Opinion: One year on from Tuition Fees: why I’m still a Liberal Democrat

It’s one year on from the vote on Tuition Fees, so I thought I would lay out some reasons why I, as a student, am still a Liberal Democrat after our great ‘betrayal’.

Although our ministers are having to make tough choices, Liberal Democrats have won a major victory – having a tax cut for the low paid, rather than the very rich, as the Tories would have preferred. Raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 is a good way to correct the disaster Gordon Brown created when he scrapped the 10p tax band. Plus it is a tax cut for everyone.

In education, the Pupil Premium is a truly liberal idea. Liberalism is all about setting people free and to do that, they need to be educated to a certain level. The Pupil Premium will ensure that financially disadvantaged children have that an improved education. The idea is so good, Kirsty Williams even got Welsh Labour to adopt it in Wales! Liberal Democrats are ensuring that free nursery places for 2 year olds are being extended too.

Nick Clegg has fought hard for the Youth Contract, which is investing £1bn in unemployed young people.

And that old Liberal Democrat chestnut: constitutional reform. We managed to wrangle a referendum on the Alternative Vote from the Tories and in the process of finally reforming the House of Lords. We’ve cut the cost of politics, by cutting the number of MPs by 50 from 2015. We’ve also started the process of reforming libel laws. After the Fox-Werrity affair and the boasting of Bell Pottinger, there is now more support for a Lobbyists’ Register.

It is important to remember that Liberal Democrats have, or are in the process of having, 75% of their manifesto enacted, compared to 60% of the Conservative Manifesto.

Here’s what I hope to see in the coming year:

  • A big increase in house building
  • A lobbyist’s register
  • Votes at 16
  • Better conditions for our Armed Forces (especially their housing)
  • An economy not plummeting into recession.

Harry Matthews is a member of the Liberal Youth Executive.

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25 Comments

  • Harry writes
    “Here’s what I hope to see in the coming year:
    •A big increase in house building
    •A lobbyist’s register
    •Votes at 16
    •Better conditions for our Armed Forces (especially their housing)
    •An economy not plummeting into recession.”

    Sorry I think the only one that we have any hope of seeing is the lobbyists’ register

    Lib Dems making a difference whilst the Tories shaft the country!

  • Daniel Henry 9th Dec '11 - 3:41pm

    The increase in housing seems to be underway. Andrew Sturnell had a good article about it a few days back.

  • “We managed to wrangle a referendum on the Alternative Vote from the Tories and in the process of finally reforming the House of Lords.”

    But the referendum (which we lost, by the way) was traded for the reduction in the number of MPs and the gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries, both of which are deeply anti-democratic and will ensure that the Liberal Democrats lose up to a third of their seats on 2010 levels of support.

    “We’ve cut the cost of politics, by cutting the number of MPs by 50 from 2015.”

    Is this not a deeply retrograde step? Hardly the kind of thing one would expect a party committed to localism and community politics to be trumpeting as a success.

    “It is important to remember that Liberal Democrats have, or are in the process of having, 75% of their manifesto enacted, compared to 60% of the Conservative Manifesto.”

    If David Icke had written that, the men in white coats would be taking the ferry to Ryde. Seriously, if we want people to listen rather than laugh, we have to stop saying such stupid things.

    Now, I don’t recall anything about 2.7 million unemployed, nil growth and the stealth privatisation of the NHS in our Manifesto, but I guess there are one or two things (the magic 25%) that we haven’t been able to implement.

  • Kurt Schwitters 9th Dec '11 - 4:34pm

    The sums have got to add up, all governments know that, and to suggest raising the tax threshold is some kind of giveaway to the poor is disingenuous. The poor are being hit in so many other ways, many of the facilities they use are being challenged, closed down, etc. We also received a letter from our local school encouraging all us poor people to register for free school meals, the pupil premium etc so that the school could get the money. They were begging us to register. To be honest the shame of getting free school meals is too much for many children, and the cruelty of other children towards them is never far away. These are important factors entirely unknown to middle class people of all parties.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '11 - 5:24pm

    Anyone who complains about tuition fees shouidl answer the question

    “OK, so how would YOU pay for higher education?”

    I’m very unhappy about tuition fees (my answer to the question would involve things like much higher inheritance tax or others taxes hitting the generation who made much unearned money out of housing, so causing so much misery to the next generation), but I have heard hardly anone who says they are against them give an honest answer to the question.

    If there is no answer given, the reality is that it would be done by more government borrowing – and who would pay that back and how? The next generation through their taxes, that’s who. I.e. the same money still has to be paid back by the same people.

