Chris White writes: FPC, tuition fees and party policy – the inside story

No. I don’t like Vince Cable’s announcement today on higher education either.

Nevertheless, Party Policy is clear: we want fees to go. This means that we don’t need to spend a six figure sum on a special conference just to repeat ourselves. Or to say we’re cross with Vince. Nor is there any need of a grand public statement in the Guardian letters page. Or a row at Federal Policy Committee.

FPC is still asking itself what it is for. On the one hand, it must get on with developing new Party policy – but with sharply limited resources. On the other, it has to try to influence Coalition policy. Which is why it was good that Vince Cable sat down with us last week and discussed ways in which the Browne report could be brought closer to the Party’s aspirations.

The meeting was civilised and constructive. Various ideas I had gathered together in advance were chewed over and fresh ones tabled. We have been awaiting the definitive statement of government policy on higher education with interest.

But was a bit of a roller coaster. At one end of the previous week Vince was saying he largely accepted Browne. By the Friday, we had Nick saying something quite encouraging about extending the concept of the pupil premium into universities.

It would have much better had the two announcements been together – although no-one is suggesting that Nick’s statement mitigates anything like sufficiently the worse aspects of Browne.

It would have been better still had Nick’s email to party members not been quite so inflammatory. Nick told us: ‘With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now’.

This won’t wash from a Party that is rightly proud that it was the one which really understood how bad the economy was.

Members who still didn’t get it were then invited to write to a special email address – with the subtext that this might in fact be the electronic equivalent of what a colleague once termed the ‘round filing cabinet’.

The Deputy Prime Minister has an appalling workload and too little civil service support. He also has too little political support.

If he is not to be captured by Whitehall this often great communicator needs to make sure that there are those in his personal cabinet who are rooted deep in the Party – well connected with campaigners, with local government and with parliamentarians.

On the plus side, the briefings to FPC, councillors and others on the horrors of CSR were much better handled. The cuts have caused anguish but not political gunfire.

But the next red line is control orders.

If there is a u-turn on civil liberties it will require a great deal more than an effective communications operation to keep the Party together.

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7 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 3rd Nov '10 - 11:43am

    “But the next red line is control orders.”

    Eh? How can control orders be the “next” red line, when tuition fees has turned out to be very much _not_ a red line?

  • “But the next red line is control orders.”

    I think that just about sums up what’s wrong with the party and it’s ‘appeasement’ policy that’s prevalent at the moment, I have visions of Clegg getting of a plane waving a piece of paper saying we’ve got AV referendum while the Tories roll their tanks over tuition fees in some strange historical parody

  • @matt, for once, makes a good point – you can only have one red line. The problem is we’ve not decided what it is!

    Maybe a special conference would help? Or, better still, Vince & Nick could just say “we’re sticking to our pledge, and we’ll abstain” (as members of the Govt I could accept this) whilst allowing backbenchers to vote against?

  • Radio 4 reported this morning that many of the Tories are now in favour of AV because it can be used by both Tories and Libdems – they will be able to encourage tactical voting to support re-election of coalition members. I am genuinely shocked by how far to the right the Libdems are moving and how so many are signing up to measures which favour the rich and privileged, like the hike in tuition fees to £9000. This will ensure that many state school pupils from low and average earning families will not even consider applying. One only has to listen to Gove’s interview this morning to realize that he has no concept of how the majority of people live – he talked about the current system not being fair to miners! There may be a few bursaries as there were in public schools, but the elite universities will largely return to the old system of favouring those from wealthy backgrounds. I do not blame the universities for this – they have been working to improve access, but they have been starved of funds by the coalition. Gove also seemed to think that substantial numbers of graduates will go on to be millionaires – does he really live on this planet? Are the Libdems really in partnership with this lot?

    In my view the only option for the many Libdems, who are equally horrified by their right wing leaders ,is to leave the party and regroup – perhaps as the Liberal Party. The “dem” is redundant, as what is happening is not democracy – this is not what the majority of people voted for.

  • mike cobley 4th Nov '10 - 10:10am

    I’ve been saying this for interminable weeks, but really its time we …. pulled the damn plug. There is now a clear gulf between the leadership and the party grassroots on several key issues, which begs the question ‘why take power when you use it to further another party’s interests?’ If we pull the plug on the coalition and pitch the country into another GElection we will likely be decimated. But if we try and limp on for another year or two until Cameron decides to invade Pakistan or something cretinous enough for us to have to walk away, things could well be even worse. Go now, and save some of the party.

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