False claims of betrayal do the NUS no credit

Have the Liberal Democrats betrayed students? The NUS certainly say so, and plenty of people agree.

They’re wrong.

The Liberal Democrats have made a u-turn on tuition fees – they haven’t denied it. As I argued a few days ago, the Lib Dems have no claim to be morally superior to any other party. We didn’t want to go back on commitments and promises but, like Labour and the Conservatives, we have done.

But is that u-turn a betrayal of students?

Or, to put it another way, is the result of that u-turn that students get a worse deal than they’d otherwise have got? What would student funding look like if the Lib Dems had kept their pledge?

Let’s look at what the NUS want (presumably they would be welcoming the Lib Dems as saviours had this been delivered).

The NUS favour a graduate tax. The NUS idea is that students don’t pay to go to university, but pay more tax than non-graduates after they leave and get a job. They think they’ve solved the problems with a graduate tax (the ones that saw first Labour and more recently the Lib Dems decide it really wasn’t workable), and perhaps they have.

Key is that the tax stops after you’ve been paying it for a certain time (they suggest 25 years) or after you’ve paid back a certain amount. Under the graduate tax, those who go on to earn low incomes would pay less than today, whilst the high earners would end up paying more.

So that’s the good solution. Now let’s take a look at evil tuition fees.

Under tuition fees, students don’t pay to go to university, but pay extra after they leave and get a job – nothing on the first £21,000, then 9p in the pound thereafter (this may be tweaked to further reduce the repayments of people on lower incomes).

Key is that the payments stop after you’ve been paying it for a certain time (the Coalition propose 30 years) or after you’ve paid back a certain amount. Under the Coalition proposals, those who go on to earn low incomes would pay less than today, whilst the high earners would end up paying more.

Sound oddly similar, don’t they?

There are differences between the two proposals – each has pros and cons (for example, the Coalition has proposed supporting part-time students and has an increased bursary system to support students from poorer backgrounds through university; whilst the NUS oppose different universities being able to charge different amounts and don’t like the idea of a market in universities or courses).

The NUS argument that these differences justify their claim of the Lib Dems betraying students is, frankly, feeble.

What if the Lib Dems had kept their pledge and had just opposed higher fees rather than engaging with the Conservatives to get a better deal for students? Indulging in what-if scenarios is always a risky business, but I think it’s a reasonably fair bet that the end result would have been something the NUS liked even less. Uncapped fees. Less support for students from poorer backgrounds. A less progressive repayment plan.

Lib Dems who want to see all student tuition funded from general taxation may have more reason to be concerned that the policy is moving in the wrong direction – the Lib Dems have 57 MPs and a clear majority at the General Election voted for parties who favour students paying more, so that was always going to be a tough one to carry off. But for the NUS to shout betrayal over relatively minor policy differences does them little credit.

I don’t think the Lib Dems have handled the issue well. As Clegg has admitted, with the benefit of hindsight it would have been better not to have made the pledge in the first place. The Coalition has also allowed Labour to get away with the headline claim of fees tripling, giving the entirely false impression that all students will be paying three times more than they are now. I’ve no doubt lessons will be learnt.

But the idea that the Lib Dems have betrayed students, when they’ve actually delivered a policy amazingly close to what the NUS is campaigning for, should be treated with the distain it deserves.

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93 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th Nov '10 - 5:42pm

    Iain

    You know very well why it’s a betrayal.

    Because the Lib Dem MPs gave a written promise to the NUS that they would vote against an increase in tuition fees, and now they are going to break that promise.

    You really don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand it.

  • Labour’s 2001 Manifesto: “We will not introduce top up fees and will legislate to prevent them.” There is a fascinating account of Labour’s internal arguments over their broken pledge in Andrew Rawnsley’s “The End of the Party” pp.230-234. The Universities Minister, a certain Alan Johnson, argued the case for the introduction of fees, Charles Clarke having decided that a graduate tax would not work.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 16th Nov '10 - 5:52pm

    Liberal Democrat candidates signed the NUS pledge and solicited students’ electoral support on the strength of that pledge. Liberal Democrat MPs are honour -bound by that pledge. If they genuinely believed that what is on offer now is a better deal for students than would be obtained by voting it down, they should have gone back to the NUS, convinced them of that and sought to be released from the pledge. Having failed to do that, they remain bound by the pledge. Students are entitled to expect them to vote accordingly when the package is presented to teh House of Commons

    Please do not keep describing this as a “policy U turn”. It is far worse than that. It is a breach of faith. I agree with Ming on that. I’m sorry. but the NUS are entitled to be angry and they will be fully justifyfied in venting that anger by campaigning to unseat MPs who let them down

    If

  • Sunder Katwala 16th Nov '10 - 5:54pm

    Though the post is complaining about the NUS misleading people, it is itself misleading about the nature of the debate.

    Prior to this Coalition government, just about all advocacy about higher student contributions (whether through fees or a graduate tax) was based on these premises.

    1. Universities will need more money, in particular to compete with their global peers.
    2. There are limits to how far more funding can be found through general taxation – and this may not be the highest priority from a point of view of more equal life chances, compared to earlier intervention.
    3. It is right that the state should meet the bulk of the costs. But students should contribute a proportion of the costs, not least because they will benefit, but that this should be done in a way which does not deter poorer students from attending university.
    – The graduate tax v fees argument is about how to meet point (3), for those who accept points (1) and (2).

    These arguments generated a fairly broad consensus. The LibDems vociferously opposed this argument – mainly in refusing to accept point (2), and they clearly benefitted electorally from doing it.

