Nick Clegg: “We made a pledge. We didn’t stick to it – and for that I’m sorry”

Nick Clegg has just emailed Liberal Democrat party members:

I’ve been travelling the country talking to party members over the summer. I’ve heard a lot of you say you think it’s important for the party and me personally to address, head on, the many concerns raised about the decisions I took in recent years about higher education funding and tuition fees.

I agree. Where we get it wrong we must hold our hands up, but when we get it right, we can hold our heads up too.

That is why I’ve made this video which will be our next Party Political Broadcast and which we are sharing with the media this evening:

I wanted you to be amongst the first to see it. Do please watch it.

Best Wishes,

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister

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127 Comments

  • I called for this 22 months ago. http://splithorizons.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/we-owe-lib-dem-voters-apology.html

    Better late than never I suppose.

  • Furious Lib Dem 19th Sep '12 - 6:26pm

    Clegg – Sept 2012
    “I shouldn’t have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around”…
    “I will never again make a pledge unless we as a party are absolutely clear about how we can afford it”

    The problem is Nick (and Vince) said there was money around. And they were absolutely clear about how we can afford it.

    Clegg – March 2010
    “There is one other major innovation in this manifesto.
    There isn’t a line or policy in this book that will cost money that we haven’t accounted for with savings elsewhere.
    We have scrutinised public spending line by line, and found the savings we need to pay for all of our priorities as Vince explained…
    I believe this is the first time a political party has spelt out its figures, line by line, right there in its manifesto. Turn to
    page 100. The figures are there for everyone to see. We know how every policy will be paid for.

    We know how to make that huge £10bn dent in the deficit. And we know how to invest in your schools and create jobs even in these difficult times. These are promises you can trust…..

    We have identified more than £15bn of savings, year on year, in this manifesto. That is why we can commit to phasing out tuition fees. That is why we can promise a new “triple guarantee” for pensioners – so pensions rise in line with earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever is the highest.”

    If Nick wants to apologise then the apology needs to be that he didn’t keep the pledge because he didn’t think it was enough of a political priority. This is a deceitful sham of an apology and looks like the last desperate gamble by a guy who realises his time is up

  • at last., but much too late.

  • This is a key and welcome step but we need to go further. Until we have a clear understanding of what our position will be on fees in our 2015 manifesto then we cannot heal the wounds. I have suggestion a promise of an across the board reduction to £6,000 as Labour have proposed this without committing to it, so it will flush out how serious Labour are about it.

    This issue has dominated our identity as a party and we cannot hope to move on without an apology and a plan moving forward – Nick is right to address it but more is needed.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Sep '12 - 6:41pm

    Clegg looks good and sounds good – but so did Tony Blair.

    I think it’s important for Clegg personally, to apologise – mea culpa goes down well with the public.

    However, for my part I have given him the benefit of the doubt on too many occasions – forgiven the bad judgements, the extraordinary compromises with the Tories over painful decisions such as welfare, even aspects of Health.

    For me, the latest bombshell, that he had held secret negotiations with Gove over the future of exams and allowed the Tories to go ahead with the bulk of their narrow and divisive plans for reform, was the final straw. There is little really Liberal Democrat in any of these proposals – a two-tier subject system is in the offing, thanks to Clegg and Laws.

    Political antennae is vital in a Leader and I’m unsure if the present one has any.

  • Is this the first in a series?

  • Paul Reynolds 19th Sep '12 - 6:45pm

    Thank you Helen for posting this. This is indeed a brave step, just before our annual autumn Conference – and at a time when the press hounds are preparing to howl, especially in searching for leadership splits and challenges. It is a tough time. It must have been a tough call to do this, and indeed in the video itself Nick looks a bit ragged and upset, as all can see. We shall see if the effect is positive. I hope it is.

    My take on the party and public ‘needs’ is that yes, some kind of mea culpa is justified, but that something more important is also called for – a clear exposition of exactly what the key problems are that the country faces, the causes behind them and the obstacles to addressing them…….. and moreover, how specifically we propose to address them and extract us from the mess. The British seem to be in a mood for blunt language, and above all, politicians that talk about what is to be done and why, rather than politicians that talk about themselves or their parties.

    At the coming Conference I too am looking for that. An outward-looking party that addresses the things the public is concerned about, not a party which focuses only on its internal obsessions and policies which result from vested interests and single-issue pressure groups. I want to hear the Party’s reading of the problems faced by the population as a whole over the longer term and what we propose to do about them, in or out of Coalition. To lead. I am less interested in competitive tactical twists and turns – a policy to embarrass Milband here, a short-term repositioning there to upset the Tory right, and a little positional twist to curry favour with supporters of the Greens or UKIP. I hope we get no more of such machinations. The public tired of tactical ‘how does it play in the media tomorrow’ politicians with Blair and Brown. They look askance at Cameron at times for the same reason. If we are all tactical twists and playing one set of public sector interests off against another, we will deserve all the negativity that we are likely to get from the media.

    Maybe the new Party Political video is necessary. But it is not sufficient. Party membership is declining and the Lib Dems are victims of that too. The public, and past & present Lib Dem members, want something solid to believe in, not factional positionings that only serves to further split the party into the growing number of opposing sub-groups. I hope the public, and the Party members, get what they are yearning for.

  • Simon Bamonte 19th Sep '12 - 6:47pm

    For many of us, this is just too little, too late. He’s had two years to do this. I do think, if there are to be fees, the new system is indeed slightly more fair & liberal. It isn’t the policy that needed apologising for, but the broken pledge after campaigning on a platform of “new politics” and, especially, “no broken promises”. The problem is that we’ve done plenty more things that we should be apologising for as well.

    So how about an apology for what the DWP and ATOS are doing to the disabled and mentally ill people? THOSE reforms are indeed far from fair, compassionate or liberal and have put lives at risk, unlike tuition fees.

  • Bill le Breton 19th Sep '12 - 6:56pm

    In this PPB the Leader says, “I know that we fought to get the best policy in these circumstances” (i.e. when entering a Coalition with the Conservatives).

    But we didn’t. There is no reference to this ‘fight’ in David Laws’ insider’s account of the negotiations, “22 Days in May”. Had there been, it would have been there.

    We could have said to the Conservatives. “Because of this election pledge this is the one policy we cannot surrender. Ultimately, if we were to accept it, it would weaken the Coalition”. We did not say that, let alone fight for it.

    And we did not because the Leadership did not want the manifesto policy. It did not believe that the pledge was important tactically. Which they must now – with this apology – realise was wrong and has been one of a number of Perrier moments for the Party’s brand.

    No-one was sacked for the advice given. No-one resigned for the advice taken. That is the old politics, not the new.

    Nothing since then has done anything other than confirm that the party is led by the inexperienced, the rash and the misguided.

  • Richard Dean 19th Sep '12 - 7:00pm

    This is not an apology. It is an exhortation for people to be realistic at the upcoming conference. It will be used there as an argument against some of the less well thought out proposals made by delegates, and against the more costly proposals – along the lines that we must not commit ourselves to any future action that we have not fully costed in the context of budgetary constraints and the costs of other important policy initiatives. And really, it IS about time the LibDems subjected themselves to this kind of discipline. Without it, we’re not credible as a potential future government.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Sep '12 - 7:13pm

    @Paul Reynolds: ” An outward-looking party that addresses the things the public is concerned about, not a party which focuses only on its internal obsessions and policies which result from vested interests and single-issue pressure groups. I want to hear the Party’s reading of the problems faced by the population as a whole over the longer term and what we propose to do about them, in or out of Coalition.”

    You are right – we should be concerned about the whole country and look for Liberal Democrat solutions to these problems.

    However, the talk about listening to vested interests and pressure groups is language that Liberal Democrats should reject. Dividing people into ‘producer interests’ and ‘consumers’ – pretending that professional groups, public servants should be ignored in the national interest, is the politics of the Tory party.

    Considering that the Liberal Democrats has a proud tradition of active membership from the public services and very few from corporate business and banking, I would say Nick Clegg would do well to listen to the hurt felt by public service workers, let down by the Health and Education policies, he is allowing the Tories to foist on the country.

    Listening and learning – that’s what I want to see from Nick Clegg next week.

  • Simon McGrath 19th Sep '12 - 7:17pm

    Excellent that nick has done this. But where does it leave him if Confernce votes to continue the policy and the FPC wants to put in the manifesto?
    He will have to do what he should have done in 2010 – threaten to resign if this absurd policy gets in.

  • Tony Dawson 19th Sep '12 - 7:22pm

    So, A Liberal Democrat Party Political Broadcast has to be wasted to attempt to restore the dire popularity of one man.

