LibLink: Tim Farron – Tuition fees are the poll tax of our generation

Over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Tim Farron MP reiterates his pledge to vote against tuition fees, calling them “the poll tax of our generation” – a reference to the angry scenes at Wednesday’s demonstration.

In his article, Tim makes the distinction between the NUS pledge against tuition fees, signed by Parliamentary candidates before the General Election (which he intends to abide by), the Liberal Democrat manifesto (which became a negotiating document) and the Coalition Agreement (which contains 65% of the Liberal Democrat manifesto).

Here’s an excerpt:

Fees are the poll tax of our generation and I cannot in good conscience vote for an increase. It is not for me to tell colleagues how to vote, but I believe we need to move away from burdening young people with debt. Education should be available to all – not just those who can stomach the debt.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto set out a six-year plan to phase out tuition fees altogether. But let’s remember we didn’t win the general election, which means our manifesto became a negotiating document. We did an outstanding job of negotiating the coalition: if you comb the coalition agreement you will see that 65% of our manifesto is in it.

The anger of the students is understandable, and I sympathise with it. Seeing thousands of young people engaging with politics is fantastic. My clear message to them is this: the Liberal Democrats are the party of free education – stick with us.

I want to see scrapping fees in our next manifesto. It’s great to see that the Scottish Liberal Democrats – who abolished fees when they were in power between 1999 and 2007 – have committed themselves again to keeping Scotland fee-free if they form part of the next Scottish government.

He goes on to point out that the Lib Dems have ensured the abolition of up-front fees for part-time students – who make up roughly half of all students – and highlights the the raising of the payment threshold from £15,000 to £21,000:

Along with a package of other measures, it means that the poorest 30% of graduates will be better off under the new system. Anyone who wants their analysis of the student finance package to be taken seriously has to acknowledge these advances – and that the progressive parts of the package only happened because of the Lib Dems.

You can read the full piece here.

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34 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Nov '10 - 10:01am

    When someone quotes the first four paragraphs of an article but omits the first sentence, it makes me wonder why. The first sentence was:
    “I shall vote against a rise in tuition fees because I made a pledge that I would do so.”

  • patricia roche 12th Nov '10 - 10:09am

    i dont know how it works and no one has said so yet but what is the lib dem process of getting a new leader?

  • patrick murray 12th Nov '10 - 10:17am

    maybe because the author of this article says “Tim Farron MP reiterates his pledge to vote against tuition fees” in the first line of their piece?

  • Any news on the Labour approach on these issues?

  • patricia roche 12th Nov '10 - 10:32am

    i understand the labour approach may be a graduate tax

  • I hope the Scottish Lib Dems pledge is more substantial than the Westminster pledge.

    They might find the problem of no one believing them this time. Particularly if Jo Swinson and Danny Alexander are going to support fees for England.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Nov '10 - 10:50am

    “maybe because the author of this article says “Tim Farron MP reiterates his pledge to vote against tuition fees” in the first line of their piece?”

    But on that basis quite a number of sentences would have been removed from the paragraphs quoted. The second paragraph of Duffett’s article more or less repeats the second paragraph of Farron’s word for word!

    Call me suspicious, but the only part that was removed was the straightforward statement of principle “I shall vote against a rise in tuition fees because I made a pledge that I would do so.” A question of too much clarity, perhaps.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Nov '10 - 10:56am

    “We are deeply unlikely to go into the next election with a pledge to reverse that decision, it would be even more unaffordable than the 2010 policy, and political suicide for any MP that voted with the government.”

    As it happens, I’ve never particularly agreed with the policy of abolishing fees. But it needs to be argued on its merits. You can’t just airily dismiss it from consideration with the claim that it’s “unaffordable.”

    The cost of abolishing fees has been estimated at £2-3bn, or maybe 15% of the cost of raising the income tax allowance to £10,000. If the former is “unaffordable,” why not the latter?

  • I agree with Andy Mayer. This is only a big issue because of the symbolism of graduates paying for tuition through fees rather than taxation. Apparently, someone earning £25,000 will only be paying £30 a month for the priviledge of unversity education. That’s hardly burdening graduates with an unpayable debt.

    I think it’s somewhat perverse that the most controversial measures taken by the government have been the least damaging – cuting child benefit for high earners and tuition fees that are easily payable.

  • Whether or not the proposed new system is fair or not is completely irrelevant, Tim says we should be the party of free education. The Lib Dem manifesto was quite clear in its plans to phase out tuition fees over a six year period, therefore to pledge no increase in tuition fees only reiterated what we were supposed to stand for. Nick Clegg’s expressions of regrets yesterday seemed to imply that he did not support that part of the Lib Dem manifesto, this from a man who said there should be no broken promises. Of course the Libdems did not win the election, so can’t implement all their promises but he shouldn’t now express regrets about our policies.

  • George W. Potter 12th Nov '10 - 11:59am

    I think Tim’s spot on with his article.

  • If you want to change this apparantly ‘unaffordable’ manifesto policy (which, incidentally is not at all ‘unaffordable’, it iwoul in fact be relatively cheap to fufill , it is just dependant on priorities, political power and fundamental economic beliefs and ideology) … then maybe we should have a vote from the membership first to change the manifesto commitment rather than the orange book leadership of the party ruling by dictat alone.