    But it would be false to claim that the LibDems have now come around to making what were the central arguments for what the post now advocates: “fair student contributions towards the costs of tuition”. For it now seems that the LibDems do not now any longer support the first premise – that universities need more funding – in any substantive way.

    The government have devised a model which takes out a great deal of the public funding – about four-fifths of the contribution to tuition costs – so now requires much higher student contributions simply to replace it.

    (Don’t forget the Coalition Agreement gives the LibDems the opportunity to abstain on this, but the LibDem frontbench are going to choose to support it: so clearly that is not a fact of Coalition life, but rather a political choice that the proposals merit active support).

    So these are the new premises of the government’s proposal.

    1. Universities can pretty much get along as they are.
    2. The taxpayer contribution should entirely disappear from contributing towards university teaching across the humanities, because this should now be regarded by society as an entirely private good of no general public benefit.
    3. Students should contribute all of the teaching costs for many subjects, and incur large debts, in order to maintain current funding levels, but not to increase them.

    It is astonishing that a party that argued for the principle of wholly taxpayer-funded higher education can now stand on its head to make this version of the argument: close to taxpayer-exit from paying for university tuition in many areas.

    The u-turn would be rather more defensible if it was making changes to student contributions in order to better fund universities, even if the pledge itself was silly and reckless from politicians who had long ceased to believe in the party policy on which they sought students’ votes (well before the subject of a Coalition arose to finally legitimise this).

  • It’s not for you to say who feels betrayed or not. It’s up to them.

  • You’ve been caught out Iain Roberts.

    You’ve linked to the NUS page before they knew the fees would rise up to £9000.

    And then you try to compare the old page but now inserting the new figures.

    The fact is that a pledge not raise to tuition fees was signed – and the more you keep trying to distort the situation, the more contrived you appear.

  • What rubbish.

    Sorry they were betrayed not because of a policy u-turn but because the Lib Dem candidates all signed personal pledges many now have no intention of keeping. They did so knowing the best result they could realistically hope for was a hung parliament and it was pretty obvious the Tories would be the largest party.

    That would be bad but they also made an art form of using the issue to grab the student vote. Just take a long look at the videos of Nick Clegg’s blatant electioneering on the issue. You cannot campaign with a slogan of “No more broken promises” break one and then avoid the label of liar. It wasn’t just one section in a manifesto it was the main plank of the approach that wooed soi many students.

    Give up trying to defend the indefensible. They lied, it will be brought up time and time again by the opposition and the media andth ose that break their pledge deserve it to be.

    Using your rules for the new politics we should never trust a word Lib Dems say again as long as the result can be interpreted by some as going in the same broad direction.

  • Oh please!

    Try looking up the definition of betrayal in a dictionary.

  • Iain – its a betrayal.

    To call it otherwise is denial on your part I’m afraid.

  • Spot on description of why the whole argument against student fees is nonsense. Student loan = Graduate tax. Simples (and definitely no betrayal in that respect).

    No with regards to betrayal and the pledge… Some students may have a legitimate claim to feeling betrayed since the LDs did promise to vote against a rise in fees, but certainly NUS president and Labour member Aaron Porter has no right to (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/apr/14/new-nus-president-opposes-fees-hike, 3rd para). You cant claim you’ve been betrayed if you didn’t vote for the LibDems. More importantly claiming betrayal over a rise in tuition fees whilst supporting a graduate tax misses the point since a graduate tax would have to cover cost of ones education anyway and so if it *actually* costs £9000/year to fund a graduate through university the graduate would end up paying this back as a graduate tax regardless.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 16th Nov '10 - 6:16pm

    Liberal Democrat MPs who fail to vote against an increase in tuition fees will not have betrayed the students. They will have betrayed themselves. Keeping a pledge is a matter of honour. How can anyone who fails to honour a pledge deserve the title “Honourable Member”?

  • RichardSM

    Why does it make a difference if the NUS were in favour of a Graduate Tax before hearing about the outcome of the Browne Review? What did the Browne review change?

    The point here, which Iain is completely right about, is that the Coalition is introducing a system which is fairer than the very system that the NUS was fighting for until the plans of the Coalition were revealed.

    As for whether this is a betrayal – I agree with Iain, it may well be a betrayal of Lib Dem voters, as it is a policy U-turn. Any Lib Dem who cares more about the text of promises rather than what is actually best for students may be incandescent. But a betrayal of students? Nonsense.

    One thing I am curious about though – the NUS never explain in their student finance blueprint how they would get EU citizens to pay for their education without having some sort of system of fees. Is there anybody from the NUS who could explain? I propose that without an EU-wide treaty, it’d be impossible without a fees and loans system kinda similar to the very one we have now.

  • Nick (not Clegg), and all those going on about how the text of the promise is more important than whether it is a sound policy:

    Do you all believe that it is better for the Government to maintain iniquitous policies simply because they pledged to?

  • Living in hope 16th Nov '10 - 6:29pm

    Thanks, Iain, for an excellent article. It has so suited the media to present this issue in black and white when it is shades of grey.

  • Look, it doesn’t matter how progressive you say these plans are. Hell, you could even be right. But it doesn’t matter: when you make a promise to the electorate, exceptional circumstances excepted, you keep it.

    The breaking of the pledge IS the betrayal.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th Nov '10 - 6:38pm

    “As for whether this is a betrayal – I agree with Iain, it may well be a betrayal of Lib Dem voters, as it is a policy U-turn.”

    Good God, how many times does it have to be explained?

    The problem isn’t that it’s a “policy U-turn,” it’s that the MPs gave a written promise that they would vote against an increase in fees, and now they are going to break that promise.