  • This is far too late but it is at least an apology.

    It does mean that finally those tribal types who have refused to accept the obvious can stop claiming the pledge was not broken.

    If this had come earlier I could have respected him for it, but let’s be honest this apology has only been made because the story would not go away.

  • The crime was breaking the pledge, not making it.

  • He is saying sorry for the wrong thing. He is effectively apologising for ‘not being able to keep the pledge’ when the truth is he choose not to keep the pledge because he didn’t think the young were enough of a political priority. The ‘baby boomer’ generation for example will get far more from the state than they contribute over their life times but come what may the government will be able to find enough money for them, ditto for the bankers.

    This government even changed the law so that you can’t retire people on the grounds of age, they were more concerned with that than their were with youth unemployment, it really is about political priorities and screw the young is the new political mantra.

    When they joined a collation with the Conservatives and broke their pledge on tuition fees the Lib Dems did three things –

    1. They totally alienated the young.
    2. They fractured their voter base.
    3. They united the centre left around the Labour Party.

    The last century in politics really belong to the Conservatives, they were in office for most of the 1900’s. The 2000’s will be Labour’s.

  • Paul in Twickenham 19th Sep '12 - 7:55pm

    The video on youtube currently (at 19:51 on Wednesday evening) has 223 “likes” and 296 “dislikes” from 304 views. That means that people have voted on whether they like the video without watching it. It’s actually worse than that, of course because you can “view” the video but need to be registered in some way to vote.

    So basically a lot of people have voted on the video without listening to its message. I suspect that this is what can also be expected at the election. People have made up their minds – they have decided that we lied. End of story. They won’t vote for us again because when Clegg speaks all they’ll hear is white noise.

  • Tony Dawson 19th Sep '12 - 7:57pm
  • paul barker 19th Sep '12 - 8:12pm

    I strongly believe that the people who should be apologising are the ones who pushed for the pledge in the first place. Not only was it a hostage to fortune, it was a deliberate appeal tp percieved self-interest in a group who were already sympathetic. Thats exactly the sort of politics we are here to replace.

    On the wider point of where we are as a party, we are in mid-term, just after the low point of the worst economic crisis in 80 years. Politicians are unpopular & those in government particularly so. However, Labour & UKIPs polling figures are inflated by protest at the general rotteness of things. Come march 2015 & the voters will begin to really think about how to vote, we have almost no idea which way they will jump although we can predict that they wont go for parties that seem divided, obsessed with the past or lacking in self-belief.

  • It’s good that he’s done it at last (I’m another one who’s banged on about the necessity for him to apologise for the past two years), but why now? To defuse the rumblings against the leadership that might have begun to surface at Conference? A signal that at the half way point of this government the leadership has started to develop some strategic insight? I recently re-read my submission to the Federal Executive the Saturday after the 2010 General Election: I could see at that time the problems that would arise for the party by going into coalition with the Tories so I would have thought that all those clever people that surround the leadership might have been able to come up with a coherent strategy to differentiate the party from the Tories while in government with them. Certainly for at least the first two years the portrayal of the party on “The Thick of It” as being the mouthpiece for all the bad things that the Tories were doing has the ring of truth about it.

  • @Paul in Twickenham

    Youtube doesn’t update views once it reaches 300 or so until the next day but does record likes and dislikes.

  • There are times I despair of Nick Clegg. Both the cunning wheeze of turning the student fees and loan into something like a graduate tax (but with a bonus for the very high earners) and now this (not quite an) apology. It all seems so dreadfully naïve.

    Sometimes you have to do the political thing, which would have been to leave well alone, admit that the money is not there at the moment and that the coalition partners are against removing fees. The fees then should have stood static as an emblem of what Labour has done for education. Yes there would be all sorts of HE funding problems and the system was dreadfully unfair on lower wage earners (£15000 – £20000), but politically it would have been OK.

    Of course hindsight is easier than foresight. However what I do foresee is that far too late the new scheme will be mourned: it is actually in many respects surprisingly generous and very expensive. my foresight is that a future government (Labour?) will scrap it and replace it with a scheme that makes it a real loan.

    Unfortunately this ‘apology’ is likely to draw attention to the fact that Nick Clegg is apologising for making the pledge not for doing something different. It will fuel suggestions that he always wanted to increase fees in the first place. I do not think this ‘apology’ will do him any good and has turned Lib Dem policy on HE funding into a mess.

  • Paul Barker writes
    “I strongly believe that the people who should be apologising are the ones who pushed for the pledge in the first place”

    Was it really so unreasonable? Many other European countries charge a small fraction of UK tuition fees. How do they do it? Come to think of it, how do we pay for schools and colleges? And why do we pay for them? Either a well educated population is beneficial for the whole society or it is not.

    The real problem for the Lib Dems is that the new system ensures the government (that means the people) are paying steeply for HE (even though it has, PPI like, been spirited off the balance sheets), but the Lib Dems are only getting vituperation instead of credit. – Not good!

  • “I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.”

    If Nick Clegg is now saying that even the pledge to vote against an increase in tuition fees was unaffordable, where on earth does that leave the party’s manifesto commitment to abolish them altogether – a pledge that we were assured at the time was fully costed?

    Apologising for not keeping a promise is one thing, but Clegg has contrived to apologise in such a way as to imply that the reason the problem arose in the first place is that he told a reckless lie to the electorate.

  • Keith Browning 19th Sep '12 - 9:12pm

    The comments on Facebook would indicate this has not gone down well. (understatement x 100 and counting)

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Sep '12 - 9:24pm

    Chris, our manifestos are renowned for being costed to within an inch of their lives. Vince Cable knew there would be no money, so he put together a programme which would work in a Liberal Democrat majority Government. We weren’t in that situation and so the money wasn’t there to fund keeping fees as they were.

    However, what we did do was bring in a system where those on the lowest incomes pay less than they did under the system brought in by Labour. Ok, there are massive clouds, but that’s one silver lining that the Liberal Democrats were responsible for delivering.

  • David from Ealing 19th Sep '12 - 9:27pm

    I often wonder whether Nick Clegg’s media people live in the real world.

  • Richard Swales 19th Sep '12 - 9:43pm

    The apology is bad because it is based on false premises. The Browne report system works on the basis that you pay more but over a much longer time, so the actual payments for the majority of graduates are less on monthly basis (but they pay many more months). For that reason the changeover actually increases the public sector borrowing requirement, because the new system has a lower take of funds per year, and it’s only much later on when there are more year-groups of graduates paying back their fees than there would be under the old system that the total repayment take is higher.

    So “we didn’t have the money in the short or medium term”, which is his implication, is entirely false.

    If it is about the long term finances then that is also not so clear given there is a massive off-balance sheet obligation to write off people’s loans when they reach 50.

    If his position is simply, “I don’t see this as something a Lib Dem government should do, because it is about helping people get a start at being successful in life and not about things like redistribution from hate-groups like bankers to the idle” then it might be an honest apology.

  • Richard Swales, you put it very well. This ‘apology’ is very muddle headed.

  • Richard Swales 19th Sep '12 - 9:52pm

    Thanks Martin, this is what really made me realize that “Centre-Left” politics is not about defending people like me.

  • liberal neil 19th Sep '12 - 10:04pm

    @paul barker Many of us happen to believe that Higher Education should be free to those who access it and funded from general taxation, as it was for decades , benefiting many of us. It is as affordable as politicians are willing to prioritise it, just like raising pensions or paying for nuclear weapons. Chances are the new system won’t actually save the Government nearly as much as they thought it would anyway.

  • It would be nice to hear an apology for the very Illiberal assault on the poor and the disabled.

    This government has recognised that child poverty is on the rise and excuse it as being acceptable because of the deficit and times of austerity. (doesn’t the Liberal Democrat constitution state that no one would be enslaved by poverty)

    The party trumpets the success of the Pupil Premium, when
    A) We know the money is not being spent where it is intended and is being used to replace the cuts in schools budgets
    B) Whilst those on welfare are being vilified and stigmatised by this government and the media, the party are reliant on parents claiming free school meals in order for the policy to work. I would suggest that there are many parents out there who refuse to put their children through the risk of being tormented fuelled by this government, despite the fact that they are suffering from hardship.

    The cuts to welfare and disability are having far more than a financial cost to this country, there is a human cost with those who can no longer face the pressure and isolation from society and resort to suicide, something that we as a country should be ashamed of.

