Opinion: Labour’s cheap attacks on Clegg’s integrity reflect badly on them

Labour broadcast Shrinking manThe word appalling doesn’t even begin to cover Labour’s most recent campaign video. It’s a spiteful attack ad on the character of Nick Clegg, and in case you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. Feel free to grab something to vomit into beforehand.

I’m a 16 year old student, and I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013 for three reasons. I believe passionately that democracy in Britain is failing, and the Liberal Democrats are the only party that seek that cause with integrity. I couldn’t deal with Labour’s ridiculous opposition rhetoric, and I could see past the witch-hunt of Liberal Democrats which seeks to divert attention from uniquely well-rounded policy.

I’ve since been reassured in this party by our intolerance of UKIP’s lies, and our achievements in government,  on which we focus our attention instead of spending as much time as the other parties trying to attack a leader’s credibility. There’s a noble nature to our way of doing things. We don’t attack like savages, nor do we ignore like imbeciles, and in that way we are the true defenders of honest politics in Britain. “The Un-Credible Shrinking Man” is the polar opposite of that. It makes British politics out to be  a soap opera.

That’s not why I became interested in politics. I became interested in politics because in my heart I knew that it was a clear opportunity to make society fairer, something that Labour claim to be the true proponents of. And in many ways I should be the perfect Labour youth. I live in a working class area of London, I come from a humble family of first generation immigrants, and I sit roughly on the centre-left of the spectrum. But Labour have failed to appeal to both the ideological and behavioural expectations of a political party of the centre-left.

But whilst I applaud our respectful attitude towards politics, I can’t escape the feeling that a little more aggression has to be shown towards this kind of populist rubbish. To keep calm voices when we should be shouting is a recipe for decline, and shouting doesn’t mean attacking. We have to dispel these poisonous lies about Clegg’s integrity and Liberal Democrat inefficiency. We can only do this if we pick up the loudspeaker, and efficiently. Clegg looked most able to get his message across in the Farage debate when he began to sound like he wouldn’t stand for the lies. People like that, people want to see that.

I say these things because I want to see this party succeed, and I want this party to remain at the forefront of British politics. Without us, who would be the voice of electoral reform, constitutional reform, free but fair economics and the European Union? Imagine a world without the Liberal Democrats, where the sole non-eurosceptic party leader was Miliband, someone so scared of Farage that he could hardly share a couch with him on Andrew Marr?

The Liberal Democrats need to bite. It’s all well and good to silently tolerate ignorant bullies, but silence won’t let people know that the bullies need to be stopped. We cannot claim the moral high-ground unless we show people that it is ours.

I wish all Liberal Democrats engaged in campaigning up and down the country the best of luck!

 

* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.

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69 Comments

  • Charles Rothwell 12th May '14 - 2:34pm

    Fantastic, Guy.

    What you say is very inspiring indeed for people like me (far (far) more advanced in age than you!) and I think it is absolutely fantastic that someone of your age and background is so enthusiastic about the Liberal Democrats. There is a lot of despondency about at the moment (for obvious reasons) but reading your posting is a real tonic and deserves to be read as widely as possible, both within the Party and beyond!

    Re. your two main points, I agree entirely. Some people claim to have found Labour’s PPB ‘funny’ and ‘effective’. As I wrote on this site the day after it was broadcast, I in contrast found it to be among the most pathetic and useless five minutes of TV I have ever seen in my life. I could not really care less what it had to say about Clegg (I am sure he is more than able to defend himself and most people with an IQ in excess of their shoe size will see it for the complete infantile tripe it was). What really got me annoyed was that I think it was aimed at young people just slightly older than you (18-25 and probably disillusioned ex-Lib Dem voters) and that it treated them in a patronising, condescending and ignorant manner which I found very offensive but which spoke volumes about Labour’s arrogance/feeling it already ‘had the 2015 GE in the bag’. As regards, “trumpeting our Party’s successes from the rooftops”, undoubtedly the most effective “trumpeting” will be when it comes precisely from people like you, while it is also, of course, what all of us need to be doing as well. May I wish you every success and encouragement in continuing to do so for your part!

  • What a great post, thank you Guy you’re absolutely on the money 🙂

    As an ancient 36 year old who still thinks he’s 18, generally how are the Lib Dems percieved by you peer group? I deeply worry that the tuition fees debacle has killed support for the Lib Dems for a generation in 16-24 year olds, exactly the sort of age group I’d hope liberal and democratic ideals would appeal to .

  • “I’m a 16 year old student, and I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013 for three reasons. I believe passionately that democracy in Britain is failing, and the Liberal Democrats are the only party that seek that cause with integrity.”

    I genuinely don’t wish for this to sound patronising, but you were twelve years old when Nick Clegg signed the NUS tuition fees pledge. I’m not sure you fully appreciate the disillusionment that ensued.

    Though I’m not a Lib Dem myself, many seasoned Lib Dems who post on LDV would tell you that attacks on Nick Clegg’s integrity are entirely justified.

    “…on which we focus our attention instead of spending as much time as the other parties trying to attack a leader’s credibility. There’s a noble nature to our way of doing things…”

    For over ten years I’ve been listening to Lib Dems calling Tony Blair a liar and a war criminal on a regular basis. The Labour broadcast is mild stuff by comparison.

  • Charles Rothwell 12th May '14 - 3:32pm

    I agree 100% with Gareth. If I were in the top echelons of the Party, I would be doing everything I possibly could to win back/gain the support of people like Guy; young, outward-looking, caring, innovative, dynamic, of multi-ethnic origin etc. (in other words, the complete and total opposite to a certain bunch of old, white, prejudiced, narrow-minded, male dinosaurs pining for ‘a better yesterday’ I could think of!). The disillusioned like Stuart rightly point out that there is an awful lot to do to regain credibility among such voters after the disaster of tuition fees (even the economic basis of which now looks untenable!) but the Party has got to be bigger than just its momentary leaders and establish a real vision again (like the Greens) (but unlike managerial Labour and the Tories who are going to implode in the next two years no matter WHAT the outcome of the 2015 GE).

  • @ Gareth Wilson
    ” I deeply worry that the tuition fees debacle has killed support for the Lib Dems for a generation in 16-24 year olds”

    Just wait until they understand what Labour’s graduate tax really means for their future finances – potentially unlimited financial commitment. How are they going to take to that one when they realise its implications?

    The party – not just Nick Clegg – made a major error in pledging something we couldn’t deliver with tuition fees. We’ve learnt our lessons now – but it seems other parties, especially Labour, haven’t and are becoming ever more irresponsible in their promises. Let’s hope young people have the sense to see through them. Guy Russo’s contribution makes me hopeful that they will.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th May '14 - 3:55pm

    “Without us, who would be the voice of electoral reform, constitutional reform … and the European Union?” – how is the Minister for Constitutional Reform getting along with those issues?

    “We have to dispel these poisonous lies about Clegg’s integrity” – quite right, Clegg broadly believes in what this Government is doing – he mislead the public *before* coalition, not since, meaning he is displaying more insincerity than previously.

    “… we are the true defenders of honest politics in Britain. “The Un-Credible Shrinking Man” is the polar opposite of that. It makes British politics out to be a soap opera.” – are you aware of the attack video the Party uploaded hours later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7ax683aI-U&list=UUnqbeEkP65a1zC2EwmKl6Yg. It wasn’t particularly funny or professional looking, unlike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prWxckyxjyY

  • I don’t find the video particularly amusing, but then I find so much of what the writers of comedy apparently assume is hilarious to be utterly useless drivel. However, it is doing the Liberal Democrats a favour by portraying Lib Dem difficulties in government to be solely a question of Nick Clegg’s leadership, or lack of it; indeed, it seems to imply that he’s a well-meaning mouse overwhelmed by a majority of viciously cynical Nastyites. None of that is likely to have any long-term effect on the party at all, once the Clegg Era comes to its end. In reality, however, I fear that the Lib Dems’ problems are a bit deeper-seated than just Clegg, and will require a more thorough house-cleaning.