    You ask whether it is better “to maintain iniquitous policies simply because they pledged to.” The point is utterly fatuous. In a democracy, the decision should be down to the electorate, and if politicians promise to do one thing and then do the opposite, that is a complete negation of democracy.

  • @MattT – “when you make a promise to the electorate, exceptional circumstances excepted, you keep it.”

    So being the minority party in the first proper coalition government in the UK since the war is classified as normal circumstances in your book?

  • “Look, it doesn’t matter how progressive you say these plans are. Hell, you could even be right. But it doesn’t matter: when you make a promise to the electorate, exceptional circumstances excepted, you keep it.

    The breaking of the pledge IS the betrayal.”

    Yuck, its arguments like this which make me hate politics. It shouldn’t be about playing pathetic little games with the electorate, it should be about debating policy. In the words of a famous liberal “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

  • We know the Liberal Democrat leadership didn’t support their party’s fees stance, yet despite this honest disagreement they dishonestly told the electorate they did. Specifically they told the electorate in seats with large numbers of students that they supported the NUS pledge. They did this to get the student vote. They lied to get votes. Simple.

    This wasn’t a case of making vauge promises with wriggle room, as the other parties often do. This was a straightforward deception. You have destroyed any pretence you once had that you were somehow different from the others.

    Sad to see the LIberals in denial about this. It really doesn’t matter what weasel words you use to convince yourself that you are right and they are wrong. Students (and their teachers) have the vote, and you want it. But you’re unlikely to get it ever again.

  • “You ask whether it is better “to maintain iniquitous policies simply because they pledged to.” The point is utterly fatuous. In a democracy, the decision should be down to the electorate, and if politicians promise to do one thing and then do the opposite, that is a complete negation of democracy.”

    If we are going to play that game, I’d point out that the majority of the electorate didn’t vote Liberal Democrat but voted for parties that pledged to introduce proposals based on the Browne Review. Its a silly argument – we do not elect MPs to simply enact manifesto commitments, we elect them to enact manifesto commitments and to use their judgement when the facts change and introducing them is impossible.

    And given you are claiming its all about a ‘betrayal’ of voters, and nothing to do with what is fair for students, are you suggesting we will see NUS protests should the Labour party oppose these changes? I sincerely doubt it.

  • LabourLiberal 16th Nov '10 - 6:54pm

    @Sunder Katwala

    Spot on. Excellent analysis of the whole issue.

  • John fraser 16th Nov '10 - 6:58pm

    Andthere was me thinking that when they came to power the lib dems would be ‘different’ that is what we always campaigned on during the 20 odd years i was in the party.

    The lack of ambition you have for your party iain dismays me .

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th Nov '10 - 7:06pm

    Athirat

    “Its a silly argument – we do not elect MPs to simply enact manifesto commitments, we elect them to enact manifesto commitments and to use their judgement when the facts change and introducing them is impossible.”

    Do you really not understand what this argument is about, or are you being deliberately obtuse?

    As I have only just a moment ago pointed out to you, this is not an argument about a “manifesto commitment.” This was a personal promise made by each candidate to vote against any proposal to increase university fees – whether in government, opposition, coalition or whatever. It was organised by the NUS and signed by candidates of all parties – nothing at all to do with Lib Dem policy.

    Obviously it’s not possible to fulfil the Lib Dem manifesto commitment to abolish fees altogether, but that’s a completely separate question.

  • @Athirat
    The public have a right to expect those they elect to keep their promises, not just my sentiment remember “No more broken promises”. And this was a specific promise made to a specific group of people to curry favour for their votes.

    And it’s not a promise that has been broken 4 years in to a parliament, it was given away in days. And for goodness sake if Labour and the Tories jumped off a cliff would Nick Clegg? Those parties are despised by many (including me) for their lies to the electorate. Have a look at the Lib Dem leadrship’s quotes when Labour lied over top up fees, they were right then and wrong now.

    Keep taking the same line and there will be no recovery from this, the Lib Dems will become the party of lies just as the Tories became the party of sleaze and Blair became defined by Iraq. The linking factor is not the scale (Iraq is not comparable and I’m not claiming it to be so) it is the total disregard for the voters and the inability of politicians to accept there are in the wrong.

    As Ming Cambpell and Charles Kennedy have both stated it’s a question of personal integrity and honour, they will keep theirs.

  • David Allen 16th Nov '10 - 7:08pm

    @BGBrighton:

    “@MattT – ‘when you make a promise to the electorate, exceptional circumstances excepted, you keep it.’
    So being the minority party in the first proper coalition government in the UK since the war is classified as normal circumstances in your book?”

    Here we go again. Please refute my canting analysis, number 94. OK, here goes. The NUS pledge was not simply a promise to make loud oppositional noises provided the Lib Dems were in the happy position of being powerless and therefore able to say whatever they wanted to. The NUS pledge was specifically to oppose a rise in fees whether in or out of government. (And when MattT referred to “exceptional circumstances”, he was clearly thinking about thermonuclear war, or something equally pesky getting seriously in the way!)

    @Athirat,

    “In the words of a famous liberal ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?'”

    Please refute my canting analysis, number 95. OK, here goes. First of all, I throw something at someone, because I’ve heard that smart-alec quote once too often. Then I reflect on just how asinine it is to suggest that it might apply in this case. We made a promise. We got the chance to put it into practice. We decided not to. What exactly were these blasted facts that changed? (And don’t give me that stuff about “Vince Cable, lousy economic visionary, completely underestimated the seriousness of our financial crisis, hopeless really, should be sacked, but at least he knows now how skint we are, because George Osborne taught him some economics for dummies…”)

    Now, we’ve proved to the nation that we can’t keep a promise. Does this party really think we are going to gain anything from boasting that that isn’t the half of it? Do we also want to prove that in addition, we couldn’t talk straight to save our lives?