    The other isue here is that, sure a £27,000 debt on the heads of young people is a bad thing. But who worried about the MUCH HIGHER extra debt thrown on the heads of young people when they want to get a roof over their heads, as caused by house price inflation, so encouraged by the last government and the one before that? To me, it’s hypocrisy to make a big thing about the £27,000 and nothing about the much great rise in the average cost of first-time buyer’s housing in the past decade or so.

    Now, having said this, Harry, please

    It is important to remember that Liberal Democrats have, or are in the process of having, 75% of their manifesto enacted, compared to 60% of the Conservative Manifesto.

    I have written MANY, MANY times in these columns about how the robotic repetition of this line from leadership-loyal members of the party is DAMAGING us. Take it from me, Harry, if the line winds me up so much, and I am still a member of the party, do you KNOW how much it winds up our average ex-voter?

  • David Pollard 9th Dec '11 - 5:54pm

    It is VITAL for the Liberal Democrat fairness agenda at the next election that Nick Clegg apologises for signing the pledge to vote against the rise in tuition fees. Else how will we be believed on anything else we say?
    Oh and don’t forget the upgrade in state pensions according to the CPI.

  • Simon Bamonte 9th Dec '11 - 6:09pm

    @David Pollard “It is VITAL for the Liberal Democrat fairness agenda at the next election that Nick Clegg apologises for signing the pledge to vote against the rise in tuition fees. Else how will we be believed on anything else we say?”

    You assume that the public still believe anything Clegg, and by extension our party as a whole says.

    I admire your optimism. But the unemployed, people in fuel poverty, NHS patients & workers, the sick and disabled, students, public sector workers, and almost all of our former left-of-centre voters by and large seem to have left in droves.

    Clegg and the coalition have turned our once great and proud party into a national joke.

  • “It is important to remember that Liberal Democrats have, or are in the process of having, 75% of their manifesto enacted, compared to 60% of the Conservative Manifesto.

    I have written MANY, MANY times in these columns about how the robotic repetition of this line from leadership-loyal members of the party is DAMAGING us. ”

    Has the 75% figure has ever been substantited other than one BBC programme?

  • Chris Smith 9th Dec '11 - 8:51pm

    Harry – thanks for writing this upbeat article but, while I usually try to be a half glass full man, I must agree with many of the other more negative comments on here. Yes there have been some successes but Tuition Fees is a real biggy and a real bad one for us, in my opinion. This one is going to really hurt electorally and it will keep coming back. The student cohort that will pay the trebled fees haven’t even started uni yet! Headlines will keep a-coming methinks.

    @Keith I completely agree – we fought an election on a fully costed plan over HE funding.
    @Matthew – fair points Matthew and if the tuition fees figures we fought 2010 on are now impossible post the economic downturn some form of general taxation should be used (hypothecation issues arise if you start linking some property windfall tax to it though). We should have had a much bigger review and taken time to assess the supply and demand issues around HE and FE and if fees had to go up the rise should have been much, much more limited. At the very least all MPs should have abstained on the vote. Anyway a generation now loathe us as a result.

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Dec '11 - 9:46pm

    Why can’t we just execute the financially responsible plan to abolish tuition fees over six years that the Lib Dems had in their 2010 manifesto?

    The only reason is because both of the other parties are against it, and both of them want higher tuition fees (Labour wants £6k, Tories want unlimited)

    The LD party’s handling of this situation was painfully bad, but the simple fact is that people voted overwhelmingly for parties that campaigned on a plan of increasing tuition fees. There was no way to make it happen. I wish there had been.

  • I am afraid that the student fees issue has been a disaster for the
    LibDems , even thought it was unavoidable.

    One good thing will come out of this, the longtime asleep students have woken up to the fact that their future is being shafted.
    I am not just talking about education policy but also the future of The human race, as the environment , climate change and the green economy is being sidelined by the coalition and labour as well . I hope they realise the bigger battle that needs fighting.

  • @Clive Peedell

    I read the article you link to, and its got a perfectly sound narrative to it. Economic liberalism is the means to the end of social liberalism. Always has been. Where economic liberals like Gladstone appeared to be ‘classic’ or more laissez-faire, it was more because they were absolutely obsessed about balancing the budget. Even Gladstone was prepared to raise new taxes to pay for policy that would see the state act as regulator or provider in sensitive areas. Mix Keynes in there, and you’ve got a party willing to engage in deficit spending, but always with a credible repayments strategy. Compassionate and competent?