  • “The Liberal Democrats need to bite. It’s all well and good to silently tolerate ignorant bullies, but silence won’t let people know that the bullies need to be stopped.”

    Rather than referencing the vidio itself how about linking the Brillo interview with Dougie Alexander, it stands up in its own right and that time the way the instigator intended.

  • @ RC

    “The party – not just Nick Clegg – made a major error in pledging something we couldn’t deliver with tuition fees.”

    I really don’t want to hijack this thread for tuition fee moan (but I am doing!) – of course we could have delivered this pledge, we just chose not to and went for raising the tax threshold, the pupil premium, maintaining the science budget etc. All excellent policies, but quite opaque to the electorate compared to tuition fees. I genuinely think the creeping rise of the tax threshold has pretty much gone unnoticed due to stagnating wages and the cost of living crisis and the pupil premium 99% of voters don’t understand (I’m a big fan of it still btw).

    The tuition fees debacle has killed support with the younger generation, I read recently less than 10% will vote LibDem this time round, compared to over 25% in 2010. I’d love to hear from Guy if he thinks this is genuinely the case in younger people he’s spoken to.

  • @RC
    I thought the tuition fee was not delivered because it was not made a red line in negotiations and because of panic over the economy. Whether the party has learned from this is not clear to me. If there is another hung parliament, I do not know what the Lib Dems will do

  • Paul Pettinger 12th May '14 - 4:23pm

    Why was the tuition fee pledge (merely not to increase fees) not defended in coalition negotiations? Is it just a coincidence that the leader didn’t like the signature policy and previous attempts to to convince the Party to reject it had failed?

  • Peter Watson 12th May '14 - 4:41pm

    @RC “We’ve learnt our lessons now”
    Have we? The current policy seems to be a fudge between a leadership that likes fees and loans, and a membership that aspires to abolish them.

  • “But whilst I applaud our respectful attitude towards politics”

    As it was responded to in kind by the Party on You Tube I guess it best to accept that the spin not substance tribe of every Party seems to have held sway since Blair / Campbell showed how successful it could be….

    I also wouldn’t worry unduly as most will have walked away to make a cuppa, already have made their minds up who to vote for, or be politically astute enough to have ignored it.

  • Charles Rothwell 12th May '14 - 4:56pm

    If we had a REALLY radical party leadership, they would be taking a leaf out of the book in Germany and working out feverishly how to ABOLISH tuition fees and leave both the Tories and Labour floundering:

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/germanys-great-tuition-fees-u-turn/2011168.article

    Given the state the Party is in opinion poll-wise (and fully taking on board what Gareth says about the cliff fall in support from young people (I read somewhere that among students, it had gone from c. 50% in 2010 to under 10% now!), it seems the only way forward is to be really radical in some policy areas (and, of course, it would it undoubtedly help if these policies were to be espoused by party leaders with credibility and likely to gain a respectful hearing).

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th May '14 - 6:10pm

    @ Guy,
    It is so refreshing to hear of your engagement in politics and it is heartening to hear your reasons for becoming engaged. Our country and our relationships with the rest of the world will be your inheritance, so it imperative that you stop politicians from squandering it. Hopefully your enthusiasm will be contagious and will inspire other young people to become similarly engaged.

    We old -timers are the past, you are the future.

  • IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT IT REFLECTS POORLY ON LABOUR.
    WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT WE SHOULD BE WORRYING AND TALKING ABOUT IS HOW BADLY MATTERS ARE AFFECTING THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS AND NOBODY WITH ANY MODICUM OF REALITY CAN DENY THAT THE PRESENT POSITION FOR THE PARTY IS DREADFUL.
    I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT OTHERS BUT THIS CONSTANT EFFORT TO DIVERT ATTENTION AWAY ONTO OTHER
    IRRELEVANT ASPECTS OF POLITICAL LIFE IS DEPLORABLE.
    LETS FACE UP TO OUR FAILINGS, OUR INABILITY TO GET VOTERS SUPPORT, OUR APPALLINGLY LOW LEVEL OF ELECTORAL SUPPORT AND SORT OUT WHAT OUR ANSWER IS TO THAT.

  • Thank you all for taking the time to comment,

    In response to Gareth Wilson’s question about the perception of Lib Dems, I would say that the party is perceived as quite frankly weak. It really comes down to two things, that the level of education about the aims of the Lib Dems (this in an A-Level Politics class) is poor and that the major events we have become associated with are controversies like Student Fees, the Peers voting for Bedroom Tax and even the undervaluing of the Royal Mail by Cable. Education on the core principles, aims and policy is limited to constitutional reform and, funnily enough, free school meals. This isn’t a comment on the teachers at all, who are excellent, simply that the syllabus doesn’t value Liberal Democrats heavily. It’s also worth noting that my area is heavily left-leaning, and this combined with a student population results in the perception of anything further right than social democracy as fascism.

    In response to Stuart, it’s a fair suggestion that I don’t remember the controversy of student fees, but I have been politically aware (naivety aside) for a very long time and can remember watching the student protests vividly. I would also like to say that I am not trying to claim Clegg is completely and totally credible, a saint-like figure he is not. But I’m sure even the seasoned Lib Dems you speak of would agree with the full level of slander leveled at Clegg by the other parties.

    In response to Charles, I agree totally that a long-term vision is really desperately needed. Not only is it really effective, but it should also be really simple to draw up if we stick true to our Liberal principles and to radical ideas about constitutional reform. But it’s also important to commit to these principles in government should we reach it again. Electoral reform, for instance, HAS TO HAPPEN in the next parliament for me. Liberal Democrats cannot surely go 10 in government and not deliver STV and an elected Lords.

    In response to Paul Pettinger, I must admit your point on Clegg’s Ministerial responsibilities for constitutional reform made me laugh. But if anything does the fact that role actually exists now and that whole committees were set up in it’s name not indicate further that we are the only party really standing up for Constitutional Reform? And if you have any doubts on the legitimacy of Clegg’s desire to see constitutional reform, look no further than here; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9518526/Arise-Lord-Clegg-No-it-would-stick-in-my-throat-the-Deputy-Prime-Minister-says.html

    Finally, in response to Jayne Mansfield, and indeed everyone who has wished me well, I must say a massive thank you. And indeed those referring to themselves as the old-timers and ancient should remember that were it not for their work and support in years gone by that there would be no Liberal Democrat party for my generation to take on and make a full party of government. Thank you all so much,

    Gaetano Russo.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 7:49pm

    Gareth Wilson

    I really don’t want to hijack this thread for tuition fee moan (but I am doing!) – of course we could have delivered this pledge, we just chose not to

    No, we did not “just chose not to”. How do you think we could have got the Tories to abandon their policies and agree with ours, which is what you are implying we could have done but “just chose not to”? Our policy on tuition fees went along with policy in taxation which is against the CORE belief of Tories – that unearned wealth is noble and should never be taxed and certainly not anywhere near the rate at which plebs pay tax on money which is dirty because it is earned by work. We could only have got our policy on this through if we could have persuaded the Tories to drop what they believe in more than anything else. Why do you suppose we could “just” have got them to do this but chose not to?

  • Paul Pettinger 12th May '14 - 8:04pm

    Perhaps because we had made fees a signature policy for the three General Elections in a row and all our MPs had signed a pledge that they wouldn’t increase them. Having a fees freeze and letting the Brown review still publish would have been the obvious political solution – we could have even claimed that we stopped fees from tripping by being in power. Instead we tripled them, with Nick Clegg saying that the Government’s policy was *better* than his Party’s. But he said sorry. For making the promise in the first place.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th May '14 - 8:24pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    But is there any evidence the Lib Dem negotiators even TRIED to persuade the Tories to agree to a tuition fee freeze?