    Save the Children whose charity is normally associated with the plight of those in Africa are having to step in for the first time for the Children in the U.K (that is also something that this government, Especially this party, and the country as a whole should be ashamed of)

    The poor and vulnerable are on their knees in this country and yet MP’s expenses are on the increase, They are arguing with HMRC on their tax breaks, believing they should be able to hire accountants to fill out their parliamentary expenses. the restaurants in the House of commons are already subsidised by the Tax payer in the first instance and then we pay a second time through MP’s expenses who are able to claim a daily food allowance. (This is at the same time as we have children in our country going to school hungry and parents admitting to skipping meals themselves to ensure food for their children)

    Nick Clegg, You have a lot to apologise for already and this PBB comes nowhere near close to it.

    If this is what it means to be a libdem then……………………………………. the sentence really isn’t worth finishing

  • Grammar Police 19th Sep '12 - 10:24pm

    @Furious Lib Dem
    You may have noticed, we’re not implementing a Lib Dem budget . . . (but I see your point, it’s more subtle – in coalition, there would be no money for it).

  • Caron

    Nick Clegg says in that video:
    “I shouldn’t have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around.”

    The “policy” he is talking about is the pledge to vote against raising fees. You’re saying there would have been enough money around to abolish tuition fees altogether if only the Lib Dems had been in government alone, but as they were in coalition with the Tories there wasn’t even enough money to maintain the status quo – and tuition fees had to be trebled.

    I’m sorry, but it makes no sense at all to me.

  • It was right to (belatedly) apologise. It was wrong to do it in a boastful way!

    Nick says aggressively and forcefully “You’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And that’s what we will do.”

    No Nick. The boast makes the apology sound insincere and meaningless.

    Nick says: “When we’re wrong we hold our hands up. But when we’re right we hold our heads up too. We were right….”

    That’s an apology for an apology. We have a leader who can’t even say sorry properly!

  • On reflection, I feel that this ‘apology’ is the clearest indication yet that Nick Clegg is likely to step down and move aside, before 2015 election. It is almost as though the strategy is to suck in opprobrium on Nick Clegg, so as to give his successor a freer run.

  • David from Ealing – I wonder whether Nick Clegg himself lives in the real world. To be a successful politician you do have to share some feelings and realities with the majority.

  • Peter Watson 19th Sep '12 - 11:58pm

    At least this party political broadcast had less litter than the big one before the last election, though Clegg’s message seems to have changed from “No more broken promises” to “No more promises”.
    Also, if Clegg is apologising for making a promise that couldn’t be kept, should some of his colleagues be apologising for keeping the promise that shouldn’t have been made?
    I’m confused, but now get the impression that Clegg has made his choice and admitted to incompetence rather than lack of principle. Is that a better sort of leader?

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Sep '12 - 12:34am

    @matt: Brilliant post. I agree with every word you write. The majority of MPs of all parties and those who live in the Westminster village have no idea of the scale of poverty right now, or how tight things are even for many formerly comfortable middle-class families. Nor do they understand how harmful their policies are on the most vulnerable and those least able to defend themselves…and the cuts are nowhere near fully implemented.

    @Paul in Twickenham: “People have made up their minds – they have decided that we lied. End of story. They won’t vote for us again because when Clegg speaks all they’ll hear is white noise.”

    Which is why we need a new leader ASAP. The public (and many lapsed members such as myself) will never trust the party again until Clegg, Laws and the rest of our current “leaders” are gone.

  • George Howard 20th Sep '12 - 12:59am

    I am afraid too late. I have twin boys who just started university this weekend. They will leave in 3/4 years with debts of over £100.000. We will also have to subsidise their food costs etc of several hundred pounds per month. It will be no surprise to learn that they will never vote Lib Dem due to the broken promises. Indeed many of their friends are of similar mind. As a lib dem councillor I too have lost much faith in our leader and his cronies. It is a downward spiral when you lose the trust of the electorate. What was the point in giving away this in favour of having the disastrous AV vote!!!!!!!!which even at the time clearly had little support across the country. Lib dems need to get their act together to be successful. The house of Lords reform another disaster. Nick Clegg what a looser.

  • Bill le Breton 20th Sep '12 - 7:38am

    This ‘strategy’ of apology, dramatically reversing the Leader’s refusal to apologize of a year ago, was shared with the Parliamentary Party earlier in the week, so we can assume it was properly planned and prepared … or can we?

    Did anyone carry out a role-play exercise to try to anticipate how the statement would play out? Who played Labour? Who played Paxman? Who played ‘the Party’. Who played the student? Who played the missing 4 million?

    Such an exercise might have prevented another ‘blunder from the bunker’.

    Within six hours the initiative had removed the possibility of the Party ‘promising’ anything in the future. For the foreseeable future none of our spokespeople will be able to say ‘this is a costed programme’. This is effectively to un-sex a political movement.

    And it has screwed Vince Cable, which whatever your view of him, is to waste an asset in a senseless, selfish and speculative venture across ‘no man’s land’.

    We are still lions led by donkeys.

  • “Also, if Clegg is apologising for making a promise that couldn’t be kept, should some of his colleagues be apologising for keeping the promise that shouldn’t have been made?”

    Or even for keeping the promise that couldn’t be kept? It really is puzzling.

  • I never thought I would say this – and there is more to do – but I forgive Nick Clegg.
    But not the man who led him astray – who has single-handedly lost us millions of middle-class voters through his unworkable mansion tax and policy of extending means-testing to child, disability and pensioner benefits, and now admits he planned to increase tuition fees all along – Vince must go .

  • Richard Shaw 20th Sep '12 - 8:52am

    @ Bill le Breton

    I disagree. Judging by some of the comments above, we are donkeys led by donkeys.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Sep '12 - 9:05am

    When I got the email “from Nick”, headed “No easy way to say this…” I thought for a brief moment that he was announcing his resignation in the face of the intense criticism of recent days. Somewhat to my surprise, my heart leapt — well, gave a small convulsion of pleasure, anyway — before I realised just how improbable that was. And I had thought I just didn’t care any more…

  • Richard Shaw – explain, please!

  • Some of our so-called supporters are never happier than when criticising the party and Nick Clegg. The total inability of some of our members to go forward will be the main factor in making our performance at the next election poorer than it could be.

    We should not have made the pledge. I was browbeaten into it against my better judgement. It was an albatross around our necks before the ink was dry. It was a pledge that could only have been offered by a party that thought it wasn’t going into government.

    Yes, the apology is too late, but it’s now been made and we have to move on.

    I despair of those purists who have never made any mistakes.

  • “It was a pledge that could only have been offered by a party that thought it wasn’t going into government.”

    Obviously it can’t be said often enough. The pledge wasn’t offered by the party. It was organised by the NUS and signed as a personal promise by candidates of all parties (even including a few Tories).

    Admittedly Nick Clegg seems to think of it as a Lib Dem policy, but perhaps that’s because the party did, as you say, “browbeat” some unwilling candidates into signing it.

  • Mack(Not a LIbDem) 20th Sep '12 - 9:53am

    Ed Miliband apologised for Iraq. Does that mean that for Liberal Democrats Iraq didn’t happen? That it didn’t matter? So why should the Liberal Democrats assume that now Clegg has apologised for breaking the pledge on tuition fees the rest of us will think that the pledge didn’t happen and that it didn’t matter? Nick Clegg has apologised for making the pledge in the first place; not for breaking his pledge but for the fact that he and the Liberal Democrats made it in the first place when they knew they couldn’t afford it. How cynical! And surely an admission of complete incompetence. The Liberal Democrat pledge on tuition fees was not just a manifesto commitment: it was a pledge. Manifesto commitments are signposts: pledges are destinations. The Liberal Democrats introduced the language of chivalry into the last election so it is appropriate to continue it here. The Liberal Democrats gave their word of honour, as good as an oath, and broke it.. They did so to garner the votes of students in university towns who were disillusioned with Labour. Without the pledge the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t have the number of MPs they do. That’s why breaking it was so despicable and why, no matter how many apologies they make, they will not be forgiven. Juxtapose Clegg’s apology video with the 2010 General Election video he made walking through streets of torn up promises and promising that the Lib Dems would end boken promises and you want to reach for the sick bucket. Why should anyone trust the Liberal Democrats again?

  • From the BBC…
    “Education minister David Laws told Radio 4’s Today it would have been “technically possible” to keep the fees pledge and ultimately scrap them but only if the Lib Dems had been governing on their own and ditched other key commitments such as support for disadvantaged pupils and tax breaks for the low paid.”

    And yet again a Lib Dem Minister tries to perpetuate the myth that the pledge and party policy were one and the same thing. There is no need to conflate the two, the manifesto can only be implemented in full in a majority Government, people get that and always have. The personal pledge taken by Laws and others (and accepted by Cable as being an attempt to woo the student vote) should have indicated a red line irrespective of the makeup of the Government. In fact there would be no need to even consider the ramifications of the pledge in a majority Lib Dem Government as the stated policy exceeded the requirements of it…

    Which brings me to the next point. Do we now need an apology for stating the Manifesto was fully costed ?