  • John Pollett 16th Nov '10 - 7:19pm

    I doubt there is a clearer indicator that this *is* a betrayal than the stream of posts telling us it isn’t.

    Thank heavens for libdem members upholding the principles casually tossed aside by the parliamentarians. They don’t deserve you.

  • Iain Roberts,

    “The Liberal Democrats have made a u-turn on tuition fees – they haven’t denied it.”

    No, Iain. It is Clegg and his acolytes who have made a U-turn on student tuition fees, not the Liberal Democrats.

    My understanding, and correct me if I am wrong, is that the Federal Policy Committee has confirmed that the policy outlined in the Manifesto, and agreed by Conference, remains party policy.

    Let’s forget the logomantics. If the Browne proposals really were equivalent to no increase in tuition fees, as you claim, then why are so many students so up-in-arms about it? Are they all brainless fools who are so blind they cannot see the radiant Cameron light?

    I think the tipping point is coming where the mass of members realise that Clegg cannot be allowed to continue prostituting our party in this shameful way.

  • @Sesenco
    I get no satisfaction at all, that the Lib Dems still have abolishing tuition fees as its policy. In fact it seems pretty darned ridiculous when Lib Dem ministers are not just abstaining from a tuition fee increase, but positively voting for it. This seems a pyrrhic concession to a, now, dead policy position.

  • The only element of this article I agree with is the complaint that the increase is being described as a trebling of tuition fees. This is indeed a lie. With the introduction of a real rate of interest, it is much more than that.

  • john corney 16th Nov '10 - 7:58pm

    I am a supporter and think that the correct decision was made to renege. But you have to give the NUS credit! Whoever drafted the wording has nailed our M.P’s. I think that it is disingenuous to argue the merits one way or another of breaking the pledge. One thing that struck me was that Gordon Brown did strike a chord with his apology regarding that “bigotted woman” mostly because we understood and had been where he was.
    Get real and apologise but only if you mean it!

  • Andrew Suffield 16th Nov '10 - 8:05pm

    If they genuinely believed that what is on offer now is a better deal for students than would be obtained by voting it down, they should have gone back to the NUS, convinced them of that and sought to be released from the pledge.

    I don’t see why you think that the NUS, a wing of the Labour party, would have granted the government such a media benefit under any circumstances. The government could offer a sack of cash to every student and the NUS would still be obliged to decry it, because they are in opposition this year.

  • Leviticus18_23 16th Nov '10 - 8:07pm

    The LibDems manage to sell out almost every day.

    There can’t be any pre-election promises left to break.

    At this point, all they can do is hang on in there and milk the system and line themselves up with jobs on the board of a company that got something out of the Conservatives… Or join the Conservatives at the next election.

  • Nick Cotter 16th Nov '10 - 8:16pm

    Iain
    Good Effort – but it won’t wash !!
    I am a Lib Dem Member and Councillor (and will remain the latter if I get re-elected next May) !! Though I only beat the Tories by ONE Vote in 2007, so in present circumstances I’m not holding my breath !!
    However, no matter how many Zoe’s, Iain’s etc, etc, come on-line peddling the Clegg et al line – it STILL won’t wash !!
    So, can I suggest a bit of humility, and acceptance that it’s a complete mess up !! Then, and only then, we may start repairing the damage that this volte-face extraordinaire has caused !! Please stop insulting our Intelligence with this Party Propoganda !!
    Regards, Nick Cotter, BA (Hons), Victoria University of Manchester (Full Grant + No Tuition Fees then – ’83-’86).

  • .
    @Andrew Suffield

    “…the NUS, a wing of the Labour party,”

    If they’re a wing of the Labour Party, why did Nick Clegg sign their pledge?

    Is he stupid?

  • Sensible article by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian on Libdems turning on their leader: message is……………grow up!
    I concur. Nick is walking a tight rope and deserves our backing.
    Elizabeth.

  • As Clegg has admitted, with the benefit of hindsight it would have been better not to have made the pledge in the first place…

    The real problem is that it appears that Clegg was quite ready to abandon the party’s position on tuition fees before he went on to make all those video promises – and you are actually wondering why it’s being called a betrayal?

    This is yet another attempt to justify what is going on without realising its got to the point that people really don’t care what you are offering up instead – as @Anthony keep pointing out this is not a reversal of a manifesto pledge – this was a personal pledge from potential MP’s of a party that promised things were going to be different – and many people believed that and voted for you on that basis.

    I’m now really concerned about the effect this is all having on any hope of AV making it through – I will say it again – its in danger of being lost not because of the logic of the argument but because people will see it as a way of punishing the Lib Dems for their perceived behaviour in government – and this article like many ‘justifications’ is doing more harm than good.

    @Steve Way’s paragraph sums my thoughts exactly – keep on with these excuses and the Lib Dems will get branded the Party of Lies.

  • .
    @Elizabeth

    “Sensible article by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian on Libdems turning on their leader: message is……………grow up!”

    I agree,

    Who do you think should tell him?

    The new President?

    Or maybe it might be better coming from a former party leader.

  • vince thurnell 16th Nov '10 - 9:53pm

    You can try to convince yourselves all you like. One look at the opinion polls should tell you that in the eyes of the general public you have betrayed not only the students but the wider electorate as well. Still if theres enough you that keep saying you havent betrayed anyone you might just convince yourselves that, thats the case.