    As Paul Pettinger points out, the Lib Dems had good reason to insist on fees being one of their (very few) proverbial red lines. After the public pledge-signing it must have been obvious to anybody that dropping the policy would destroy the party’s reputation for years. If the Lib Dems had stood their ground over this, does it seem at all likely to you that this would have kiboshed the entire coalition negotiations? I don’t see it – the issue is relatively trivial.

    Some people still seem to be persisting with the idea that the tuition fees pledge was somehow unaffordable – oblivious to the recent revelations that the new policy has actually COST money.

  • daft ha'p'orth 12th May '14 - 8:47pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    See the discussion in another thread about Clegg standing up to the Tories on boundary changes. I guess ‘we’ could’ve done it just like that, if it had been a priority, which it blatantly wasn’t. Clegg has a backbone when it suits him. This issue clearly did not strike him as worth exerting the spinal column over.

    Alternatively ‘we’ could have said ‘sorry, chaps, we’re never going to reach agreement on this, but we aren’t going to compromise our integrity by doing the exact opposite of what we said we were going to do, so instead, let’s keep the status quo funded as it used to be for another five years’. It would hardly have been unaffordable or unachievable or any of the other things that people seem to claim in the short to medium term. Given that the new system does not cost any less in the short to medium term, if ever… and all that.

  • Matthew Huntbach, on another thread I asked you for evidence for your claims which you again state above that the Tories blocked the LibDems on Tuition Fees. Can I ask how you square that with the article here http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/21/nick-clegg-tuition-fees

    In particular I draw your attention to:

    “What students and potential voters did not know is that months before the general election David Laws, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander and Clegg had met in secret as part of their preparations and decided that the abolition of tuition fees was not a priority for the party. This senior group had for some time been taking seriously the likelihood of a hung parliament and were meticulous in their preparations. In making their plans, the Lib Dems knew with certainty they would not be in government alone.

    Thanks to confidential Liberal Democrat papers passed to me as part of my research for my book Five Days to Power, the evolution on the party’s negotiating position is clear. By March 2010 the party had come to the clear position that the Lib Dems would not waste political capital pushing for the abolition of tuition fees. It was clear and unambiguous. This was a totemic party policy and it was to be ruthlessly sacrificed without any attempt to salvage it. The document said: “On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.”

    With these words the full extent of the Lib Dem political calculation being made becomes clear. The party would gain its benefit from its public position vis-a-vis the other parties, but privately fighting for their key general election pledge was always a non-starter. Even more than two years later, I still find the level of cynicism involved quite shocking. The party’s MPs and candidates were not told of the strategy”

  • Matthew Huntbach, . In addition, notice that neither Clegg, nor Laws, nor Cable nor Alexander have ever said what you are saying here and elsewhere that the Tories threatened to close down all the ex-Polytechnics. Cable actually said it was a silly pledge to make and :

    “”We, and other major parties, are not going to go back to free tuition. Even if a party promised it, I don’t think the public would believe them. I think the key thing that I get out of this debate is that we have moved on. We have had a traumatic episode as a result of the pledge and what followed it. But we no longer need to look back.

    “We have got a good policy, which is good for universities and good for social mobility.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/16/vince-cable-tuition-fee-promises_n_3932951.html

    Doesn’t sound anything like you describe it Matthew!

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 10:48pm

    Stuart Mitchell

    Some people still seem to be persisting with the idea that the tuition fees pledge was somehow unaffordable – oblivious to the recent revelations that the new policy has actually COST money.

    No, I am not at all oblivious to this. Please give me the courtesy of assuming I have a brain and can think for myself, rather than taking the position that because I a not a “nah-nah-nah-nah, nasty dirty Liberal Democrats, yah booh sucks” person, I must be an unthinking Clegg loyalist who just believes whatever the Dear Leader says and thinks it must be the best.

    The Tories would not accept raising taxation to pay for this, nor would they accept paying for it by straight government borrowing. But, as you point out, the system introduced has such generous repayment and write off conditions, that actually it amounts to a MORE generous state subsidy of the universities than previously through what amounts to disguised state borrowing. Why is this a bad thing? In effect, by insisting on these generous loan conditions, the LibDems subverted what the Tories wanted and gave us the sort of state support the Tories were trying to get rid of.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 10:51pm

    Phyllis

    What students and potential voters did not know is that months before the general election David Laws, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander and Clegg had met in secret as part of their preparations and decided that the abolition of tuition fees was not a priority for the party.

    Sure, I am not saying they were good people who acted well when they made this pledge in the election campaign. I am simply pointing out that they were not in a position to force the Tories to accept this policy, it could not “just” be done as if by waving a magic wand.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 10:53pm

    Phyllis

    Matthew Huntbach, . In addition, notice that neither Clegg, nor Laws, nor Cable nor Alexander have ever said what you are saying here and elsewhere that the Tories threatened to close down all the ex-Polytechnics.

    Yes, but there was talk about large scale closures in Tory circles, and had this been done then the LibDem pledge could have been kept you its letter in this way. Do you think this would have been better? Yes or no?

  • daft ha'p'orth 12th May '14 - 11:06pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I’d have enjoyed hearing the Tories put that threat out into the open, yes. Better out than in. Then we could’ve had the conversation that we ought to have anyway.

    When the axe does fall it will be the death of a thousand cuts and it will be blamed on ‘the markets’. ‘s’not our fault, guv, it’s the students making informed decisions, innit.

  • Matthew Huntbach, I have given you my evidence for thinking that the LibDem leadership had no intention of fighting for the tuition fees pledge in theCoalition negotiations and that they have embraced the new system to the point of saying the Party has moved on from ‘free tuition’. You have yet to give us any evidence for your assertions (that the Tories forced the Lib Dems to renege on the pledge ) beyond ‘talk in Tory circles’ . Is that the best you can do? Because it’s not worth much,.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 11:12pm

    Stuart Mitchell

    As Paul Pettinger points out, the Lib Dems had good reason to insist on fees being one of their (very few) proverbial red lines. After the public pledge-signing it must have been obvious to anybody that dropping the policy would destroy the party’s reputation for years

    Yes, I am not defending the leadership of the Liberal Democrats for making that pledge under the circumstances, I think it was an extremely stupid thing to do. What I am saying is that they were not in a position to force the Tories to support it – or if they did, it would have been at a HUGE cost in terms of balancing it out.

    The real point I am trying to make here is that a junior coalition partner simply cannot force the senior coalition partner to drop all its policies. It cannot “just” be done. Also it is possible to meet the letter of pledges in a way that most would agree is worse than not meeting the letter. My point is that politics HAS to be about negotiation and reaching a compromise.

    I have made no secret of my opposition to Nick Clegg and those surrounding him, and my belief that they have been a catastrophic failure for the Liberal Democrats, and that they have made mistake after mistake after mistake. So why when I disagree with the unrealistic claim that the Liberal Democrats could have somehow waved a magic wand and made the Tories drop their own pledges on taxation and support Liberal Democrat policy is it assumed I am only saying that because I am an unthinking Clegg loyalist?

    On this issue, the compromise reached was actually quite clever. It appeared the Liberal Democrats had gone back on their policy, but they had actually negotiated something which we now see provides more state support for universities than what was there before, costs students less in terms of payment than what was there before, and is universally available to all, so that no student need be put off going to university through fear of not being able to make payments. If the whole thing had been paid for by straight state borrowing, which the Tories would never have agreed to, since the borrowing would still have to be paid off by future generations, it would actually result in much the same people paying much the same money.

  • IF there had been such a threat (no evidence so far) then I imagine that Lib Dem leadership would have been upfront with the electorate, and the people who voted for them, and admitted openly and honestly that there was an impasse. Because that was the USP of the Lib Dems . High principles. Honesty. Integrity – to return to the headline to this thread.

    I just don’t find it plausible that the Lib Dems were threatened by the Tories and KEPT QUIET. Why would people who were constantly being abused left right and centre for reneging on the pledge do that and take ALL the blame, and then release a video saying Sorry but NEVER ONCE saying ‘we did it to save the Polys’ . It makes no sense whatsoever.