    I ask this as Laws states that the tuition fees policy could only have been implemented (in majority Government) at the expense of other key policies such as the pupil premium and higher tax thresholds. If it was fully costed then this surely would not have been the case…

  • @Mickft
    “Yes, the apology is too late, but it’s now been made and we have to move on.
    I despair of those purists who have never made any mistakes.”

    Except it is an apology with too many caveats, the apology is for making the pledge, not breaking it. A pretty key difference. And then there is the admission by Cable, Alexander and Laws that the policy could not have been afforded. If the leadership made a pledge in good faith and broke it that it bad. But making it in bad faith to woo extra votes, that’s pure Tony Blair and the very politics the 2010 campaign was meant to be against.

  • There should certainly be an apology from the leadership for accepting too easily the economic analysis thrust at them in May 2010 by the Tories and the Guv of the BoE. That’s where it all went wrong. We didn’t fight the election on that policy, much as Clegg, Laws and Alexander might have liked to.

    Acceptance of the policy of raising the income tax threshold was, of course, a Trojan horse, for two reasons –
    1 It reduced the overall tax take, and
    2 It subtly further undermines the “we’re all in this together” vibe, allowing better off people to feel that they are the ones paying for the less well off’s spending. In a modern educated society we should as liberals and social democrats be doing all we can to end the class system, not subtly reinforce it!

  • @ Steve Way

    “Which brings me to the next point. Do we now need an apology for stating the Manifesto was fully costed ?I ask this as Laws states that the tuition fees policy could only have been implemented (in majority Government) at the expense of other key policies such as the pupil premium and higher tax thresholds. If it was fully costed then this surely would not have been the case…”

    You’re missing the point that all these policies were costed as a Liberal Democrat budget package. The Coalition budget is not the same thing, because the Tories were able to dictate the overall funding envelope. I don’t see why this is such a hard concept to grasp.

    As for Nick’s message, I think it was exactly the right one, but delivered at TOTALLY the wrong time. The fact that he is doing this now, at long last, rather than in autumn 2010 when he should have done it has left it to fester and undermines the sincerity of his message. Our leader has a tin ear for the needs of political stage management and has made a major strategic error here.

    That said, the mood of the public at the moment is at once vengeful and illogical. Basically, anyone who says they can’t have money spent on lots of nice things is suddenly the worst person in the world. Meanwhile, anyone who dishonestly pretends there is some money tree and “if only the government would spend more everything would be fine” is rewarded with hugely high poll ratings. Our vote in 2010 was partly built on promises of “lots of nice stuff for free” and now we are reaping the reward.

  • The Paxman interview of Cable lat night was pretty appalling. I despair of Paxo sometimes – how on earth he is still regarded as a top interviewer I’ll never know, with so many prejudices showing when he interviews top politicians. He challenged Cable numerous times about the pledge being “unaffordable”, when what Cable was trying to say was that it could be afforded, but at the expense of other things. Cable didn’t insist on this, which he should have done. Paxman’s main fault then showed itself, to persist with his own assumptions even after an interviewee has corrected him. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it!

    I cannot see why if we considered it to be a party pledge, we could not just have said to the Tories – “we will be oting against increase in fees, and done it. If Tories and Labour had gone the other way, our votes would not have won anyway. And then for payroll vote to vote for… words fail me!

  • seems as though this Party Political Broadcast is not going down very well with the people.

    So far 91% of people are not convinced by the apology

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2012/sep/19/nick-clegg-tuition-fees-apology-are-you-convinced

  • And, RC, it is because you and others have sold that economic message, much criticised by many economists, that we are in the position we are. Our economic position was not as painted in May 2010 – it’s pretty bad now, but it needs additional public spending, not cuts.

  • Simon Hebditch 20th Sep '12 - 10:29am

    Steve Way

    I agree entirely – the apology was about the wrong thing as well as being too late. All it has led to is the replay of all the old damaging coverage. We know that elements of the current leadership were against the policy before the election. That makes the pledge even more difficult to understand. Either there “no money” and we shouldn’t have made an open ended pledge or there were some resources available and we failed to insist on the policy in terms of coalition negotiations.

    Anyway, it is the usual mess from the Lib Dem leadership. Are we going to put up with it for ever? Where are the party’s red lines, if any? So we have an unholy mess as far as the present coalition is concerned and Malcolm Bruce has the gall to say that no discussions or work should be done to see if a potential agreement could be made some time with Labour.

  • @matt – Yeah, because that’s *such* a scientific poll

  • @stuart

    Nobody said said anything about it being a scientific poll, however it is an opinion poll of readers of the guardian.

    And considering the Guardian used to be the Liberal Democrats most avid supporter, especially during the 2010 election, I would have thought that the readerships opinions would matter and should be taken seriously

  • @RC
    “You’re missing the point that all these policies were costed as a Liberal Democrat budget package. The Coalition budget is not the same thing, because the Tories were able to dictate the overall funding envelope. I don’t see why this is such a hard concept to grasp.”

    No I think you may be missing the point. Laws is quoted on the BBC Web Site as saying it could only have been met if there were a majority Lib Dem Government AND other promises were let slip.. Yes the coalition budget is a different thing but that is not what the quote I included stated. If the quote is wrong then blame the BBC but as it stands Laws is saying the manifesto could not have been implemented in full.

  • David Pollard 20th Sep '12 - 11:06am

    Bloody marvellous! Well done Nick. Its onward and upwards from now on!

  • Bill le Breton 20th Sep '12 - 11:07am

    Surely the ‘no money available’ for the pledge or the ‘it would have meant cutting something else’ arguments are specious as well as tactically insane.

    Specious, because negotiations took place about a spending programme from May 2010 to March 31st 2015. No Parliament can commit a future Parliament.

    First payment from Government to Universities under this scheme is now, October 2012. First possible repayment by an October 2012 entrant will be some time after graduation in June 2015.

    The policy has not affected the cash flow at all. It has no doubt shifted some borrowing artificially off the balance sheet.

    It was a piece of political will on behalf of the leadership in definance, Chris, of the FPC and Conference.

    Read Laws, there were no negotiations over the issue of our pledge (wise or otherwise). It was agreed that Browne should continue with his report and that a solution other than our pledge would be worked up.

    It has done huge damage (now admitted by Clegg). It alienated the mass of students (our reservoir of future activists) and compounded the impression given to 4 million of our former supporters in the Rose Garden love-in and in other decisions that we solded out to the Tories.

    Insane: By now saying that this issue was ‘not realistically costed’ we have surrendered any ability to promote with any credibility for the foreseeable future any policy as ‘costed’ and viable.

    That is a huge political price to pay. It makes us powerless to promote any position that is not first put forward and ‘costed’ by other parties. It makes us lobby fodder and who will waste their vote on that?

  • Pull the other one, Nick:

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

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nick-clegg-there-is-no-future-for-us-as-leftwing-rivals-to-labour-2082689.html

    I didn’t just jump on the post-Iraq or tuition fees bandwagon – I’d identified as LD since before I could vote, and voted accordingly. Never again.

  • Nigel Ashton 20th Sep '12 - 11:27am

    My problem with this is that Nick never believed in the Party’s tuition fees policy in the first place, as evidenced by the repeated (unsuccessful) attempts by the Leadership to get Conference to dump the policy.

  • All in all a dreadful mess. The web is already full of video’s of Nick’s speech with subtitles and being set to music. The problem is – and I voted Lib Dem – they are funny and make Nick look silly. He looks like a lost little boy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Sep '12 - 11:46am

    Chris

    The “policy” he is talking about is the pledge to vote against raising fees. You’re saying there would have been enough money around to abolish tuition fees altogether if only the Lib Dems had been in government alone, but as they were in coalition with the Tories there wasn’t even enough money to maintain the status quo – and tuition fees had to be trebled.

    It makes perfect sense to me – the money is around, but the Tories aren’t willing to consider the tax rises necessary to collect it.

    One important thing that seems to be getting forgotten here is that the tuition fees cover the full real cost of university education. If they were not there at the current level, that cost would have to be paid in some other way. If by government borrowing, the cost would STILL have to be paid by the next generation in paying off that borrowing. Actually, of course, it really is government borrowing, and since the repayment isn’t under standard loan conditions and must only be paid by those who earn enough to pay it, it’s really a future graduate tax.