  • If I were a Tory I’d be quite happy with the NUS campaigning against the re-election of a Lib Dem MPs, giving the fact that in most seats it would result in the election of a Conservative MP (who incidentally might well support a complete free market in university education). It seems that the study of logic is not on the curriculum of NUS leaders.

    It will however be interesting to see what happens in Scotland when the Scottish Government has to abandon its current approach to university education there, given the fact that whatever new system is put in place will have been instigated by either a Scottish Nationalist or Labour Party Government, with the tacit support of either the Lib Dems or the Conservatives. If the Scots opt for a graduate tax (and make it work) then it could provide support for the same model in England. On the other hand if the new Scottish Government also rules out this option, what will be the attitude of the NUS in Scottish seats for the Westminster Parliament?

  • Amidst all the casuistry has anybody noticed yet they we’re now bumping along at 10% in the polls.
    Single figures round the corner putting us in great shape to win the AV referendum and sheds load of
    seats in May not. For heaven’s sake look outside the box!

  • I’m in favour of tuition fees. I’m a Conservative who loved the delicious irony of Vince Cable having to increase student fees, but any Liberal Democrat who signed a pledge to vote against them should vote against them.

    This promise wasn’t a normal manifesto pledge, which is made by the party as a whole but which individual MPs have a right to break given due reason. Neither was this a promise negated by the Coalition that a Liberal-Democrat government would not increase fees, or a vague promise that that in opposition they would oppose fee increases.

    This was a contract signed by individual prospective MPs to actively vote against fees. In every issue that comes before parliament, the primary issue for MPs to consider is whether their actions would damage democracy.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th Nov '10 - 10:31pm

    “I’m now really concerned about the effect this is all having on any hope of AV making it through – I will say it again – its in danger of being lost not because of the logic of the argument but because people will see it as a way of punishing the Lib Dems for their perceived behaviour in government – and this article like many ‘justifications’ is doing more harm than good.”

    I think this is spot on.

    Looking at the most recent YouGov poll (which actually shows a slight improvement for the AV camp – FPTP only has a 7% lead, down from 11% a fortnight ago), there is a big difference between support for AV among those voted Lib Dem in May and those who would still vote Lib Dem.

    In June, when the Lib Dem rating was still up at 21%, 73% of those who had voted Lib Dem in May supported AV. Today, 71% of current Lib Dem supporters still support AV, but (if I’ve done my sums right) only 50% of ex-LD supporters do. That suggests to me that disaffection with the Lib Dems is going hand-in-hand with a big reduction in enthusiasm for AV.

    On top of that there has been a huge turnaround in the opinion of those who voted Labour in May – from a 13% lead for AV in June to an 18% lead for FPTP now.

  • Slippery guys, these lib dems, aren’t they?

    The question is about RAISING the fees. If you had converted the current payment system into a graduate tax, and then raised it, the complaint would still be the same.

    You keep talking about the mechanics of payment. It is the AMOUNT that is being paid that is at issue. Equivalently, the amount of HE funding being contributed by the Government, that is at issue. Your Government has cut 80% of the teaching grant previously contributed by the `evil’ Labour Government. Fact or not? Hence, the fees are having to rise. Fact or not?

  • Those who might be thinking of campaigning in “Old and Sad” might be interested in the below response to my enquiries. Elwyn Watkins, the Lib Dem candidate, signed the NUS pledge before the last election, but now….

    …………………….
    Dear Mr Allen

    Thank you for your email in which you asked for Elwyn Watkins’s views on tuition fees.

    Elwyn would like to see tuition fees scrapped, which is the policy of the Liberal Democrats, but he agrees with the Coalition that it is just not realistic to make it happen right now.

    The Government’s proposals are better and fairer than the system Labour left us with and Elwyn would vote for them as the best option we’re going to get right now, thanks to the mess Labour left behind. However, he will still be campaigning for tuition fees to be scrapped in the long term.

    With best wishes
    Sarah Morris
    On behalf of Elwyn Watkins’s campaign team

  • That’s OK then LibDems know best. We might as well just vote for them and not bother reading their manifesto.

  • cllr David Cox 16th Nov '10 - 10:46pm

    http://www.julianhuppert.org.uk/content/huppert-signs-tuition-fees-pledge-again
    Sorry but a pledge is a pledge, There has been a lot of rubbish written and said about the Lib Dems in coalition, but this is different MPs who signed the pledge must honour it.

  • @Iain

    Phony apologetics do you no credit.

    The thing that in fact that really irritates me about this entire situation isn’t really that many Lib Dems are set to betray their pledge of fees, although that does annoy me a lot. No, the thing that irritates me is that Lib Dems like yourself, Clegg et al defend and proselytise every Conservative policy being enacted as though it is something Lib Dem voters and members should have wanted all along. If I wanted the policies that you spend all your time on LDV defending then I would have voted Conservative.

    It would be ok if just once, in regard to benefits or cuts or student fees, the leadership and their apologists would say to us ‘I don’t really like what we are doing, but this is an impossible situation and we are in a coalition with the Tories’. Nope, they tell us about how progressive making 70% of students pay more for their education is. If I wanted policies like those I wouldn’t have voted for the Lib Dems, whose MPS pledged to vote against ‘any rise in fees’.

    Occasionally you get some posters here claiming that this has to happen because we are in a coalition. Firstly, it doesn’t. But , secondly, the line of people like yourself and the leadership is not that these policies are the result of the coalition, but they are really great things for the party that we should have actually campaigned upon at the last election… that raising fees is abolishing them, etc etc.