  • daft ha'p'orth 12th May '14 - 11:20pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    No, it isn’t ‘clever’ to have it appear as though you have done precisely what you told your voters you would not do and that furthermore you are pretty happy about it. Politically, it’s incredibly stupid. Socially, it’s incredibly destructive.

    Also, loans are not universally available to all. You know perfectly well what the term ‘ELQ’ means. You work in the system. Be accurate in your statements, please.

  • @ Matthew

    “Why is this a bad thing? In effect, by insisting on these generous loan conditions, the LibDems subverted what the Tories wanted and gave us the sort of state support the Tories were trying to get rid of.”

    Wow. What an ingenious defence of a catastrophic policy, but I am afraid it is utter cognitive dissonance.

    Leaving aside the fact that no-one will ever believe Nick Clegg on anything again, which, since he is the leader of your party, for the moment anyway, I would have thought is something of a bad thing you are left with the unfairness of those just wealthy enough) students who DO have to pay the £9K a year debt, plus living costs. Why having worked hard and become successful should they be penalised whilst those who have done little with their university education get it for free?

    Quite apart from the fact that the whole University funding model is not fit for purpose, and will be probably be changed again. If Labour get in, and bring the fees down, will they forgive this cadre of students their debts??

    This coalition’s higher education policy would embarrass a banana republic…

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 11:25pm

    Phyllis

    Matthew Huntbach, I have given you my evidence for thinking that the LibDem leadership had no intention of fighting for the tuition fees pledge in theCoalition negotiations and that they have embraced the new system to the point of saying the Party has moved on from ‘free tuition’.

    Yes, and that misses my point. The cost of providing full state subsidy for universities is massive. I don’t believe the Tories could have been made “just” to support it. We are not in the position where there was a 100% Liberal Democrats government and the policy was dropped. I am arguing against the line so often made that somehow the Liberal Democrats could have waved a magic wand and got the Tories to drop all their policies and adopt Liberal Democrat ones. Simply because this issue was handled catastrophically badly by the Liberal Democrat leadership does not change that underlying point. I have myself been arguing continuously since its formation that the way the Liberal Democrat leadership has presented the coalition as some sort of triumph and grossly exaggerated what could be achieved in that situation wad extremely bad politics, and they should instead have admitted at the start that this was NOT an equal partnership.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 11:38pm

    simon

    Wow. What an ingenious defence of a catastrophic policy, but I am afraid it is utter cognitive dissonance.

    I don’t believe it is a good policy, but I do believe that Liberal Democrat negotiation of generous terms for repayment had made it better than it would otherwise be.

    Leaving aside the fact that no-one will ever believe Nick Clegg on anything again, which, since he is the leader of your party, for the moment anyway, I would have thought is something of a bad thing

    Yes, it is a bad thing. As I KEEP saying, why do you and others assume I am some sort of mad Clegg loyalist and attack me on that basis when everything I have written elsewhere indicates I am a firm opponent of Clegg and always have been? I have written nothing in this thread which supports Clegg for having singled out this policy for a public “pledge” , so why am I being attacked as if I had?

    I would have thought is something of a bad thing you are left with the unfairness of those just wealthy enough) students who DO have to pay the £9K a year debt, plus living costs. Why having worked hard and become successful should they be penalised whilst those who have done little with their university education get it for free?

    So, do you think there should be full fees and no write-off of the debts?

    If you don’t, what you write does not make sense, because as I have pointed out, the system actually amounts to what opponents of fees would have given us anyway – payment by government borrowing. Government borrowing is paid back by taxes, and taxes are paid by those who have worked hard and become successful enough to earn the money to pay the taxes. If there was straight government borrowing of money to pay for “free” university education, it would STILL be the case that those who got their university education and did little with it so did not earn much would be doing so paid for by those who did well and so paid more tax.

  • Matthew Huntbach. Once again you have evaded giving a straight answer to a straight question. You claimed that lib Dems were threatened by the Tories with the closure of all the ex-Polys unless they agreed to break the Pledge. . I have asked you what evidence you have for this assertion, which NO-ONE else has ever put forward. If you have no evidence for this and are merely SUPPOSING it to be the case, then it would be more honest of you to admit that.

    On the other hand, much evidence exists that the Lib Dems decided IN ADVANCE of the negotiations to drop the Pledge and no arm-twisting or threats by the Tories were EVER necessary.

  • Matthew,

    “Yes, and that misses my point.”

    It probably does, but then, what you are saying misses the points that all the other posters are making, I’m afraid!

    “I don’t believe it is a good policy, but I do believe that Liberal Democrat negotiation of generous terms for repayment had made it better than it would otherwise be.”

    Whether or not there might in theory be something in what you say, nobody is going to be impressed by it. If you own a beautifully packaged turd, you shouldn’t hold it in front of the voter’s nose and invite them to praise the packaging. You should fling the thing into the nearest bush and talk about something else!

  • Julian Tisi 13th May '14 - 9:35am

    Excellent article, Guy which I’ve only just read. I agree 100%.

    The problem for us however is highlighted in one of your subsequent posts where you say “the major events we have become associated with are controversies like Student Fees, the Peers voting for Bedroom Tax and even the undervaluing of the Royal Mail by Cable”. I’m sure this is true but it highlights the problem we as a party are up against. Quite simply we haven’t been good enough in shouting our corner. Labour’s position has been one of hypocricy and hyperbole.

    Student fees for example – yes, we broke a promise. But the new system is much, much fairer than the old one. The poor pay less, the rich pay more. It’s essentially a graduate tax. And contrary to predictions, it isn’t putting people off university, despite horror stories about the fees system which might have done.

    The bedroom tax – OK I disagree with this, but Labour introduced exactly the same in the private sector.

    The Royal Mail sell-off. Actually I think Vince Cable played this very well indeed. This was a risky sell-off which generated double the previous value of the shares in cash plus increased the value of the remaining holding (in total, more than treble the value was generated). Had he been less cautious yes he might have generated even more – or alternatively it could have been very costly had the sale flopped. In any case, the sale compares very favourably with Labour sell-offs where shares would reach sometimes many times the old value.

    But in these cases and more are we shouting? Some are, but apologetically at best. This is the problem.

  • @Julian Tisi
    “The poor pay less, the rich pay more. It’s essentially a graduate tax. ”

    How many times have we been through this? High earning graduates pay less as a proportion of their income, so the system is regressive. Not only that, but by repaying earlier and avoiding interest they are also paying less. In terms of proportionality/progressivity it is nothing like a graduate tax. Once you’ve paid off your loan it is paid off – that is why it is called a loan and not a tax. Do other ‘taxpayers’ finish paying for their share of funding health and then don’t have to pay anything more? No – because they are taxpayers and not loan re-payers.

  • Can one of the Labour party commentators on here remind us of the guff that Labour was putting about before it introduced tuitions fees and subsequently top up fees?

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '14 - 10:57am

    Phyllis

    Matthew Huntbach. Once again you have evaded giving a straight answer to a straight question. You claimed that lib Dems were threatened by the Tories with the closure of all the ex-Polys unless they agreed to break the Pledge.

    No, I am saying that one of the alternatives was large scale closures of universities. To what extent this was formally proposed I do not know. There is a point I am TRYING to make here, and I would appreciate it if you and others would accept that rather than attacking me as if I am Nick Clegg or someone who supports everything Nick Clegg does. You are NOT furthering the discussion, because you are just playing yah-book-sucks politics. Perhaps this is very satisfying to you, but what are you achieving apart from personal satisfaction that you have said “yah booh sucks, you all smell” to a Liberal Democrat? I have probably openly criticised Nick Clegg and his leadership and MORE than ANY other poster to this newsgroup who is a member of the Liberal Democrats. Can’t you take it from my open opposition to Nick Clegg that I don’t need the sort of persuasion that he is made serious mistakes that you seem to want to deliver to me? I accept that the tuition fee thing was handled very badly by Clegg and co, that the whole way it was pushed forward in the election and then changed afterwards was extremely damaging. I don’t need you to persuade me of that.