    My own preference would be some sort of tax on wealth or property or maybe much higher inheritance tax to pay for it – the general principle being to rebalance the wealth gap between the property-owning old and the young. It seems to me to be quite fair to say “OK, here’s how we could pay it”, and see how many are still with us after that. I rather predict a slinking away of young protesters from well-heeled backgrounds who aren’t prepared to go THAT far, not getting their big dollop of cash they were expecting, or getting from their grandparents, when it comes to tuition fees.

    It seems to me to be somewhat strange to moan about the debt burden placed on youth by tuition fees, but stay silent on the much bigger debt burden placed on them should they wish to buy a place to live. What was the average rise in the price of a first-time buyer’s property over the period of the last Labour government? I suspect rather more than £27,000. Why is this not just as much an outrage?

    So, when Clegg is attacked by Labour for his position on tuition fees, a simple reply is needed “OK, how would YOU pay for university education?”. Unless they can answer that question – and they haven’t – they have no right to make the attack. To accuse someone of being a bad person for making a particular decision without stating what you think the alternative and to your mind better decision would have been is to my mind morally indefensible. I’m not asking for a fully-worked out alternative, just for an indication (in the way I have given an indication) of what the alternative might be. I’m sorry if this is a distasteful analogy (I have been struggling to think of another one that is as striking but not quite as distasteful) but accusing someone of being a bad person because of a decision they made, while by your silence on what else they could have done implicitly admitting they were trapped because there was no alternative, is a bit like accusing someone who was raped of being immoral.

  • Richard Swales 20th Sep '12 - 11:56am

    @Bill Le Bretton,

    That’s right, and what’s more, those new-system payments from June 2015 are actually lower, because the new system involves making lower payments but over a much longer time. It is only after the point sometime in the middle of the next decade, when you have several year-groups still paying who would have already finished had the old system remained in place that the new system is bringing in more money. Even long-term (because the government is going to be writing off a lot of 9000 pound per year fee-loans when the students hit 50, whereas before we didn’t spend that much on higher education) it is not that clear if it is better.

    So “the money wasn’t there” is totally false.

    The left tells me that I have obligations to others, and others have obligations to me. The right tells me that I don’t have obligations to others and others don’t have obligations to me. Removing the student fees policy leaves the Lib Dems in the centre trying to argue that some fortunate people have obligations to other people, but when they need it themselves (i.e. when they are young and studying to be successful later on) they don’t have a right to anything. It’s kind of like socialism without a social contract.

  • @ Ray North

    ” I find it absolutely baffling that the party went into the election of 2010 with policies that they actually didn’t believe they could afford.”

    They DID believe they could afford them, based on the funding limits the Liberal Democrats would have adopted under their own budget. But they weren’t dealing with a Liberal Democrat budget, they were dealing with one where the Conservatives had the upper hand, so tax rises like increasing capital gains tax to 40% were not included.

    There is no mystery about why this policy change came about. It really is very simple. The pity is that Clegg didn’t explain this at the time with clear figures attached, so now we even have otherwise apparently well informed people who struggle to grasp the reason why it happened.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 20th Sep '12 - 12:17pm

    @Matt
    “seems as though this Party Political Broadcast is not going down very well with the people.
    So far 91% of people are not convinced by the apology”

    Yes. I suggest that the only apology for the Lib Dem’s broken pledge that the public would regard as acceptable and sincere would be for Clegg to fall on his sword and for the party to withdraw from the Coalition. The Orange Bookers could then retreat to their natural home — which is the Tory party.

  • @Tim13
    “And, RC, it is because you and others have sold that economic message, much criticised by many economists, that we are in the position we are. Our economic position was not as painted in May 2010 – it’s pretty bad now, but it needs additional public spending, not cuts.”

    Ah, yet again the fatal error of saying the economy isn’t growing because of the cuts. The last quarter’s GDP figures show this simply isn’t the case. It is net exports which are dragging down GDP, not government spending. They knocked a full 1.0 percentage point off growth, taking us down to -0.5%.

    Sorry but the figures simply do not back your argument up.

  • @ Steve Way

    “No I think you may be missing the point. Laws is quoted on the BBC Web Site as saying it could only have been met if there were a majority Lib Dem Government AND other promises were let slip..”

    IF the quote is correct, then it means they got their sums wrong. If the quote is correct. But I don’t think that is what he is saying.

  • Giselle Williams 20th Sep '12 - 12:39pm

    David 19th Sep ’12 – 7:27pm
    “The ‘baby boomer’ generation for example will get far more from the state than they contribute over their life times but come what may the government will be able to find enough money for them …”.
    Don’t know how old you are David, nor how many years you have worked. I’m 65 now. Started work at 17 and finished at 64 through ill health. My income is under £9,235 pa before tax and only goes up with State Pension increases – although I’m actually worse off now than I was two years’ ago because of increasing fuel costs, etc.
    I find the description “Baby Boomers” and your attack on them quite distasteful. Could you possibly find another manner of attacking me please?
    On Clegg’s apology – it’s sticking in his throat and he’s not apologising for continuing to talk about the pledge long after it was agreed to be a lie. So, loser, from my point of view. I would sooner he had apologised for his lie (and Shirley Williams’ lie) that “the NHS in England is not being privatised”.

  • After speaking to Mark Pack this afternoon, I was very concerned that a robust point I was making was ‘moderated-out’ yesterday. Free speech was ignored.

    The point I tried to make was that as Nick Clegg deliberately lied to the electorate, almost definitely gained seats because of the student vote, and left poor Vince to take the flack on Newsnight…Is he a Man or a Mouse? Should he be left as party leader and should we have a downright liar in Governement?

  • @Simon Bamonte & matt re disabled / ATOS – well said !

    Surely Clegg doesn’t think he can waste money producing this ‘apology’ & expect the public to say ”aww bless, that’s nice, he’s such a nice man” then forgive him / libdems for not only agreeing with the increase but actively voting for it ?

    I voted LD because I believed they were the most honest, least corrupt (that was before I knew what David Laws had done) & had the interests of the public at their core.

    How wrong I was !

    How about an apology Nick for:

    voting in favour of the NHS reforms & forgetting to say no Dave, you promised to reduce the deficit, not the NHS. You even had an MP at the TUC NHS rally that didn’t agree with the reforms but npe, through the yes lobby you all trooped.

    voting in favour of the welfare bill despite knowing that thousands of disabled people will lose their benefit – are you proud of that ?

    voting to reduce the number of staff in the emergency services – even more poignant in the light of the deaths of 2 WPCs this week

    voting to let millionaires keep 5% extra tax whilst voting to increase VAT to 20% for everyone – even the poorest

    sitting back & doing nothing while food banks are cropping up all over the country because people cannot afford to buy food – even some people in work at referred to them.

    refusing to say no to the wasteful expense of replacing trident – wasn’t that a manifesto pledge (oops, there’s that word again !)

    I could go on but you get my drift.

    Never have I felt so betrayed.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th Sep '12 - 12:53pm

    “I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.”

    So in future any pledge from the LibDems will have to be prefixed by providing we win an overall majority. Which given that such event is pretty unlikley is bound to raise the question what is being offered by the LibDems should they go into coalition. The basic deceit of Clegg and his cohorts is that expect to be given a blank cheque to do whatever they think fit should they get into government.

    The Coalition Agreement quite clearly allow LibDem MPs to abstain on fees most didn’t – if they had done so rather than support the measures (or oppose the measures as per their election pledge) then Clegg and the LibDems wouldn’t be in such low public esteem, Nick Clegg a leader? I don’t think so – I think you will find that as on House of Lords and Electoral Reform he has only made things worse. The bigger and more importtant deceit on the timing of defict reduction where Clegg admitted that he changed his own personal views during the course of the election (but failed to tell the electorate) has of course yet to be apologised for.

  • I can see what he is trying to do, but…….
    Maybe he should have just held up a photo of David Cameron and said “I’m sorry I’m only doing John Prescott’s old job , he makes the decisions “. As it stands. this is the Lib Dem leader trying to look more central to government policy than he is and as a result ends up as the whipping boy. I honestly think that the lib Dem’s need to stop acting like the coalition is a partnership of equals and repeat this message or pull the plug. Coz as far as I can see. if there’s bad news Clegg is pushed forward to take the flak and the Lib Dems end up diminished every time.
    Really, you need a new leader and some distance from the Conservative Party.

  • Kris King. Your piece is spot on. I find myself agreeing with you. It is a genuine pity because things need not have gotten this bad for the LibDems.

  • George Miles 20th Sep '12 - 1:22pm

    Nick Clegg Says Sorry (The Autotune Remix)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KUDjRZ30SNo
    made me smile!

    The other big mistake was assuming Cleggmania would last up to the vote on AV so minority votes for Greens, Libs etc are not wasted.