    The whole ‘it is unaffordable’ argument is totally flawed anyway. Why?

    Because, as I pointed out above, it is simply a matter of priorities and economic policy. The manifesto commitments that the lib dems went into the election with were better costed than the commitments of the other two main parties.

    Now, since this is a matter of priority… what should the money be spent on… if the lib dem party is democratically elected to office with abolishing tuition fees as a clear plank of its manifesto… then it has a democratic mandate (and, in fact, obligation) to priotise the abolishion of tuition fees.

    See… that’s how a democracy works, this ‘can’t afford it argument’ is not just patently false from a fiscal standpoint, it neglects the fact we are a democratic party that is elected democratically to power.

  • “Some of those who protested this week may well be able to afford to pay more but this does not remove their right to protest. ”

    I’ve seen a lot of this, now I know that you are on the side of the students but most people saying that the students are protesting to avoid the fee hike are just trolls who haven’t thought it through.

    The students protesting will be unaffected by the fee hike, so they are in fact campaigning for the next generation of students not to be affected by the hike, not from their own self interest.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 12th Nov '10 - 12:26pm

    Whatever the merits or demerits of this Tory government’s proposals, our candidates in the election signed a pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. Our MPs are now bound by that pledge.
    I am pleased to see that Tim understands that and I am ashamed of those, including Clegg, who do not see that, if they welsch on this, it will matter not a jot what they say in future election campaigns since no-one will believe them.

  • David Allen 12th Nov '10 - 1:23pm

    “Anyone who wants their analysis of the student finance package to be taken seriously has to acknowledge … that the progressive parts of the package only happened because of the Lib Dems.”

    It’s fascinating that Tim, who opposes the package, is nevertheless keen to make that point in mitigation. Whereas Nick, who supports the package, has studiously avoided making any such point. Joined at the hip to call-me-Dave, is Nick’s message.

    I think the crucial difference is that Tim wants the Lib Dems to have a long tem future as a genuinely independent party. Whereas Nick, frankly, does not. That’s why Nick has already begun to set about trashing our own brand.

  • The only words I wanted to hear were in the first sentence the rest of the article is in some way less important..

    This is what we should be able to expect of all MP’s who signed a personal pledge. Only those who follow suit will be believed by the public next time they make promises.

    It is true there are some improvements on the current system in the proposals, but that is not what we were promised, we were promised that if elected M’s would vote against an increase in fees. Anything less makes them liars.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 12th Nov '10 - 1:51pm

    @John: In the Indie today, apparently Labour’s going for a graduate tax.

  • At the next election, every Lib Dem MP who votes for this rise will face leaflets / posters etc showing copies of their pledge alongside their vote on this issue. I agree with Nick (not Clegg) above. Noone will believe a word they say.

    At a national level, it will be Nick Clegg’s pledge. I can see the posters now. I have no doubt significant damage will be done.

  • Linking The tuition fees protest (it was just the fee issue btw it was also about the EMA cut) to the Poll tax riots may or may not be a good analogy but I have a feeling that there will be other civil disturbances by other ‘minority interest groups’, but added together these ‘groups’ will probably amount to very sizeable percentage of the population and if there’s collective action/protest that may well a better analogy to the Poll tax protests

  • In response to patricia roche’s question, I decided to have a look at the Lib Dem Constitution. The key part seems to be Article 10.2 of The Constitution of the Federal Party, which says:

    An election for the Leader shall be called upon:

    (e) a vote of no confidence in the Leader being passed by a majority of all Members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons;
    (f) the receipt by the President of a requisition submitted by at least 75 Local Parties (including for this purpose, the Specified Associated Organisation or Organisations representing youth and/or students) following the decision of a quorate general meeting;

    [1]

    [1] http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/Federal%20Constitution%20Feb%202010.pdf page 29

  • Tim Farron has always been a man of integrity and I applaud his stance.

  • greg Tattersall 12th Nov '10 - 9:43pm

    I urge all social democrats in the lib dem party to press their MPs to vote against the rise in tuition fees.
    This rise goes against all we believe in.The orange book leadership must not get too intoxicated with being in government that it forgets its activists and supporters.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 13th Nov '10 - 12:26pm

    Matt wrote:
    “75 Local Parties?? Can someone elaborate please”
    The Liberal Democrats in mainland UK are organised into local parties. These local parties would normally cover one Westminster constituency. However, in some areas, such as London Boroughs, a local party might cover a whole borough ( two or three constituencies). As the Liberal Democrats are a federal organisation, there are regional parties in England and national parties in Scotland and Wales. All these bodies (and the English party) have their own officers and structure. All members have a vote on issues, except those where the vote is delegated to conference representatives elected at the local party AGM. Any member can attend regional, federal and national conferences.

  • I watched Cameron speaking to Chinese students this week and he explained that increasing tuition fees for UK students made it cheaper for foreign students to come to university here as it would help hold their fees down. I always thought that foreign students paid increased fees for a UK uni education because on graduation most would go home or elsewhere and not contribute to the UK economy via taxation.

    I really wonder whether the LibDem coalition MPs actually know about Cameron’s thinking and whether they agree with it because I can’t see how it is fair that students here should subsidise foreign students, many of whom come from a privileged background.

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