    Now, the point I am TRYING to make, and I really do wish you and others would give me the courtesy of accepting what I am saying here and taking it forward from my position rather than from Nick Clegg’s position, is that any policy which involves spending money has to be balanced by something else which says where the money is coming from. It has to come either from increasing taxes, or from making cuts elsewhere, or from more government borrowing. That is why it is silly to discuss such a policy in isolation. It is just as silly as what the political right want love to do, which is to discuss taxation in isolation, as if it is done for no reason apart from to be vindictive and take people’s money away.

    Therefore, it was NOT just a matter of getting the Tories to accept full state subsidy of university tuition, because to do that also would involve them getting to accept whatever would be necessary to pay for that. The line has been put that somehow the Liberal Democrats could get the Tories to agree to anything. Well, if that were so, ANY group of 50-60 Tory MPs could equally do the same. The position on paying for university tuition that the Tories would have been most receptive to was big cuts in university places. Don’t forget, these cuts would have been made with the line “the LibDems forced us to do it in order to keep their tuition fee pledge”. That is the reality with coalitions – the junior partner tends to get all they blame for unpopular things and none of the credit for popular things.

    To what extent the LibDem leadership could have got more if they’d pushed harder I do not know. I’m always reluctant to criticise people doing a job as if it’s an easy-peasy job when I’m not in their boots doing it and don’t know the details of what goes on underneath. Where I am critical of the LibDem leadership, and have been since the coalition was formed, is in the way they have exaggerated the real influence they can have in their position, and portrayed every compromise they have had to reach as if it was a triumph, what they really wanted in the first place. This approach has opened them up to the sort of attack we are getting here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '14 - 11:05am

    David Allen

    “I don’t believe it is a good policy, but I do believe that Liberal Democrat negotiation of generous terms for repayment had made it better than it would otherwise be.”

    Whether or not there might in theory be something in what you say, nobody is going to be impressed by it. If you own a beautifully packaged turd, you shouldn’t hold it in front of the voter’s nose and invite them to praise the packaging

    I’m afraid that is what politics is about – reaching compromises, achieving balances. How can we get good quality democratic politics if we can’t admit that and talk about it?

    What you are saying here is that we should talk about politics in an unrealistic unbalanced way. Sure, that is how it is generally done – as I said, from the left as if every public service that is provided is cost-free, so any cuts made to it would be made purely through vindictiveness, and from the right as if taxation is done purely to take money from the wealthy because you dislike wealthy people. People may be impressed by this sort of talk, and not impressed by talk which is in terms of seeking a balance and making compromises. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not involved in politics to impress, I’m involved to get things done in a way that best meets what people want and tells the truth about what can be done.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '14 - 11:19am

    Phyllis

    On the other hand, much evidence exists that the Lib Dems decided IN ADVANCE of the negotiations to drop the Pledge and no arm-twisting or threats by the Tories were EVER necessary

    And again, you assume a Leninist model of political party, in which a party consists solely of people who do nothing but obey the party line as handed down by the leadership. Who are “the LibDems” here? It is not every single member of the Liberal Democrats, it is not every single Liberal Democrat MP. In fact a substantial number of Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the tuition fees increase. Wouldn’t it be nice if people like you recognised that rather than wrote on blanket terms of “the LibDems”?

    Not just nice, but practical if you want the party to move in your direction. If there were more acknowledgement of the different streams in the LibDems and less blanket destructive criticism of all of us as if we all were mad keen followers of every word uttered by Clegg and the Cleggies, might not those who within the LibDems who are critical of Clegg be more motivated in their criticism? The sort of blanket criticism you are dishing out means those LibDems who voted against tuition fee increases are still highly likely to lose their seats due to people saying “I’m never going to vote for you because you supported the tuition fees increase”. Is that fair? If there was some recognition of those within the party who are critical of the leadership, and some sign that might gain them votes, would that not encourage more of them to be critical?

    Instead, the sort of blanket criticism which assume all LibDems are robotic followers of the leadership plays into the hands of the leadership, because they can and have used the line “No-one is listening to what you say, we’ve lost the support you’re trying to retain, the only way forward is to follow the direction the leadership is pushing, and make the party look strong and united by cheering it on”. Perhaps as David Allen suggests, people are impressed by that sort of thing, perhaps people like a nice glossy centralised ad-man directed political party in which there is no sign of any internal discussion. I don’t, that’s why I’m a liberal. If no-one else thinks like me, well, sorry, I’ll carry on thinking like that, if it doesn’t win votes, well, people must suffer from the sort of politics they get when they are impressed and so vote for glossy centralised ad-man’s politics.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th May '14 - 11:57am

    Matthew

    I’m afraid you continue to miss the point, and please don’t take this as “yah-boo-sucks-to-you” — I am trying to deal with the point at issue and your position on it. Perhaps as a result, this post will resemble one of yours in length, for which I apologise to everyone else…

    Firstly, the question of whether the fee system now is or is not “fairer” under some definition or another is pretty much beside the point (though if it were obviously fairer then the issue would have much less impact, admittedly). What all Lib Dem MPs signed up to, and the majority of them broke, was a simple and straightforward pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. There really is no way of polishing that turd, to borrow David Allen’s imagery.

    Secondly, your contention that not accepting this increase in fees, given the impossibility of persuading the Tories either to raise taxes more or reduce the deficit by less, would have required a cut in spending elsewhere is not really supported (even putting aside the chimera of closing all the polytechnics or whatever it was). This is because the amount of extra money to the government generated by the increased tuition fees so far, and indeed for the duration of this parliament, is negligible*; all that has happened is that some PSBR-funded money handed over to the higher education sector labelled as government grant has been rebadged as tuition fees. It’s still been paid by the government, funded by borrowing. There may be a long-term difference in how it all gets paid for as a result of the revised fees and loans scheme, but it would take a long time to make a difference. If agreement between the parties on a better system that didn’t involve breaking the MPs’ pledge was impossible, then any long-term decisions could simply have been deferred to the next parliament: call it the ‘Trident option’. And even if, for the sake of argument, it is accepted that there was no alternative besides those you admit — i.e. increase the fees or accept devastating cuts elsewhere in the education system — there remained an honourable, honest alternative for those MPs who believed they could no longer stick by their pledge, which was to resign and fight a by-election on that basis.

    Finally, you said above (at 11.12 pm on 12th May) “I am not defending the leadership of the Liberal Democrats for making that pledge under the circumstances, I think it was an extremely stupid thing to do. ” This is, I am afraid, the language of the Cleggites** that drives most of us to distraction. No one is attacking the Lib Dems for making the pledge — or at least, only on tactical grounds. The moral charge, which is what does all the damage, is that they broke the charge. As I said in an email discussion with local party members back at the time of the debate in late 2010: “It’s really no good saying ‘Yes, we promised this, but actually we shouldn’t have done as it was a really silly idea so of course you won’t mind us breaking that silly old promise now, will you?’ Most of us on this email list are married men – anybody fancy trying this approach to promises at home? Part of the problem being that saying that it was a stupid promise in the first place amounts to telling the voters that they were stupid to believe it and vote for it. Neither flattering nor democratic. There was an honest option available to any MP who wanted to change their stance on this, so soon after the election, as I mentioned above: to resign and fight a byelection on the new stance. It’s basically what Baldwin did in 1923, I believe. He lost the resulting election, of course; but principles ain’t worth squit if you only stick to them when they don’t hurt you.”

    *in fact, probably completely wiped out by the increase in the pay-back threshold, but I don’t have the numbers to prove it either way

    **And yes, I know perfectly well that you’re not a Cleggite and saw through the man long before I did! That doesn’t stop you sounding just like one when you use this argument.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th May '14 - 12:02pm

    Dam*. Bound to make mistakes in a post of that length. Last para, line 4-5, should read “The moral charge, which is what does all the damage, is that they broke the pledge” (not “broke the charge”).