  • @RC

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mqq92

    Listen from 2:22 onwards. He states that if the Lib Dems had won 500 seats, and if they had dropped the pupil premium and raised taxes then the policy could technically have been implemented.

    Not quite what the Manifesto said…..

    Either this supposed huge intellect got himself tied up in knots or he is admitting the manifesto could not have been implemented in full with 500 MP’s. The whole interview is disingenuous as it again conflates policy with a direct personal pledge.

  • This whole debate is utterly ridiculous. It has been preconditioned by the trashing Clegg has been subjected to constantly since the first leadership debate in 2010. He has been scapegoated for every single problem the country has, simply because that is how the culture of two party political bullying in this country works. Sadly, many Lib Dems here seem to be giving in to that prevailing group think.

    Any other Lib Dem leader would have had to compromise as part of a Coalition and any other Lib Dem leader, entering government at a time of massive budgetary deficits and economic crisis would have had to make difficult decisions. Lots of us seem to have lost touch with that reality in a fit of 20/20 hindsight.

  • RC – We haven’t lost touch with reality, we are just very disappointed. Don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in a political party.

  • Keith Browning 20th Sep '12 - 3:12pm

    I think this version is nearer the mark.

  • @ Malc

    “We haven’t lost touch with reality, we are just very disappointed. Don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in a political party.”

    Lots of people are disappointed that we can’t pay for things we hoped we could and that the underlying condition of the UK economy is more broken than we ever believed possible. That doesn’t mean the Liberal Democrats should be made to carry the can for it, does it?

  • SURESH CHAUHAN 20th Sep '12 - 4:18pm

    I think Clegg and his team are attempting a white wash.
    Firstly, on tuition fees, it was made clear to everybody that the manifesto was carefully costed and that, removing/reducing tuition fees was not only a firm policy, It was a public pledge. Is he now saying that the costings had not been done properly?
    Far worse,is Clegg’s dismal support for the Tories wholesale change to our NHS inspite of the fact that such reorganisation was not in the coalition agreement. He had every chance to halt support to the Bill but he and his team railroaded all the constructive opposition to the changes, within the party.
    People will site these two areas where Clegg let us down. Only when he has disappeared from the leadership will many contemplate supporting the Party.

  • RC – If you had asked any member of the general public before the general election what the Lib Dems stood for you would have been told PR and scrapping tuition fees. If you asked now we would be known as the party that lied about tuition fees. Are you saying that Nick Clegg had no idea how bad the economy was in 2010. Had he not been watching the news for the previous 3 years, had he never heard of Lehman Brothers? What exactly did we get out of this coalition except ministerial posts, because we certainly haven’t had any Lib Dem policies.

    Suresh – Good points.

  • @RC

    I don’t understand how at 20th Sep ’12 – 12:23pm your post attempts to try and defend laws and take a different understanding of his comments.
    Then @ Steve Way 20th Sep ’12 – 2:34pm. posts the link to the interview so you can see exactly what he said.
    There is no way of spinning his comments to support your previous statement and so at
    RC 20th Sep ’12 – 2:57pm
    You totally disengage with your conversation with Steve and instead your response post says “This whole debate is utterly ridiculous. It has been preconditioned by the trashing Clegg has been subjected to constantly since the first leadership debate in 2010. He has been scapegoated for every single problem the country has, simply because that is how the culture of two party political bullying in this country works.”

    I personally think this is classic behaviour of most of the party which is getting them into trouble and causing abysmal poll ratings and seeing it’s supporters leave on mass.

    You can not expect to use bread and water to stick things together and hope it will last, if you catch my drift

  • Interesting that embedding has been disabled on the “No more broken promises” video on YouTube. I suppose it would be a little inconvenient if they were seen side by side . . .

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Sep '12 - 5:36pm

    Richard Swales

    Even long-term (because the government is going to be writing off a lot of 9000 pound per year fee-loans when the students hit 50, whereas before we didn’t spend that much on higher education) it is not that clear if it is better.

    Er, yes we did. This isn’t bringing in more money to the universities, it’s just replacing what used to be paid from money raised through taxes. Much of the debate on this issue is silly because it’s based on the notion that what the state pays for really is free, rather than the proceeds of taxation. I’ve even heard it argued “Oh, now we’re paying three times as much in fees, we should get three times as much in service from the university”. Er, no, not when we have had the grants we used to get for each student taken away. I’m not a supporter of full tuition fees, even when paid for by a loan system which is effectively a graduate tax, but when I hear this sort of naive line it does suggest to me there’s some benefit in bringing home to the students just what it really costs – or to put it another way, when they thought it was “free” maybe they didn’t appreciate it and so were more tempted to waste what was being given to them.

  • So where has Nick been for the last 6 months during Syria, banking meltdown, Health Service issues, Olympics, etc, etc. He doesn’t even have the cohonas to apologise in person. What a let down to the whole party. Get rid of him!

  • daft ha'p'orth 20th Sep '12 - 5:48pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    ‘when they thought it was “free” maybe they didn’t appreciate it and so were more tempted to waste what was being given to them.’

    And now they think they’re buying a qualification? Which I suppose is much better for academic standards? “I’m paying too much for you to let me fail” is something we’ll be hearing pretty often in future.

    As for Nick “Pledge, uh, Clegg’s” supposed apology — no, I will not accept his apology for having stated a clear intention, nor am I impressed by his vow never to state his/the party’s position clearly in future lest they be caught out by it. The solution to “No more broken promises” is not “No more promises”.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Sep '12 - 7:13pm

    The autotune version of Nick Clegg’s mea culpa is a much better watch. It’s cringe worthy stuff, from a Lib Dem point of view but at the same time, it’s very funny and very near the mark!

  • Richard Swales 20th Sep '12 - 7:31pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – then I stand corrected. My other points about the new system requiring more gilts to be sold in the short to medium term (because the students pay back slower) still stands though, The financial problems of the government in this decade are not a reason to change the system.

    I’m not a member any more but doesn’t anyone else care that a party political broadcast has been used to rubbish a Lib Dem policy?

  • Richard Swales 20th Sep '12 - 7:44pm

    @Matthew

    Wasn’t it originally expected (at least by the architects of the system) that the universities would set fees around 6000 pounds, as that was the typical cost up to that point and they would/could only charge 9000 in exceptional circumstances?

    (expecting to be corrected again)

  • Tony Dawson 20th Sep '12 - 8:15pm

    @toryboysnevergrowup :

    “I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.”

    Could we pre-book the apology for this absurd statement now? It is as insulting to the party as it is to the general public. It is not an apology at all. It is a deliberate aggressive attempt to rewrite history. We were totally clear, as a party, how we could keep this pledge. No, we didn’t know in advance that our relative failure in the 2010 general election would be mitigaged by a fluke opportunity to join a coalition. But there was no particular reason why participation in coalition required anyone to breach that pledge. There would just have to have been a different deal, possibly even a different type of ‘minimalist’ coalition – with no Rose Garden ‘love-in’.

    The apology which we have received is not at all the apology which the public wanted and should have received two years ago. It’s been an apology of an apology.

    The apology that was required was an apology for not retaining integrity on the pledge. Oh, and not being honest with that ‘You can trust us….we’re different’ party political broadcast. And the NHS deformation, and Academies… and the rest. 🙁

  • Richard Harris 20th Sep '12 - 9:53pm

    I can’t believe the party members are actually going to allow the broadcast to go ahead.

  • Julia Maddison 20th Sep '12 - 11:13pm

    My first comment here and I’ll try not to ramble!

    The apology seems sincere and heartfelt and I congratulate Nick on making it. I heard David Laws on R4 this morning and was concerned about the explanations offered and the attempts at explaining how the policy was to be paid for. I think it has to be said that we’re not in power and that both of the major parties wanted an increase so, as has been said before, we were rather outnumbered. I was also surprised that the policy not to renew Trident wasn’t cited as one way we could have paid for the phased reduction in fees so I think it was another lost opportunity.

    My biggest concern is the timing of this broadcast is frankly baffling. We got trashed in the last two rounds of local elections and we have PCC and County elections coming up so why stir up another fees debate now? It certainly wasn’t raised yesterday at Northampton Uni where I and two friends manned a stall (and gained three members!) There was one or two people who said that the current system seems fairer than the old too.

    If this was an attempt to lay the beast to rest it’s failed, If it was an attempt to start to rebuild credibility then that has failed to. We are again on the back foot as we approach elections and I can’t see any way that we wont get trashed again. The Tories and Labour must be rubbing their hands that we’re self destructing again and I don’t blame them. I do blame Nick for political naivety and as for PR advisors I have no idea what they are being paid to do.

