agreement was used as an excuse and I really feel this is the rock that the LibDems as a party will ultimately have perished on.

    OK the ship of state or possibly the party ship in a state has been dragged off the rock but it is seriously holed below the waterline and the pumps are just coping and no more and the undertow keeps dragging them back to the rock. But the ship is also faced with a dangerous rocky lee shore for the rest of its parliamentary journey and the weather outlook is continuous deep depressions with gale-force winds and stormy seas.

    An increasingly mutinous crew will abandon ship in growing numbers leaving less to man the pumps and patch the growing policy and manifesto holes . But fear not, Captain Clegg has his steely-eye fixed on a safe Tory haven on the far horizon, I wonder how many LibDems will actually also choose this as their promised land although they will need to cross the Tamar to get there 🙂

  • @ Ecojon

    I totally understand where you’re coming from about the media – they’ll give us hell. But they always have done. Last election, they said we were dreamers, out of touch, dangerous, irresponsible. This time they will say we have no principles, are closet Tories, forgot the membership and voters for a few rides in a ministerial car. The media have never given us an easy ride, and we need to be prepared for it. The red tops said a hung parliament would tank the economy – it didn’t. They said immigration was destroying the fabric of the country – it isn’t. They said without nuclear weapons we’d be blown off the face of the Earth – Canada’s still here and setting an example.
    A couple of points of rebuttal / clarification though:
    1. Party democracy cannot be thrown out by anyone, especially not by the leadership.
    I understand that in other political parties, the leader’s voice dictates the party policy – not so in the Liberal Democrats. Party policy remains not the responsibility of Nick Clegg, but an elected Federal Policy Committee, and elected voting members who attend conference. This kind of democracy is unique to the Liberal Democrats, and it’s one reason why I will never leave this party – my voice would be silent anywhere else.

    2. Defining parties as left or right wing is just lazy – politics doesn’t work along a single left/right axis. Different problems require different solutions – if a “left wing” or “right wing” ideology solved everything, we’d vote for it every single time. They are incoherent and incredibly flexible terms which have no purpose in policy making. Looking at our 2010 manifesto we have some policies which would be supported by free marketeers and some policies which would be supported by some in the Labour party. But the reason I think the 2010 manifesto was our best manifesto was that these ideas from different strands of political liberalism fitted together well. That manifesto was a good example of how it is possible for parties to ignore the left/right rhetoric and instead think about the problem first and shape solutions around it – not to come up with the solution first then pretend it solves the problem.
    We’ll lose a lot of anti-establishment votes (and there are a hell of a lot of them!) to whoever doesn’t have power – Labour, Greens, Independents, SNP, Plaid depending on who’s got power locally. But I really don’t mind. I’m not in politics to moan about what I don’t like, I’m in politics to actually get stuff done. Whether it’s cleaning up graffiti or taking low earners out of tax. While we’ll lose perpetual moaners and cynics, if we can prove we can govern, and prove we can work with our enemies, then we’ll attract a lot of people who have never given us a thought before, because they’ve never heard of any of our politicians or policies.
    And as for your suggestion that our MPs are about to jump ship, I suggest you get yourself on twitter and follow @timfarron @julianhuppert @lfeatherstone. What utter nonsense.

  • Mike Shaw

    I hear what you say about how democracy works within the Liberal Party – it sounds wonderful but personally I doubt if it could ever actually control the decision-making process of the parliamentary leadership of a party in power either on their own or as part of a coalition and I believe that holds for any party.

    However, I am puzzled as to why the party’s tuition fee policy and manifesto commitment was ditched in March by Alexander which was prior to any party ratification of the coalition position. And it is that decision that intrigues me because it was well in advance of the signing of the NUS tuition fee pledge. I am now beginning to wonder whether the pledgers knew that policy had changed because you appear to be saying that a leadership clique couldn’t change policy without the wider party knowing and approving it.

    In my experience, party members and activists have a wide variety of interests and motivations as to why they join a political party and many of them might not agree with your personal reasons and I have to observe that your comments seem to be a little harsh on some of your party colleagues whose departure you seem to welcome.

    I would also caution you that anyone can govern but it takes principled politicians to govern well and fairly and in the wider general interest rather than for personal or a narrow party gain and, so far, your party hasn’t passed my litmus test on that issue and the more I hear from your front-bench people the less likely this seems. I would go as far to say that the more ordinary people hear them and the Tory policies they espouse then the less electoral support your party will receive.