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 1:40pm

    @ Mathew Huntbach,
    I am aware of your position, but you need to look at things through the eyes of the electorate who, I am a typical example, don’t in general, vote for the individual in general elections. ( Local elections are different).

    I just think that your argument is too sophisticated. How many people would, like myself, take the trouble to read Liberal Democrat Voice to gain some understanding of the anger felt by some within the Lib Dems or the struggle they have put up? In my opinion, voters asks themselves one question, do I trust the Liberal Democrats to deliver on their promises. The answer for a large number of people now seems to be, No, they have shown themselves to be just like the rest. The decision to renege on a pledge was a defining moment that has had consequences for the party that are far wider than the simple breaking of the pledge on one policy.

    I offer as proof , poll results on the level of trust the electorate now say they have in mainstream politicians. The really sad bit, is the fact that they do nevertheless seem to be blindly putting their trust in a new ‘trustworthy’ politician and party, UKIP.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield
    “In my opinion, voters asks themselves one question, do I trust the Liberal Democrats to deliver on their promises. The answer for a large number of people now seems to be, No, they have shown themselves to be just like the rest.”

    Well the voters need to be told the truth, that if we’ve got enough MPs and money to deliver a policy, then they CAN trust us:
    – £10,000 personal allowance;
    – Pupil Premium;
    – No immediate Trident replacement;
    – No inheritance tax threshold increase;
    – Higher capital gains tax;
    – Green Investment Bank;
    – More apprenticeships.

    If the voters are basing their judgments on the one main policy we couldn’t deliver because we only had one eleventh of the MPs in the House of Commons and no money for what was an expensive spending commitment then they are pretty hard and unreasonable taskmasters.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 13th May '14 - 2:24pm

    The answer to so many comments, is to put the past failings behind us and look to the future with people like Guy. People make mistakes. Get over it. Engage with the new generations in politics. And hope we oldies can help avoid the same mess along the way by being silent too long!. I smile about all our policies which Labour wants to use in its manifesto, which the Tories claim credit for now – all we need to say in the debates is THANK YOU. Be positive LDs, our policies will come to fruition now – which they never did in opposition. And we learned how to do even better in future.

  • daft ha'p'orth 13th May '14 - 3:08pm

    @Julian Tisi
    ” And contrary to predictions, it isn’t putting people off university, despite horror stories about the fees system which might have done.”

    You mean except for all the students it is putting off university.

    Get it right. It is putting people off. You just don’t care because many of the people it’s putting off happen not to be seventeen.

  • @daft ha’p’orth – As I’ve previously posted we’ve a close family member who works on student admissions.This individual spends a great deal of time in schools and colleges working with gcse teenagers BEFORE they decide whether to apply to university or not .Having been “at the coalface” from well before the tuition fee saga they’re well placed to make a judgement call on whether fees are deterring students from applying.They tell me that it ‘s no longer a significant factor in the decision making process .Illogical as it may seem this does appear to be the truth of the matter.

  • daft ha'p'orth 13th May '14 - 4:13pm

    @Dean.W.
    Sorry, did you just say that you have a mate who works with GCSE teenagers, and from this anecdote you have concluded that mature students are not deterred from applying to university?

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '14 - 4:29pm

    @ RC,
    No they are un-sophisticates with busy lives.

    If you have ever broken a promise to a child because of factors beyond your control, have you ever succeeded in telling them that they should consider other ways in which you have been a good parent. In my experience, all I ever elicited was, ‘But you promised’. and the knowledge that in their eyes I had failed them. The trust that they had placed in me had been broken. it takes a long time to rebuild.

    All the Liberal democrats, in the form of Nick Clegg, have done is apologise for making the promise, not for breaking it. If you think that telling people what other promises you have fulfilled mitigates the lack of trust that has been engendered by the ‘biggy’ , OK. I disagree.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May ’14 – 11:19am
    Phyllis

    “On the other hand, much evidence exists that the Lib Dems decided IN ADVANCE of the negotiations to drop the Pledge and no arm-twisting or threats by the Tories were EVER necessary”

    “And again, you assume a Leninist model of political party, in which a party consists solely of people who do nothing but obey the party line as handed down by the leadership. Who are “the LibDems” here? It is not every single member of the Liberal Democrats, it is not every single Liberal Democrat MP. In fact a substantial number of Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the tuition fees increase. Wouldn’t it be nice if people like you recognised that rather than wrote on blanket terms of “the LibDems”?” ”

    I thought it was clear from the context and from my earlier posts that I was referring to the LIB DEM NEGOTIATING TEAM. However, I shall make it unambiguous by rephrasing as follows:

    On the other hand, much evidence exists that the Lib Dem negotiating team decided IN ADVANCE of the negotiations to drop the Pledge and no arm-twisting or threats by the Tories were EVER necessary”

    This should be read in the light of my comment on 12th May at 9:06pm which you can see in full if you scroll above.

    This is the fundamental point for me you see. I understand the argument that Coalition necessitates compromise and that the junior partner is in a weak position. However the accusation is that the Lib Dem leadership had decided not to keep their pledge even whilst they were making it. This goes to the heart of the question of integrity and my reason for questioning you in previous posts has been to ascertain whether this was actually the case or whether it had been as you suggested – that the Lib Dem leadership were FORCED to renege on the Pledge etc. these two positions are very different, so we need to know which is the true one.

    Now Matthew you spend a lot if time telling us how tough it would have been to keep the tuition fee pledge after May 2010 because of being a junior partner etc (believe me I understand the reasons and your arguments even though I may not be very ‘sophisticated’ ) but you have not yet addressed the central charge of what happened BEFORE the election – namely that the Lib Dem leadership had already decided NOT to keep the pledge whilst telling the voters that the manifesto promise was ‘fully costed’ . Perhaps you would like to offer us your thoughts now?

    Just to be clear, I am asking you for your thoughts on this passage (for source please scroll above) :

    “What students and potential voters did not know is that months before the general election David Laws, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander and Clegg had met in secret as part of their preparations and decided that the abolition of tuition fees was not a priority for the party. This senior group had for some time been taking seriously the likelihood of a hung parliament and were meticulous in their preparations. In making their plans, the Lib Dems knew with certainty they would not be in government alone.”

  • Jayne Mansfield “If you have ever broken a promise to a child because of factors beyond your control,”

    It’s more like ‘ if you have ever broken a promise due to factors beyond your control, and had no intention at all of keeping it even as you were making the promise’

  • @Daft h’a’porth – Sorry no ,I didn’t mean to imply that,didn’t read the thread through and missed the ref to mature students. – that’ll teach me.

  • daft ha'p'orth 13th May '14 - 10:27pm

    @Dean.W.
    Such is life! To be honest mature and part-time students do not come into most peoples’ thinking at all. For myself, I view it as extremely important that there is always a route into education/training/retraining, and, well, take a look at the graph on this page:

    http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2014/news87098.html

    You could ski down the gradient of that graph.

    “Less than a third of part-time students are estimated as eligible for fee loans,” the page notes, statin’ the bleedin’ obvious as only HEFCE can achieve, and “There is a strong relationship between unemployment rates and take-up of part-time education. The North East of England has seen the highest unemployment rate and the largest decline in entry to part-time higher education.” Also, “Comparison across the UK nations shows lower declines in Scotland and Wales compared to England, and Northern Ireland bucked the trend to see increasing numbers of part-time students. This is despite the fact that the recession in England was less severe than in the rest of the UK.”

    The Lib Dem constitution says that, “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to […] develop their talents to the full.” But it looks to me like mature students and part-time students in England (specifically in England) are now conspicuously less able or willing to take the opportunity to improve their circumstances and prospects than they have been in the past.

  • @Matthew H

    “If there was straight government borrowing of money to pay for “free” university education, it would STILL be the case that those who got their university education and did little with it so did not earn much would be doing so paid for by those who did well and so paid more tax.”