    The thing is this hasn’t changed, even with the rise of the Orange Book. Even David Laws is on record as considering economic liberalism as an essential, not on grounds of ideology but as the platform to build social liberalism in a financially sustainable way.

    Anyway, getting back on theme, the reason why I’m still a Liberal Democrat is because we still have things we can achieve in government. Lords Reform is within reach, which is great. Localism is up in the air right now, but there are interesting noises coming from the Scottish Party regarding Home Rule that I sincerely hope could be applied to the English Regions as well. Shrinking the Westminster Parliament is only logical in a context of diminishing responsibilities and greater devolution.

    My particular area of knowledge is the environment, and it seems to me that Liberal Democrats in government are driving the agenda entirely here, with the Tories only able to put up delaying actions and obstructions to our plan. Green Investment Bank is a good one, and Huhne’s performance at Cancun last year and in Durban now is good. Things like the solar panel subsidy cut have been botched, yes, but on the whole we’ve been on the right side of the arguments and have quite often been winning them against arguments from Osborne and company.

    Which brings us on to the economy. Its not looking good now, but we do have our own unique argument here. We have always argued for fairer taxes that don’t harm economic activity. Taxes raised on dormant assets like land, tax raised on great wealth and immovables like mansions, tax raised on overconsumption. The best thing is that many of these types of tax can help close the deficit gap without cutting a single front-line service. I can only hope our ministers are arguing for these sorts of reforms around the cabinet table.

  • I’m still a Liberal Democrat because I want to build and safeguard a free, fair and open society, and because Tim Farron was elected President just as I was about to tear up my membership card, but …

    I’m still very angry that so many Lib Dem MPs broke their pledges on tuition fees. We would have paid for higher education out of higher but still proportionate taxes on the wealthy, as we explained in our manifesto, not a 9% pa supertax on young English graduates. The Tories vetoed our plans, but we should have told them that we couldn’t support their planned increase in tuition fees, and they needed to do a deal with Labour in the light of the Browne review, which both parties had committed to implement.

    And I’m also angry that the party leadership didn’t listen to the rank and file. The Coalition Agreement was deliberately misleading on this point, and we would not have supported it if we had known what the real deal was. The leadership needs to bring the proposed annual coalition programme (the draft Queen’s Speech) back to conference every year so we can have a proper public debate. After all, how can we persuade the electorate to vote for a free, fair and open society, if we don’t even have a free, fair and open party?

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Dec '11 - 12:59pm

    The Tories vetoed our plans, but we should have told them that we couldn’t support their planned increase in tuition fees, and they needed to do a deal with Labour in the light of the Browne review, which both parties had committed to implement.

    That would probably have been much better for the party’s popularity. On the other hand, it was the early days of the coalition, and that would have risked fracturing a government that was still very fragile.

    I’m going to take a different angle: with the benefit of hindsight, Clegg should have insisted that the tuition fees issue be punted until 2012. The very real difference of opinion on the subject would have been far less politically risky by then.

    (The reason why the party leadership messed tuition fees up so badly is because it was the first real crisis, and they were all still figuring out how to make the coalition work)

  • LDV is rapidly turning into the mirror image of conservativehome, judging by these comments.

    Continuity SDP?

  • Chris Smith 10th Dec '11 - 6:23pm

    @Tabman All comments?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Dec '11 - 9:24pm

    Keith Day

    @Matthew – Why can’t we just execute the financially responsible plan to abolish tuition fees over six years that the Lib Dems had in their 2010 manifesto?

    Because we don’t have a majority in Parliament. Isn’t that obvious?

  • WHS (what Hywel said)

  • @Hywel, I’ve thought about it and the way that the 75% rule goes is this. Three weeks out of every four Cameron has the pictures of the wedding in the rose garden out in pride of place on the desk in his office. He remembers he’s in a coalition. Then 1 week in 4 he sticks the photos in a drawer and goes on a break. Last week he was on a break.

  • Ed Shepherd 11th Dec '11 - 8:27pm

    I think lifelong education should be free at the point of delivery to the user, funded by a progressive tax system. The benefits of a well-educated population free from the burden of student debts would be well-worth paying for. I would vote for any party offering this policy. Sadly, none of the three main parties offer such a policy even thought they are all led by politicians who benefitted from state-subsidised education. Under the current system, a young person who goes out to work in a low-paying job and spends his/her money on having a good time has more hope for a better future than a student who mortgages their future on the gamble of getting graduate employment and ends up in a low-paid job. I work with dozens of such graduates.

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