    Now some of this may simply be laughable retorspective justification, and you genuinely believe this tripe (although you would probably be one of the first to ridicule any other government for taking the same line), Yet when you deliberately omit details such as in this article (i.e. MPs signed a pledge to the NUS to vote against any rise in fees… the breaking of which by any definition is a ‘betrayal’) I can’t help but feel that you and others are deliberately trying to lie to us, or simply hoodwink us. If you can’t even be honest and frank with the facts then I will just have to assume bad faith… that you don’t even really believe this stuff yourself.

    The thing that has angered me more than anything over the last few months is the complete lack of defense of old lib dem policy in face of decisions being made by the coalition, there is practically no mention of compromise by the leadership…. which can only lead me to believe that in a few months they have permanently and undemocratically decided about face on many of our long hold commitments. Not to mention the obnoxiously patronising tone taken by many authors and posters here towards anyone who disagrees with them, apparently they must be intellectually inferior or Labour trolls. Many of these tribalists, for I can find no better word for unquestioning support for policies which they would have opposed had they been enacted by another party, seem to have joined the party relatively recently, yet they have the gall to insult long-term members who came from both the Liberal and SDP parties and call them ‘Labourites’.

    Unquestioning support for this coalition will be this parties downfall.

    Perosnally, though, I think that losing the vote on AV will be a wake up call for many of those more tribal members.

  • party’s*

  • This is just not correct. Yes, the Labour party made promises they did not keep, BUT they did not target the student votes in the same way & sign a NUS pledge as well as a party pledge. While more worrying is the fact that the LibDems were drawing up plans to abandon the policy to scrap university tuition fees two months before the general election. http://aggbot.com/docs/link.php?id=11469628&r=tw&t=lib

    I think its a sad time, The Liberals who have a history of Liberalism & fair play & evolved into the Liberal Democratic Party, but have allowed themselves to be used, to put in place Cameron’s extreme blend of Toryism which is far more extreme than anything Margaret Thatcher dared implement.

    I really think this is the beginning of the end of The LibDems, & believe the reason the Tory’s didn’t win the election was because the electorate as a whole just didn’t trust the Tory’s & in my opinion this coalition could have achieved so much, if it had kept to it’s principles & stayed on the back benches.

  • There is an issue of party management here. Don’t we have Whips? Our MPs are all over the place. The link above to Julian Huppert’s website illustrates how each MP is now making up their own policy. Huppert who owes his seat partly to the fees issue is putting himself first by signing the pledge. He has no need to do this in such a public way. It may win over half a dozen gullible students but he needs to accept the damage is done and he should be helping to limit it. I am glad he is sticking to the pledge but he does not need to publicity seek over the issue. A slightly quieter approach would help dampen down the issue.

    In the post before that ,Watkins the Oldham former PPC goes for the Cleggite fib – that policy has changed because things are worse. The OBR revealed that the economy was not worse it was marginally better. This is the sort of argument for changing minds that just isn’t working.

    We need a clear direction for what the bulk MPs are doing and why, with some licensed opting out on conscience or to protect their seats. We need the reason to be set out plainly and truthfully. Many of us may still disagree but at least the matter can begin to be scaled down (until an election).

  • I have to say I agree with Alex KN. Huppert signing the pledge all over again now is just finding a new way to look silly. When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

  • @Dave Page
    Sorry but you’re wrong. The pledge was “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

    Note the words “vote against” and “pressure Government” they are committed to voting against and increase in fees no other vote is mentioned.

  • I voted LibDem, honestly. I will never do so again. They have done about-turns on so many issues that they really can’t remember what they promised before the election. And this from a party that promised ‘new politics’ and the end of ‘saying one thing in opposition but doing something different in power’. They, and especially Clegg and Cable are jokes, as is the article above. Indulging in the very worst kind of sophistry will not help you. The LibDem leadership are singing from the same hymn sheet as Lloyd George and Ramsay MacDonald. Tory cannon fodder. They are finished – a laughing stock. It is the LlbDem ordinary foot-soldiers I feel sorry for, totally sold down the river. Bring on an election so that we can get rid of these duplicitous, unprincipled ********s.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St. Yes, I am in favour of proper PR, BUT, when the AV referendum comes I will make very sure that I get to that polling booth. FPTP has suddenly become very, very attractive since voting for it will, hopefully, damage Clegg and his (rich) boys. And yes I am that childish and that angry. And hopefully so are several million more voters.

  • John Pollett 17th Nov '10 - 7:40am

    As for circumstances changing after entering power; if we believe the coalition the cuts already in place will have reduced the debt/deficit long before any financial benefits from the scheme are seen.

  • @David Allen- “When you’re in a hole, stop digging” but then you remain in the hole- change your angle, dig in to the side of the hole pushing the spoil behind you. Thus you can get out of the hole.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Nov '10 - 8:57am

    @ Andrew Suffield:

    It really is not good enough to label any organisation which has the temerity to disagree with our MPs , or with this government, as ” a wing of the Labour Party”.

    If Clegg and Co considered the NUS to be so, why did they sign the its pledge? Having done so, they are bound by it and no amount of weasel words will alter that fact.

    To those who keep parroting that quote about changing one’s mind when the facts change, you can change your mind as frequently as you like, whether the facts change or not, but a pledge is still a pledge. If your mind is changeable, don’t sign pledges.

    And, Athirat, what’s at stake, here, is not the merits or demerits of the Browne package as modified by the coalition; it’s the integrity and future credibility of Liberal Democrat MPs and candidates.