    True, but that does not answer my point. Under the presently extant policy is it not true that those who are successful pay not once, but twice? First, they pay back their loan. Second, through taxation they pay back the money borrowed to fund indigent students who spent three years drinking at the union bar of London Met, emerging with a useless 2.2 degree in Media Studies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '14 - 12:05pm

    Phyllis

    but you have not yet addressed the central charge of what happened BEFORE the election – namely that the Lib Dem leadership had already decided NOT to keep the pledge whilst telling the voters that the manifesto promise was ‘fully costed’ . Perhaps you would like to offer us your thoughts now?

    The fact that you put this to me indicates you have this fixed mentality which assumes, despite all I have written over the years, that I am some sort of Clegg loyalist, and that what I write is motivated by that.

    I have not addressed this “central charge” because I have never defended Clegg and the Cleggies on that basis. I have never said that I thought it was right for them to make this a pledge and have certainly not defended them doing so when they had already realised it was not a policy they could keep.

    My first rule in politics, and one that I have always kept to in my own campaigning, is that you NEVER make a “promise” unless you are sure you can keep to it under all reasonably expected circumstances. The whole point I have been trying to make throughout this discussion is that politics has to be about reaching compromises, and such compromises inevitably depend on the willingness of other parties also to compromise, and the exact balance of power you have during negotiations. This is why it is extremely difficult to draw hard lines on specific policies in advance of knowing what the situation would be. At most you can state what your own ideals are, and make the point that the more electoral strength you have, the more power you can have in negotiations to push them that way. As I keep saying, I don’t agree with the idea of manifestoes as rigid Leninist-type five-year plans, and I don’t agree with the way political commentary in this country often seems to be based on that assumption.

    The reason I am pointing out the possibility of keeping to the pledge by massive cuts in university places is to indicate a danger of this way of thinking. That is why I am challenging those who attack Clegg for making this pledge to say whether they would be happy had the pledge been kept in this way. If not, then I think that indicates the point that politics has to be about finding a reasonable compromise.

    I have already said myself that I would want full university tuition to be paid for by higher taxation. Note, I would also like this to be accompanied by much stronger controls on students. As a university lecturer I am appalled to see how many students waste public funds by not taking what they are given – not turning up to lectures and labs, not bothering to pick up marked coursework and read the feedback comments I have spent so much time writing and so on. So I would balance this subsidy by much greater powers to expel students who have poor attendance records, and an end to this idea that failing students is a bad thing, and all the pressures on us lecturers to dumb down because of that.

    I believed what we were told that the university subsidy policy was “fully costed”, and I certainly think those responsible for making that claim should be severely disciplined – that means banned from any lead position in the party – if they made it while knowing it was not true.

    However, that was NOT the issues I was making in this discussion. The issue I was making was that even if the policy was fully costed, it would have involved taxation which would be against the deepest beliefs and equivalent pledges of the Conservatives. The point I was making was that the blithe assumptions so many people seem to have that somehow the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs could persuade the 303 Conservative MPs to drop their mostly deeply held beliefs in order to support Liberal Democrat policy are daft. As I have said, if you use the “balance of power” argument, the same could apply to any 57 Conservative MPs, so you might equally well argue that the 57 most right-wing Conservatives could convert all the rest of the Conservatives and all the LibDem MPs to their position. Politics doesn’t and shouldn’t work like that. The Liberal Democrats are actually in a very weak position in the coalition, and this should have been acknowledged from the start, rather than all this boasting about being “in government” and giving the impression that the Liberal Democrats had equal responsibility for government policies which are inevitably more Tory than LibDem.

    Following this acknowledgement, the point could have been made that the LibDems would have had much more power and thus be able to push the government much more in their way if they had a fair share of representation – which would be two-fifths of the government rather than one-sixth if we had proportional representation. Clegg’s utter failure to get this message across meant that in the 2011 referendum people voted FOR the distortion of the current electoral system supposing doing so was some sort of protest about the consequence it gave us. As I said at the time, voting “No” to electoral reform as a protest against the weakness of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition was a bit like kicking the cat as a protest against cruelty to animals.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '14 - 12:12pm

    simon

    True, but that does not answer my point. Under the presently extant policy is it not true that those who are successful pay not once, but twice?

    If you look at my answer to Phyllis above, you will find something of relevance to your point.

    The point you are making applies to all subsidy of university tuition – yes, it does subsidise those who don’t work hard at it, so you may say it’s unfair on those who do.

    So are you arguing against any form of subsidy, even the current form of writing off the loans? That would be the logic of the point you are making. OK, but isn’t it the opposite of the point made by all those people who are angry with the LibDems for not standing firm on their subsidy policy?

  • @ Matthew

    “The point you are making applies to all subsidy of university tuition – yes, it does subsidise those who don’t work hard at it, so you may say it’s unfair on those who do.”

    The currently extant policy rewards failure and punishes success.

    Do you disagree?

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '14 - 2:58pm

    simon

    The currently extant policy rewards failure and punishes success.

    Do you disagree?

    No, but then by the same argument income tax rewards failure and punished success, because if you are a success and get more income you pay more tax, and if you fail in life so have no income, you still get the benefit of state services paid for by income tax. Are you a right-wing Tory or an Ayn Rand fan or the like?

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '14 - 3:34pm

    Phyllis (quoting someone else)

    What students and potential voters did not know is that months before the general election David Laws, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander and Clegg had met in secret as part of their preparations and decided that the abolition of tuition fees was not a priority for the party.

    Sure, and in that case they should not have made such a big thing about it in the general election campaign. In particular, the way it was phrased as a pledge to vote AGAINST a rise in tuition fees only makes sense in the context of being a junior partner in a coalition. Governing parties vote for the policies they propose, it makes no sense to say as a party leading in government you will vote against something. Opposition parties vote against government proposals, but that’s hardly a thing to make a big fuss about on any particular issue, as oppositions vote against most government things.

    So, I think it should have been made clear that the inclusion of the abolition of tuition fees in the party manifesto – it was agreed party policy and should have been there – was contingent on other aspects of the manifesto, including taxation policies. This is the sort of thing we need to have mature discussion on these issues, the idea of balance between spending and taxation. That’s what I’ve been saying, talking about tuition fees in isolation as if the rise in tuition fees had no balance is daft. The reason this sort of mature discussion is needed is because if there is a greater acceptance and understanding of the idea that spending has to be balanced by taxation, it may be easier to get through the unpleasant aspects – the taxation – in order to pay for the pleasant aspects, in this case the subsidy of university tuition. The problem is that while people will moan and moan about the rise in tuition fees, I see little sign of willingness to accept higher taxation. See how the tiny little move towards property tax proposed by the Liberal Democrats called the “Mansion Tax” was howled down. The “little old lady in the big house” will always win out over the student, and in my experience so many of those protestors against tuition fees melt away when they are asked “So, would YOU give up on the great dollop of inherited cash you are expecting form your parents?” because they are trendy lefties whose trendiness means they are of the left so long as it doesn’t hurt them.

    I’m afraid, however, that regardless of how firmly it was pushed by the Liberal Democrats, the sort of taxation that would have been required for complete subsidy of the university system without major cuts just would NEVER have been accepted by the Conservatives, because it would have gone against the main thrust of their manifesto. That’s what I’ve been saying all along, why is it that people think the Liberal Democrats could have found it easy-peasy to get the Conservatives to abandon the main thrust of THEIR manifesto in order to accommodate one aspect of the Liberal Democrats? To be honest, in terms of tactical considerations it made sense not to t ry as it would never be agreed, and instead concentrate on other areas where some sort of compromise could be agreed.