    (BTW – loved the spoof on YouTube – made me howl! Still angry though)

  • “If this was an attempt to lay the beast to rest it’s failed …”

    Indeed. It’s become an Internet ‘meme’. Even now, Nick Clegg is reaching people in the world who hadn’t previously heard of him. Who said no publicity is bad publicity?

  • Talking of memes, I think this one is actually more percipient than the one that’s getting most of the airplay:

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '12 - 12:49am

    Richard Swales

    Wasn’t it originally expected (at least by the architects of the system) that the universities would set fees around 6000 pounds, as that was the typical cost up to that point and they would/could only charge 9000 in exceptional circumstances?

    Well, I work in a university, but I don’t make the budget. I’m just repeating what I’ve been told. I certainly don’t see any sign of 50% more money coming in to us. University pay has been almost at a standstill for years (or falling after inflation), and we’re being told to cut spending rather than throw it around because big money’s coming our way.

  • “Well, I work in a university, but I don’t make the budget. I’m just repeating what I’ve been told. I certainly don’t see any sign of 50% more money coming in to us”

    Of course net income wouldn’t increase by the same percentage as fees.

    But Browne estimated that the net income of universities would rise by 2% if fees averaged £7000 and by 10% if fees averaged £8000. Fees currently average about £8400. So that would be an increase of about 14%.
    http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/corporate/docs/s/10-1208-securing-sustainable-higher-education-browne-report.pdf

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '12 - 1:45am

    Mickft

    Some of our so-called supporters are never happier than when criticising the party and Nick Clegg. The total inability of some of our members to go forward will be the main factor in making our performance at the next election poorer than it could be.

    “Go forward”? Who decides what is “forward”? Well, if I were in a Leninist party, I know who it would be – forward is the direction The Leader says it is, and if next year The Leader says forward is the other direction, then so it is. But I am not in a Leninist party, at least I hope not. I am not in a party which believes it members must unquestionably accept “the party line” as given to them by The Leader.

    Look, Mickft, I’m prepared to defend quite a lot of what our party is doing in the coalition. I don’t like it one bit, but so far as I can see there still has been no clear response to the question “OK, what would YOU do?”. The Liberal Democrats did not win a majority of seats in the last election, they won fewer than one in ten. I find the argument that on that basis they ought to be able to implement everything that was in their manifesto to be absurd. Yet that argument is at the basis of all this “Nah nah nah nah nah, you LibDems are all liars” stuff. The fact is we were left with a Parliament where the Conservatives had five times as many MPs as us, and Labour did not have enough MPs for us and them to get together to form a government with a majority. Effectively, the Tories won and the LibDems were in the awkward position of having to be the ones who said “OK, we accept that”. There are enough MPs of all the other parties to vote against something if they all get together, but voting against is not the same as proposing an alternative. Trying to corral together Labour, the LibDems, the Welsh and Scots Nats, the Northern Irish MPs and come out with coherent policy isn’t going to work, is it? There is a simple lesson here – if you don’t want a Tory government, don’t vote Tory, and don;t vote Labour either because Labour support electoral distortion which in 2010 made a Tory government the only possibility. If the number of MPs each party had was in proportion to the number of votes it got, a Labour-LibDem coalition would have been viable. Labour oppose that – they would RATHER us have a Tory government.

    The awkward fact is that no other party was prepared to support what would be necessary to pay for university tuition entirely out of taxation. So isn’t there an obvious lesson here – if you want it vote for it. Not enough people wanted it enough to vote for it. Same goes for abolishing Trident (I am thinking of Kris King’s message of 12.41pm yesterday). We might want to do it, but the other parties won’t support it. So what to do? Isn’t it absurd to blame us for not getting it abolished when we have fewer than one in 10 MPs? Kris moans about all the cuts, I agree – but Kris, if you are reading, how would YOU pay for it? Not only that, but if you were leader of the Liberal Democrats, it’s not just how would you pay for it, but how would pay for it in a way that would get half of the 90% of MPs who are not Liberal Democrats to support you? This is reality, and I’m, afraid I have no time for “nah nah nah nah nah” politics, which moans at other but has no alternatives to suggest. The decision of the Liberal Democrats to do what is necessary to ensure the only stable government that could have arisen form the people’s votes and the distorted electoral system the people support was a horrible one to have to make, but what was the alternative? Given that no alternative stable government was possible, the LibDems were in a weak position, and could ask only for a moderation of essentially Tory policies – all they can really do is swing the balance against the Tory right-wing when the Tory party is evenly divided. Once again, if you don’t like that, don’t vote Tory, and don’t vote Labour who by their support of our distortional electoral system are the true proppers up of Tory domination.

    The tuition fees thing is a good example. It was just not possible to persuade the Tories to back LibDem policy on tuition fees. All that could be done was to let them go ahead with it, but get some assurances in such as the guarantee that loan repayments only have to be made if you earn enough. As I’ve said, if you didn’t do it this way, you’d still have to pay for universities in some other way, which would be higher taxation – paid for by those who earn enough to pay it. Well, if you want tax to be more skewed so the rich pay more – don’t vote Tory because the most basic Tory policy is not to tax the rich more, and don’t vote Labour for the reasons as given previously.

    So, back to the main point – I’m happy to argue all this, well not happy, but accepting of reality, so far as I can see I’m arguing for reality against fantasists. What REALLY bothers me is that in trying to defend this difficult position, all I see coming from Nick Clegg are lines that make it harder rather than easier. All this love-in stuff with the Tories, and exaggeration of the real influence that the LibDems have makes it seem we are positively endorsing Tory policy rather than grudgingly accepting it. I think Clegg is getting it wrong, wrong, wrong all the time – and ever since he was elected leader I’ve been painstakingly pointing out where he has gone wrong and what else he could have said and done that would have gone down better and explained our position better.

    Mickft, your line seems to be that I shouldn’t do this, instead I should keep my mouth shut and just obey Clegg as Our Great Leader, even though from my direct experience of campaigning in elections and just living alongside ordinary people I can see where I think we could be doing things in a different way that would get us more support. Well, I’m a democrat, and in my books that means supporting free speech for everyone, so the best ideas can come forward and people aren’t intimidated from proposing them by the thought “I’m not worthy, I must just obey my leader without question”. You clearly don’t agree with this – could you explain in more detail why not?

  • Richard Swales 21st Sep '12 - 6:03am

    @ Matthew

    Ok, thanks. My question is, do you think the universities are actually adding value as intermediaries between the students and the professors? I mean, if you (as a computer science lecturer) were to take a small group of say 10 students, each paying you 9000 pounds per year, then presumably even minus costs, your take home would be higherthan now, but also after 3 years (because of the greater contact time) wouldn’t the 10 students be better at comp sci?

  • Peter Watson 21st Sep '12 - 8:11am

    @Matthew Huntbach “The Liberal Democrats did not win a majority of seats in the last election, they won fewer than one in ten. I find the argument that on that basis they ought to be able to implement everything that was in their manifesto to be absurd.”
    Unfortunately, the public would be forgiven for thinking that the government has been implementing our Lib Dem policies based upon the way Clegg, Laws and Alexander come out enthusiatically to trumpet every tory policy. We might hope that behind the scenes our MPs are fighting their corner, but who knows? Watching parliamentary debates or PMQs, there’s not a cigarette paper between any of the gurning, baying faces on the Blue and Yellow benches.

  • Peter Watson 21st Sep '12 - 8:16am

    @Matthew Huntbach “Isn’t it absurd to blame us for not getting it abolished when we have fewer than one in 10 MPs?” Similar point to before: where is the evidence that our Lib Dem MPs have even tried? The tuition fees debacle showed that they were prepared openly to abandon pledges and manifesto policies, so how might they behave behind closed doors?

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 21st Sep '12 - 8:32am

    @richard Swales

    Your atomised notion of a busy bunch of private tuition lecturers who have converted the loft or spare room into a classroom is a canard.

    Indeed UK universities have never been more attractive or internationally competitive! Like it or not in the developed AND developing world ‘going to university’ is a badge of honour/ a rite of passage/ an labour market prerequisite. Students want the campus experience; to have ticked that activity off their bucket lists; students families want to know they are paying for an integrated package not so that their kids get instruction in a back room in the next street.

    Job opportunities for those leaving education at 16 or 18 barely resemble those available to equivalent age groups in previous decades- when I sat my A levels in the mid 80s there were a whole host of well paying and career path occupations open to 18 year olds which have evaporated in the last 10-15 years. Indeed it’s quite likely that within the next generation the *basic* requirement for a ‘good’ job will be a Masters degree where it once 25 years ago might have been A levels.