    I would also correct your comment that I said your MPs would jump ship. I said an increasingly mutinous crew would jump ship – to spell it out more clearly – the MPs are the officers and the crew are ordinary party members and perhaps councillors are the petty officers so even by analogy the disaffection among the crew appears to be spreading.

    Party members and councillors are already leaving and unless the LibDem party can demonstrate what it actually believes in then I believe this flow could well increase. But the officers and, in particular, the senior officers who hold coalition office will be the last to go as they have most to lose and I genuinely believe that some of them would sit quite comfortably within the Tory ranks.

    Being in opposition is easy – power is usually about making difficult choices with relatively scarce resources. The longer any government lasts then the more groups and individuals fall out with it and I don’t see that changing in future.

    But what worries me about this Tory-led government is the naked attack being launched on the more vulnerable of society and the wider concept of democracy. The LibDem Parly Party just doesn’t seem to have twigged how they are being used by the Tories who will mercilessly use and abuse them for their own ideological ends which bear no relationship to the national interest as I see it.

    I also worry about the pace of legislation which seems to be throwing up some real lulus and insufficiently thought-through policies and legislation.

    It’s even small things like Cameron telling students in China that the increase in UK tuition fees will make it cheaper for them to study at our universities – I thought the fee increases were to make up the swingeing 80 per cent cut in uni teaching funding and not to subsidise foreign students whose historical higher fee premium was to cover the fact that they didn’t usually contribute in terms of UK tax after graduation as most returned home.

    But when you look at how Cameron is going to meet his UK immigration cap it seems that overseas student numbers will need to be cut – it goes on and on like this in all areas of policy. Little is truly joined-up because of the haste.

    However – as I always say – time will tell and I look forward to interest to see where everyone ends up in five years from now although I readily admit that I haven’t any real idea what you mean by stating: ‘the reason I think the 2010 manifesto was our best manifesto was that these ideas from different strands of political liberalism fitted together well. That manifesto was a good example of how it is possible for parties to ignore the left/right rhetoric and instead think about the problem first and shape solutions around it – not to come up with the solution first then pretend it solves the problem.’

    I would say that as far as your tuition fees policy that the coalition policy that you are actually operating under is a very clear divide between left and right and I know without hesitation what side I’m on and it ain’t with the Tories. So I suppose I would have to reject your problem solving techniques as they appear to have led your party to the parlous position it now holds.

  • Policy didn’t change before the election – our election policy was to abolish fees over 6 years. I’ve got the manifesto in front of me as I write this and it’s definately there (incidentally one of the 2 policies in there that I disagree with, the other being a ban on nuclear power).

    I stand by what I say about left and right – a pure “left wing” government has NEVER worked. There is one MP in parliament who stood on an anticapitalist platform, that’s Caroline Lucas. Labour are capitalists, Tories are capitalists, Lib Dems are capitalists, SDLP are capitalists, UUP are capitalists…..Similarly a pure “right wing” government has never worked either, and the “right” of our Tory party are mild conservatives compared with the “right” in America. They’re meaningless words which are used in out-of-date context, particularly by Labour members who think Gordon Brown was left wing.

    If you start from the viewpoint “my manifesto is going to be left/right wing and i’m going to bend the facts to ensure left/right wing ideas are the solution to the economic crisis” then you’ll get flawed policy. With our manifesto, you got some ideas that appeal to economic liberals – privatising the post office, income tax cuts combined with policies which the social democrats influenced such as our support for building new council houses. Who says the two can’t work together?

    I’m passionate about building more social houses, but I’m also in favour of selling off government owned assets such as the Tote, Royal Mail, road network maintenance IF a private sector operator can do the job better. Too much dogma acts as a blinker. I won’t be put into a left/right box. I’m a Liberal first and foremost – economic circumstances change and require different solutions – human rights don’t change and will always require defending. That’s my position – ridicule it if you will, but there’s no such thing as left/right anymore. Much as it pains people to hear it, Labour aren’t a left/socialist party.

    As for jumping ship – of course people will. As I’ve said before, some people supported us because we were seen as anti-politics and will run off to whoever else will never win an election so they can carry on moaning and whinging about how crap everything is and how awful politicians are. I’m not bothered by those types leaving – in my constituency, membership is UP since the election, some new members have explicitly told me it’s because they now know more about us and are impressed, whereas before they thought we were nothing more than a protest vote.