    The problem was that in May 2010 the Liberal Democrats were in a very weak position. Their only real negotiating point to force compromise to their way was to say “If you don’t agree, there’ll be no majority government, hence chaos”. The Liberal Democrats would then have got the blame for anything going wrong with the economy “It’s because there’s no stable government due to them, and their unwillingness to compromise”, Labour and Conservative would have joined together – as they did in the AV referendum – to say “get rid of the Liberal Democrats, so we can have proper government”. Anyone who think the populace of this country would have cheered on the Liberal Democrats for sticking to their principles under that situation really has no sense of reality. We can see right now that when the Liberal Democrats DO stand up against the Tories in some issue, there’s no cheering on of them at all. Labour carries on with the usual “nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, you put the Tories in, bum, belly poo, you smell” lines. The right-wing press continues with their usual twisting and distortion painting the LibDems as loony weirdoes standing in the way of sensible government. See the hoo-hah on knife crimes for a recent example.

    I’ve been saying this continuously for four years now. I wish people like you would at least accept that’s my honest opinion, and leave it be, instead of making me go painstakingly through it all again and again and again. It’s NOT the same line as the Cleggy “It’s all wonderful, this coalition is what we always wanted” one, is it? So please don’t paint me as a Cleggy.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I do not see why a minority govenment would equal “chaos”.

    The right wing press will not support the Lib Dems. I do not see fear of what the press might say as a reason for Lib Dems to abandon their principles.

  • Matthew H “I’ve been saying this continuously for four years now. I wish people like you would at least accept that’s my honest opinion, and leave it be, instead of making me go painstakingly through it all again and again and again. ”

    Of course we all accept that it’s your honest opinion and believe me no-one could wish that you wouldn’t go through it again and again and again more than I do. I have heard you say it so many times in exactly the same words that I think I could probably recite your words back to you verbatim without any prompts. However – whilst the tactics if Coalition etc are interesting, they are a separate discussion. What I am interested in is what happened before and during the Coalition negotiations. You have given us your view now, fir which I thank you, that these were probably good tactics as it meant that no time was wasted pursuing ‘red lines’ which the other side would not countenance. I don’t, by the way, agree with your opinion but I accept that you hold it honestly. No, what I was more concerned about was whether the LibDems negotiating team had promised us voters one thing while actively decided that they would not peruse that at all, and whilst telling us that unlike other parties they would not break their promise. Such a cynical strategy takes my breath away. I was interested to hear if you had any evidence to the contrary but it seems that you do not and in any case it seems to be less of an issue for you than for me, from what you say.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th May '14 - 2:30pm

    Voter

    I do not see why a minority govenment would equal “chaos”.

    The right wing press will not support the Lib Dems. I do not see fear of what the press might say as a reason for Lib Dems to abandon their principles.

    Democratic politics is about coming to a compromise. A compromise does mean accepting something that is not your ideal. If everyone sat down and said the only acceptable government was one whose policies were 100% what they wanted, never mind what anyone else wanted, we would not get anywhere. One person’s “sticking to your principles” is another person’s “unreasonable stubbornness”. One can note many situations across the world and across history where a mess has been caused by a refusal of any major elements to compromise.

    There’s a fantasy world in which the Liberal Democrats refused to give up any of their policies, voted down anything put forward by the minority Conservative government that would have been put in place and were cheered on for keeping to their principles for doing so.

    Then there’s the real world in which the right-wing press does have a big influence, and the right-wing press and the Labour Party would make quite sure the Liberal Democrats got no credit for “sticking to their principles”. As I’ve already noted, we saw the Labour/right-wing-press alliance in action in the AV referendum, and more recently in the issue of mandatory punishments for knife crimes.

    If one is in the real world, one has to have a sense of one’s enemies, having that sense is the best way to defeat them. If you have no sense of their power, and rush forth to attack them on that basis, you will be shot down by them.

    The line I am taking is not because I take the Nick Clegg position of thinking the current coalition is wonderful, the fulfilment of Liberal Democrat dreams, what we who have been long-term members of the party have been working towards achieving for decades. I think the current coalition is horrible, I detest much of what it is doing. Unfortunately, it IS what the people voted for, as I keep saying not just in May 2010 but a year later when they supported the electoral system which gave it to us, with the campaign in favour its retention dominated by the claim that its distortion which so weakened the Liberal Democrats and strengthened the Conservatives is the best thing about it. As I said then, anyone who voted “No” to electoral reform was in effect voting “Yes” to THIS coalition.

    It has been impossible to get this message across for two reasons:

    1) Almost everything Nick Clegg says and does undermines it, he destroys the reasonable defence I am willing to give for his position in the coalition.

    2) The general assumption ion this country that politics here runs on Leninist lines, so it is just assumed that as I am a member of the Liberal Democrats I must be someone who obeys The Party Line as dictated by the Dear Leader, and that therefore whatever I say is just some rubbish made up to try and hide my real motivation, and therefore it is dismissed without consideration.

  • @ Matthew

    “Are you a right-wing Tory or an Ayn Rand fan or the like?”

    A student Trot (many years ago) now a UKIP voter. Thanks for asking.

    The fact that I am further right than Ghengis Khan doesn’t actually invalidate my proposition from first principle though does it?

    You don’t need to answer that… 🙂

  • Chris Manners 15th May '14 - 7:33pm

    “But whilst I applaud our respectful attitude towards politics”

    How do you feel about your party’s Taxpayers Alliance approach to the local elections? Albeit with the added twist that the examples of “waste” come only for the other parties?

  • Chris Manners 15th May '14 - 7:38pm

    “I’m a 16 year old student, and I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013 for three reasons. I believe passionately that democracy in Britain is failing, and the Liberal Democrats are the only party that seek that cause with integrity. I couldn’t deal with Labour’s ridiculous opposition rhetoric, and I could see past the witch-hunt of Liberal Democrats which seeks to divert attention from uniquely well-rounded policy.”

    How do you feel about the way that we went from an inconclusive election to a 5 year fixed Coalition government, on the back of your party dumping its policies and doing a deal behind closed doors?

    Does that scream democracy at you?

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th May '14 - 3:13pm

    Chris Manners

    How do you feel about the way that we went from an inconclusive election to a 5 year fixed Coalition government, on the back of your party dumping its policies and doing a deal behind closed doors?

    Does that scream democracy at you?

    More people voted Conservative than for any other party. A year later, the people of this country voted, by two-to-one, in favour of the “No” side in the referendum on electoral reform, when the “No” side’s main argument was that the distortion of the current electoral system in favour of the biggest party and against smaller parties was a good thing. As the biggest party was the Conservatives, then surely that indicates people were voting to say they wanted a Conservative government. What other government do you think people should have had as a result of the 2010 general election? What about the 2005 general election, where a smaller proportion of people voted Labour than voted Conservative in 2010, yet we got a pure Labour government? Why no fuss about the legitimacy of that one?

    You seem to be saying that the Liberal Democrats, with less than 1 in 10 MPs, should not have accepted any government that was not 100% Liberal Democrat in policy – to do so would be, according to you, “dumping its policies”. Why do you think it would be right for the party that came third in terms of votes to force a government which is 100% of its policies? Or to render the country ungovernable by refusing to agree to any government policy that was not 100% in agreement with its own?

    If the people had voted “Yes” in the 2011 referendum on electoral reform, then I think it could be said the current government is illegitimate, because of the way the balance in it is five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth Liberal Democrat, even though the vote ratio of the two parties was three Conservatives votes for every two LibDem ones. Although the referendum was only on AV, it was widely seen as a stepping stone to proportional representation, and the “No” campaign was run largely on that basis. When the “No” side won, the universal conclusion was that it had killed off any chance of any sort of electoral reform, no-one took the opposite line and claimed AV was rejected because it was not enough of a reform.

    So, people voted by two to one in favour of the distortion that gave us this Tory-dominated government. Why do you claim it is undemocratic? I don’t like it at all, but I accept I was on the losing side in all these votes. Isn’t democracy about accepting what others say they want if you are on the losing side?

  • jedibeeftrix 16th May '14 - 4:12pm

    “Isn’t democracy about accepting what others say they want if you are on the losing side?”

    Yes.

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