  • The main difference between fees and a tax is that with fees the rich will pay up front saving themselves thousands of pounds. Those who cannot afford to pay upfront will be left paying the interest with no chance of a mortgage and no way of helping their own children through uni. Very progressive! My own view is that the majority of high rate tax payers went to uni and should pay via the high rate tax system. Simple.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th Nov '10 - 9:35am

    “Those who might be thinking of campaigning in “Old and Sad” might be interested in the below response to my enquiries.”

    Thanks for this. I had been wondering what his views were, as they’ll obviously be receiving a large amount of attention in the by-election campaign (assuming it goes ahead).

    It’s unfortunate for Mr Watkins that the promise he signed doesn’t say “if elected in May” or similar, but only “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.” So he is proposing to fight a by-election campaign while declaring that he will break a written pledge to the electors signed only a few months ago.

    I think there will be some extremely difficult questions to answer on the doorstep, and I don’t think the kind of thing in that email is likely to satisfy the questioners.

  • The lady doth protest too much methinks!

    This was more than a manifesto commitment, it was a signed pledge. This was the one policy that we should have been prepared to die in a ditch over.

    I became a Lib Dem supporter because at the time they pledged to raise income tax by 1% to pay for higher education. At the time I had been to university was single and had no kids. But I believe that education is a public good, that benefits the whole of society and that it should be free and paid for out of general taxation.

    I still do. But apparently the Lib Dem leadership doesn’t. Shame on them.

  • “It is Clegg and his acolytes who have made a U-turn on student tuition fees, not the Liberal Democrats.”

    You think so? Are all the members of the party demanding a change of leader? If not, the party has de facto changed policy, not just the leadership

  • As junior partner in a coalition it is obvious the Party cannot honour all its pledges. But this one is different – the Party went to great lengths to get the student vote. The betrayal is breathtaking. Of course the elderly (I am almost 63) will keep their Bus Passes and winter fuel allowances regardless of wealth. Ask yourselves which age group is most likely to vote Tory.

    We can see now why Cameron’s offer to Clegg immediately after the election was unexpectedly generous. The Party has been swallowed and will be spat out again when it suits the Tories – as happened in 1922 and again in the Thirties.

    Meantime, the knowledge-based economy which is this country’s best hope for the future goes the way of our once great industrial base.

  • This is really not a difficult issue. At the last General Election there were several ‘university seats’ that stood to be held or gained by the Lib Dems. For good old fashioned naked political purposes, Lib Dem candidates signed that pledge on fees in order that the electorate in those seats would vote for them, although I have no doubt some of them also believed in the policy. It is perfectly reasonable that, on election, the electorate would expect that the newley elected Lib Dem MPs would therefore support, campaign and vote for that policy. To do the opposite is a simple and somewhat cynical betrayal. All of Iain’s waffle about whether the proposed system is anywhere near to or dissimilar to what the Student’s Union wanted, or didn’t want, will not whitewash over the betrayal.

    Because the Lib Dems once in government have proved to be in his own words not “morally superior to any other party”, it will only serve to increase the nation’s mistrust of ALL political parties.

  • I pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees , unless I decide otherwise in which case I will know what is best for you and vote for an increase. By the way thanks for your vote.

    Sent by email from the back of my ministerial limo.

    PS You have to realise that politics has nothing to do with morality but is a matter of power and expediency.

  • the lib dems lied about tuition fees and now clegg’s party are paying the cost! Students have been betrayed by lib dems; ordinary people have been betrayed by lib dems – no wonder the lib dems will be smashed at the nrxt election and reduced to maybe a handful of MPs – vote Lib Dem Anti-coalition Paty

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th Nov '10 - 7:34pm

    Anne

    That’s interesting. So the threshold for repayments will not be £21,000 in today’s money, but £21,000 in 2016. And the IFS tried to clarify this with Cable’s department, but was “left believing that the figure was in 2012 prices.” Moreover, the threshold won’t be raised every year to allow for inflation, but only every five years. Did anyone here realise that?

  • The IFS report was outrageously dodgy in claiming that the Browne proposals are progressive when in reality the fee payments are severely regressive across the top few income deciles. Their definition of ‘progressive’ contradicts that stated in every economic text-book. Graduates with high incomes will contribute a smaller proportion of their income than those on middle incomes – that’s why the tories want it. The idea that the proposed tuition fee repayments are a graduate tax by another name are manifestly absurd.

  • My original view: I don’t think it’s fair to call this a betrayal of students and those who voted Lib Dem. I will argue against, campaign against, and vote against any plans to call this a betrayal. I have a manifesto commitment to not call this a betrayal, as I have for many years. I personally pledge not to call this a betrayal. There are too many broken promises, it’s time to do politics differently.

    My current view: I believe it’s a betrayal of students and those who voted Lib Dem. A total, utter betrayal. It’s a betrayal three times bigger than other betrayals.

    I must be Nick Clegg…

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th Nov '10 - 8:57pm

    So in today’s money the threshold will be – what? – something like £17,000.

    Moreover, the current threshold of £15,000 was introduced in 2006 and hasn’t been increased then. If it had increased in line with inflation, what would it be now? Oh, about £17,000, I suppose.

    [Isn’t it fun trying to guess what on earth the spam filter is objecting to?]

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Nov '10 - 9:29pm

    If they’re a wing of the Labour Party, why did Nick Clegg sign their pledge?

    Is he stupid?

    This is now widely regarded as a blunder, yes. To be fair, at the time there was no real expectation of a coalition with the Tories (everybody, including many senior Tories, expected them to prefer minority government and an early election), and cosying up to Labour would have seemed like a reasonable idea. Still, putting the party in hock to Labour was a screwup.

  • @ Andrew Suffield

    THe NUS is not a ‘Labour’ organisation.

    The majority of its elected leadership are Labour/LIberal and other apparently left wing parties.