    The world has changed: get over it- and pay for it.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Sep '12 - 8:48am

    Peter Watson, true to form, is right. Size does not matter in a balanced political institution. It takes both sides (of whatever size) for a vote to go through. Through the House, through the Quad, through the appeals proceedure in Number 10. Through the two gentlemen at the top.

    In 1985 I was employed to advise the new County Council groups many of whom went into ‘balance’ for the first time. Andrew Stunell was advising the Districts.

    One of the star performing groups was a group of just 4 in Humberside in a council of 70 or so ISTR (yes, it had a County Council in those days).

    Negotiation is about linkage. You’d be surprised how little you have to ‘pay’ for support for your ideas when you know the baubles your ‘partner’ in a coalition wants/needs. It is about building support for your position ‘out side of the insitution and bringing that to lean on those negotiations. Literally dozens of Lib Dems with local gov experience know the game so you can bet our Leadership do too. THey give way when they want to give way. They give way because they support the tory proposition.

    Often the greatest gains came from groups that ‘drove from the backseat’ with the nominal driver (the larger group) not really knowing what was going on. But then you have to have a distinctive position. In most case we don’t have that at Westminster – because we have Cuckoos in our nest!

  • The number of MPs of the minority party is irrelevant in a coalition. Nothing can be passed without the consent of the handful, as demonstrated during the last coalition when the ulster unionist parties held so much power over John Major.

  • Taxi for Clegg…

  • Richard Swales 21st Sep '12 - 10:40am

    @Rob Sheffield.

    What you say is simply “other people think it is valuable” restated in lots of different ways, the implication being that I should have the same opinion without seeking further reasons. In fact, by admitting that many of the graduates do the same jobs as were done by school leavers in the past, you simply confirm to me (as an employer deciding whether to hire graduates only or to also include school-leavers) that the university hasn’t added any value beyond stamping its brand on something that was there already.

    As for the loft/spare bedroom point, I meant it more as a thought experiment; it is not likely to take off because of the lack of the certificate at the end, but you don’t challenge my basic point that the kids would learn more – certainly my own experience is that in my first year working as a programmer, in a room that would have been the spare bedroom before the building was converted from a townhouse to a shop, and then later to an office, I learnt far more than I had in the previous 3 years as a student.

    On the other hand If there were national “age 21” bachelor’s exams then this could be the best way to prepare for them rather than the campus experience, this would also allow for comparison between students from different unis.

  • “The world has changed: get over it- and pay for it.”

    But it does seem a bit sad that as a society we are indulging in such a monumental waste of resources, for no better reason than that it’s a “badge of honour/ a rite of passage” – particularly when we’re also being told “there is no money” for so many intrinsically worthwhile things.

    But I suppose you are right that the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. Certainly there’s no politician of any prominence willing to tell the electorate that little Johnny and Mary may not really derive any benefit from going to university for three years.

  • Victoria Lubbock 21st Sep '12 - 11:26am

    I agree with Matthew Huntbach’s comments and analysis – and particularly the fact that it’s getting increasingly difficult to defend the LibDem-in-power record. I’m afraid that , with his ‘apology’, Nick Clegg has, in my opinion, become even more of an election liability than he already was. The re-runs of his previous PPB make me cringe and most regrettably do nothing to dispel the public’s view that all politicians are hypocrites. We have alienated so many of our potential core supporters across so many policy areas that have seen us as a party, taking a fall-guy position for the Tories (NHS, Eduction, Climate change, Equalities etc). The most courageous thing we could – and maybe should – do now is withdraw from the Coalition and start to re-build with a return to our core values and principles … the so-called power we currently have as part of the Government, does not strike me as being worth the sacrifices we are having to make to these.

  • @Mickft

    “We should not have made the pledge. I was browbeaten into it against my better judgement.”

    Browbeaten by whom? This is a continual claim but one I’ve never seen any evidence for it. All I can say is that as a target seat agent I was not placed under any pressure to get my candidate to sign it (and nor was he). He did on my advice because the leadership had, it was in line with costed party policy and consistent with what we had done in government.

    If we are now not going to make any firm pledges at the next election – as some people are suggesting – then there is a danger that people will think what’s the point in voting for us

  • Richard Swales 21st Sep '12 - 11:45am

    Are there plans for a motion of censure against MPs who kept the pledge and voted for the unrealistic policy then? Other than laying the ground for that I can’t imagine what other purpose a party political trashing your own policy and half your own MPs could serve.

  • Meurig Williams 21st Sep '12 - 11:47am

    I have been singing “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry” ever since last night, and I’m afraid I won’t be the only voting rep still singing it when we get to Conference. Fair play to Nick for laughing with the rest of us and giving the proceeds to a children’s charity in Sheffield, but I’m afraid the whole episode highlights the point. When Nick Clegg says “I will never again….” why should anyone believe him? He broke his promise last time. Many backbenchers kept theirs and voted against. I don’t honestly see at present how Nick Clegg can lead the party into the next election, although he could remain deputy PM.

    I was disappointed also that no Minister exercised the option to abstain which I understand was in the coalition agreement. And David Laws’ assertion that all Lib Dem MPs should accept collective responsibility does not make sense, unless he means for the policy. The pledge was an individual, personal matter. Nobody was compelled to sign it.

    I am waiting for Conference to see if we have become de facto a party of the centre right, because a lot of social liberals have voted with their feet and left the party. As one of only two Lib Dems sharing a parish council chamber with 16 Tories I will not give them the satisfaction of seeing me leave the party during my term of office; but after that, I may have to think again.

  • Richard Harris 21st Sep '12 - 3:20pm

    I think this conference really is crunch time for the Lib Dems. If the media report the leadership being given a really hard time, if we see booing and slow hand claps from the members, if we get standing ovations from those that talk of leaving the government then they will have a fighting chance at the next GE. If, however, we see more of the ” we don’t like it, but, hey, we signed an agreement” stuff, then you’ll be defining yourselves as a centre-right party for many years to come.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Sep '12 - 3:32pm

    It’s a great time to be a Lib Dem. We lied to get the student vote, but apologised so that’s all sorted. We’re messing up the economy, the NHS, schools, exams, benefits, … but now we have a ripping new big idea to make up for all of that. Parents (and grandparents) can now have the opportunity to jeopardise their pensions in order to help the next generation rack up some extra personal debt (on top of their student loans, maybe). It’s just as well that this saying sorry lark is such terrific fun, because I think we’ll be doing it a lot.

  • As an outsider, may I offer one suggestion that hasn’t been picked up by any of the posters? Everybody, within and without the Liberal Democrats, KNEW that the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t get a majority. So every excuse for breaking the pledge that rests on Lib Dems being outnumbered in government comes across as nakedly cynical. If you are a minority party hoping at best for a hung parliament and a shot at coalition, which was ALWAYS the case, the assumption is that you go into that election with a set of promises you’re going to fight for. The Lib Dems didn’t fight for tuition fees – they dumped them like a rotten fish. That’s the problem. Voters know what the likely outcome of an election is and the idea that Lib Dems were ever going to get 500 MPs is arrant nonsense. The party knew what it was likely going to have to work with – and still kept a pledge it knew it was going to break. That’s what voters find unforgiveable.

  • Peter Watson 24th Sep '12 - 6:52pm

    Two points:
    1. Lib Dem MPs did not pledge to not raise fees: they pledged to vote against an increase. Voting costs nothing and is possible whether in government or opposition.
    2. Lib Dem MPs began to back away from the pledge before getting anywhere near government, when negotiating the coalition agreement which allowed them to abstain over implementation of Lord Browne’s then-unpublished report. They did not suddenly realise it was unaffordable when they saw the books.

    I am not at all impressed by Clegg’s apology which seems to be based upon an alternative history. Furthermore, Danny Alexander’s admission that he believed the manifesto commitment was unaffordable long before any pledges were signed suggests that making a pledge was not a mistake, it was a lie. Even Lord Steel has called it opportunistic.

    It has been fun laughing at Clegg’s apology and singing along, but there is a serious side. Clegg might have decided apparent incompetence is better than apparent dishonesty, but he still seems to exemplifying both. I am pretty fed up with what Lib Dem MPs have done with my vote and don’t think I’ll be giving them another.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Sep '12 - 10:54pm

    I live in a freezing flat, I rent a home from a housing trust, I have ice on the inside of the windows when it starts to get cold, no insulation, the property is old, my bills are more than I can afford.

    What am I, one of todays modern pensioners, I am 64 years of age, thought retirement meant time to myself to study and whatever. Not true, where are these homes that we keep hearing about? We have 10,000 plus on the waiting list, what else can I say. Modern Britain, I think.

    I ask how much longer have things to stay this way. By the way I live in the wealthy city of Bath.

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