    Nick Clegg wrote in the independent a while back that we were not just a receptacle for bitter Labour supporters. I share this view.

  • @ Mike Shaw

    Sadly I see that you choose to ignore the point I am making about the policy being changed by a party elite in March and good luck to all you LibDems who genuinely believe your party leadership still believes your party policy is still as it once was on tuition fees. Or possibly the elite in question just ignored the policy which doesn’t say a lot for the party’s ability to control the elite and which obviously bodes ill for the future.

    I know the difference between fact and fantasy but as the public needs something to smile about, in these difficult times for some, just keep declaring publicly that LibDem policy is to get rid of tuition fees, over a six year period, whern the party comes to power.

    I doubt whether you can still claim it to be a Manifesto commitment though, as I would have assumed that your Manifesto fell when you entered into the Coalition Agreement which most people would perceive as the de facto and possibly de jure Manifesto of the LibDems for the next six years. I may be wrong and if the the coalition ended then perhaps you could return to your old Manifesto commitments but as you wouldn’t be in power I think the Manifesto falls anyway by default.

    However, there are many more issues coming which will show the disdain of some of your leadership for your party policies and it may well be that many might fall into a left/right scenario which I most definitely don’t see as narrowly prescriptive as you do and most definitely don’t regard it as a purely one based on economics.

    A lot of what you have written falls into sloganising, cliches and political opportunism IMHO and I wonder how far through you are actually thinking politically.

    I have spent the last 8 years working for Royal Mail Group and believe the proposals to sell off Royal Mail Letters is absolute folly and is clearly driven by a Tory smaller government strategy with a large dollop of largesse for their pals in Big Business and a real worsening of the terms and conditions of the workforce as well as a watering down of the Universal Service Operation for customers. Yes I see this as a right/left issue.

    On the Post Office Network side the company is an absolute basket case and I really don’t think Vince Cable fully understands the position. There are approx 11,900 sub post offices and only 4,500 are currently thought to be viable as currently operated. Around 90 per cent of sub postmasters are self-employed businesspeople with substantial sums of personal capital invested in their businesses and I just don’t see how the mutualism concept will sit easily with them.

    But a lot of them are pretty desperate and will clutch at anything but we will see a helluva lot more PO closures coming, The PO Network desperately needed a PO Bank but the coalition government have just ruled that out as too expensive.

    I don’t think it would have saved the whole network but it may have bought time for say 8,000 outlets to see if there are any ways of returning a reduced network to possibility. Post Offices are being hammered by falling mail volumes – just like Royal Mail Letters – but they are also being hard hit by internet self-serve for TV licences, Road Tax, bill payment and the like. This trend will continue and it takes time to grow alternative revenue streams and I just don’t think the time is there. When the Tories realise they are chucking money into a bottomless Post Office pit then they will pull the plug and I’m afraid this is another problem that will be laid at the LibDems door.

    I am now retured fron Royal Mail Group so I think I can write in a fairly objective way about them especially as I spent the rest of my working life working for private sector companies or running my own businesses.

    I think my business background might also provide some clue that I don’t adopt a simple left/right conflict scenario as Mike Shaw might wish others to believe is my rationale d’etre. I am a socialist and firmly believe in to each according to their need but I equally hold to from each according to their ability. I will restrict my own sloganising to those few words which I hope most LibDems could support although who knows how far the recent association with the Tories will spread economic liberalism and laissez-faire policies within the party.

    On that less than cheery note I go to bed to dream of that better place that the new LibDem peers are going to reform – yea, yea, yea 🙂

  • Second line fourth last para – ‘returning a reduced network to possibility’ should read ‘returning a reduced network to profitability’ and I’m sure everyone will be happy to hear that I am retired and not retured although I have been retreaded a few times.

  • I met Charles once, He was presenting trophy’s at the MX Awards, He came across as very intelligent and honest, and I think his actions on the pledge go some way to cement this opinion of him. Vince Cable pulled out of this years MX show and I wondered then what this showed about his commitment to UK manufacturing. Nothing he has said or done to date has given me any more confidence.

  • Terry Gilbert 24th Nov '10 - 12:25pm

    Good for Charles. I am increasingly confident that Lib Dem members and conference representatives will hold to account Lib Dem MPs who breaks this personal pledge to the electorate.

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