    That does not make it a ‘Labour’ organisation.

    What evidence do you have to claim that it is ‘Labour’? That it’s elected president supports Labour?

    I guess that makes the BBC Conservative then.

  • This doesn’t seem to have received much publicity, but seems to show Clegg & other Senior Liberal Democrats did plan to throw out the pledge a month before Clegg signed it , in the case of a hung parliment.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/12/lib-dems-tuition-fees-clegg

  • Mark Steel sums it up well in today’s Independent (if the link below doesn’t work, just Google Mark Steel Independent)
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-steel/mark-steel-being-honest-is-no-longer-official-policy-2135933.html

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Nov '10 - 12:15am

    So – just to sum that up – this marvellous increase in the threshold from £15,000 to £21,000 that has been sold as so progressive – that I have defended myself as being so progressive, fool that I am! – is really no increase at all, if you consider the change between 2006 when the £15,000 threshold was introduced, and 2016, when the £21,000 threshold comes into force. The difference between the two is no more than inflation – and that’s price inflation, not wage inflation.

    I should have known better than to expect anything other than lies from this Tory government – and its shameless Lib Dem apologists. I’ll try very hard to avoid making that mistake again.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Nov '10 - 12:20am

    “Mark Steel sums it up well in today’s Independent”

    Absolutely bloody brilliant.

  • The wheels have just about fallen off the dont worry about our broken pledges cos its a good progressive deal anyway argument

    Read
    http://exquisitelife.researchresearch.com/exquisite_life/2010/11/student-fees-and-numbers-that-dont-add-up.html#more

    Cable has got a lot more explaining to do before a vote when the financial model has assumed that male graduates of the future will be earning an average of £95,000 at 2016 prices(!)

  • @AAS
    @Peebee

    Excellent points.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    But as we now know from The Guardian report, highlighted in the post that follows yours, the likelihood of coalition was not only recognised but planned BEFORE the pledge. And Clegg repeatedly said he would go with the party that won the most seats at a time when the Conservatives were consistently ahead in the polls.

    It’s quite plain – we can all see what’s happened, but keep blaming the youngsters if it makes you feel better.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 18th Nov '10 - 11:19am

    The wheels have just about fallen off the dont worry about our broken pledges cos its a good progressive deal anyway argument
    Read
    http://exquisitelife.researchresearch.com/exquisite_life/2010/11/student-fees-and-numbers-that-dont-add-up.html#more

    This just gets better and better.

    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 - 12:31pm

    And if the repayment threshold only gets adjusted every five years – which is apparently going to be the case – it will stay at £21,000 (in cash terms) right up to 2020. I wonder what that is in today’s money. About £15,000?

    I suppose you have to give this bunch of crooks credit for sheer ingenuity in pulling the wool over people’s eyes.

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Nov '10 - 11:27pm

    What evidence do you have to claim that it is ‘Labour’? That it’s elected president supports Labour?

    Try looking at all the presidents and other executive roles they’ve had over the past few decades. Try looking at how many of those people were parachuted into Labour safe seats. Or how the NUS gave Labour a free pass when, as a majority government, they discarded their manifesto pledge on tuition fees and raised them – you remember the student protests, the condemnation from the NUS, and their demands for the overthrow of the government at that point? No? That’ll be because none of those things happened when Labour was the one raising fees.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    “you remember the student protests, the condemnation from the NUS, and their demands for the overthrow of the government at that point? No? That’ll be because none of those things happened when Labour was the one raising fees.

    The NUS DID condemn the rise in fees and there WERE student protests, but the Labour never MPS never signed a pledge out to the NUS specifically over a vote in parliament. Labour never signed anything made out to the NUS directly… that goes some way to explaining why they are targetting Lib Dem MPs who signed the pledge made out to them as an organisation, a contract for votes, which they are now breaking.

  • Paul Kennedy 19th Nov '10 - 12:59am

    Iain, you are right to criticise the Labour cronies who claim to speak for the NUS, and I agree that the graduate tax they (and by coincidence Ed Milliband) are demanding is virtually identically to the Government’s proposals.

    The NUS are selling their (future) members short.

    But that is no excuse for Lib Dem MPs to vote for the package on the basis that it is giving what the NUS want. Lib Dem policy is to phase out tuition fees, not to treble them or embed them as a graduate tax. And means-tested benefits for a few students will only make things worse. I realise Clegg and Cable never liked the policy, but they accepted it, and promised to vote against any increase. So that is what they and their colleagues should do.

  • “you remember the student protests, the condemnation from the NUS, and their demands for the overthrow of the government at that point? No?”

    Yes, I remember anti-fees marches in the 90s, and again when top up fees were brought in. There were student occupations in universities too.

    And what I do remember very clearly is that in the run up to this election the NUS asked candidates to sign their pledge, and told students to use that list to decide whether someone was worth supporting or not. David Cameron’s butler was the only one the three national party leaders to sign, hence why his video was so well received by students and the NUS during the election – you remember the one? “We will campaign against, we will vote against, any rise in fees”.

    I suspect this is why students feel so angry at Cleggy. He made them a crystal clear promise, even talking directly to them by video at their conference promising to oppose fees, but after he got their votes he is ripping it up whilst supporting cuts to university budgets and loading masses of more debt on graduates by trebling fees.

    ‘You’ll have to pay more for a worse service if I’m in government’ wouldn’t have got him many student votes or cheers at NUS conference would it? But it would have been honest. And that’s why the students are particularly angry at you. It’s one of the most blatant betrayals in politics I’ve ever seen.

    I’m surprised you can’t see why, it’s really obvious.

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