Opinion: tuition fees – our moment of truth

Sometimes political life is just one controversy after another. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, a special issue takes centre stage and becomes totemic – a key decision which sets the course for a whole period of government. So it was for Blair’s Iraq. So it is now for Clegg’s tuition fees.

William Cullerne Bown has described our dilemma well. The options are to trash the Coalition or to trash the Liberal Democrat brand. There is no third way. It is far too late to rethink whether we should have signed the NUS pledge, whether we should have promised to defend our young people, whether we should have won a string of seats on that promise. We did all those things.

If we merely leave it to the Kennedys and the Campbells to register a few dissenting votes against fees, and to remind us that principles once mattered to this party, we shall irretrievably trash the Lib Dem brand amongst a generation who could have become our core supporters.

If we go for a cleverly fudged compromise such as mass abstention, knowing that this will allow the proposals to pass, we shall only make things even worse for ourselves. A vote to sit on the fence would only proclaim that we are hypocrites as well as turncoats.

When the vote comes, the commentators will carefully explain the Parliamentary arithmetic to the public. They will explain what the Lib Dems must do to defeat the proposals. If all our backbenchers vote against, while our Ministers preserve their positions by abstaining as the coalition agreement allows them to do, it should in principle be enough to defeat the proposals. (Admittedly, a few Labour rebels could still see the Tory proposals win through – but if that did happen, at least it would then be those Labour rebels, not the Lib Dems, who would take the blame.)

If we don’t want to trash our brand, that is what we must do. Nothing less will pass muster. This is our moment of truth.

We do, then, have to consider whether we will have trashed the Coalition. Now, no doubt Cameron has told Clegg that to vote down the fees proposal would be an unpardonable betrayal which would bring swift oblivion on the Liberal Democrats. No doubt Cameron has promised an immediate “who governs Britain” election, at which the Lib Dems would be wiped off the map while the Tories gained a sole mandate.

It would take a lot of nerve for the Lib Dems to call that bluff. It should, however, pay off.

Cameron is not the sort of man to put petty revenge above self-interest. A snap election would be hugely unpopular and would make mockery of the Tory claim to provide stable government to tackle the financial crisis. Cameron knows that the likely result would be a narrow win for Labour, the swift return of the Tories to the Opposition benches where they languished so long under Blair and Brown, and the end of his own career.

No, Cameron would find better ways to respond. No doubt the Tory Party would rise up en masse with a demand to cancel the AV referendum. Frankly, that could be a blessing in disguise. Losing that referendum next May could set our cause back a generation. No doubt Cameron would also throw some of our ministers out of their jobs, and adopt an altogether warier attitude to his coalition partners. The love-in on the Downing Street lawn would be over. Our coalition would survive. In fact, it would change for the better.

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93 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 5th Dec '10 - 9:19am

    Or we could stick to the Coalition Agreement This is clear, if the Browne proposals are unacceptable we can abstain.
    There is no doubt that Clegg and Cable have made an utter balls up of this. They should have realised that even though they succeeded in making tuition fees much fairer, the NUS and Labour Party would run an utterly dishonest campaign that the new proposals ‘triple fees’.
    If we had said from the day the report was published that they were unacceptable and we would abstain much grief would have been avoided.
    Of course the Tories would have had enough votes to push through a much more unfair fees system but that would have been a price worth paying.

  • How on earth can anyone know if this will be “a key decision which sets the course for a whole period of government”? Perhaps some people think that the status quo in university funding is so great that it’s worth abolishing electoral reform for, and worth decimating the Lib Dem representation in government for. After all, some people would rather be in permanent opposition rather than ever participate in one of those nasty coalition with horrible compromises – turns out these coalitions were not what we wanted after all.

    (P.S. If you think that cancelling the referendum will not itself “set our cause back a generation”, you’re in Candide-land.)

  • Excellent. Agree with every word. However, Mr Clegg, Mr Alexander, Mr Laws and Mr Cable have done more than enough damage to the LibDem brand (and the fees issue is only one of many) to ensure that the LibDem brand is permanently damaged. “Progressive politics”, including PR (the AV referendum is now as good as lost), have been put back a generation.

  • By voting against this the we will be consigning ourselves to electoral oblivion. The average voter will only see a pathetic bunch of losers who bottled the tough decision on the back of a stupid and idiotic pledge that should never have been made.

    They should whip for a choice of abstentions or ayes, and not give the option of voting against to the bill. That way those who cannot vote for it in conscience can abstain. Those who are rejecting the leadership can defy the whip, but the government gets the proposals through. Proposals that came fro a Labour-initiated commission and launched by a Lib Dem minister.

  • A thoughful and welcome article articulating a view that no doubt has a great deal of support at the grassroots. And that matters because next years elections and the AV vote will place equal if not greater strain on the coaltion than sticking to the fees promise.

    This whole debacle shows that there was actually very little thought given to the long term implications when the coalition agreement was cobbled together in those few hurried days back in May. In retrospect, we can see that the negotiations were hurried and against the clock, not because of any worries from the markets, but because sooner or later Brown was going to rumble that he was being used as a bargaining chip and pull the plug out of spite. Which he did.

    Because of this any possible trouble down the line was glossed over and papered over with the agreement document. It was imbued with the power to resolve all possible conflicts between Conservative and Liberal Democrat’s who had mere days before it been fighting tooth and nail in the election. This was a power the document did not have and never would have. Belatedly realising this Nick and the leadership have adopted the ‘it’ll all turn out nice in a few years’ strategy.

    It won’t.

    The Fees issue is now a trust issue and lightning rod for the public’s view of not just Nick but the Party at large. It’s not going away next week, next year, or in five years. While next years elections and AV vote will prove that you simply cannot stand four square behind everything that is done in the name of a coalition if you wish to remain a separate and distinct political Party.
    There has to be some distance maintained. It’s not ‘we’re all in this together’ when the blame goes to the Liberal Democrats and any credit goes to the Conservatives in the polls.

    You support the policies your Party agrees with and you don’t support the policies you disagree with. If you don’t you will be considered untrustworthy and suffer the public backlash. This is politics 101 and the fees vote and the harsh reality of the coming elections will restore that obvious truth with a vengeance.

  • My reading of the Coalition Agreement is not that the Browne report will be government policy, but that the government (ie including Lib Dem ministers) will take a view on the report and if Lib Dems don’t like it they can abstain.  However, Lib Dem backbenchers could reasonably have thought that, since all Lib Dem MPs had signed the pledge, Lib Dem ministers would not allow the ‘government view’ to be a doubling/trebling of fees.  Consequently, the backbenchers should not consider themselves bound by the Coalition Agreement and should feel able/compelled to vote against.  If this forces Lib Dem ministers to vote for it in order to give it a chance to pass, so be it.  It was LD ministers’ failure to keep their own NUS pledge that has put the backbenchers in this position, and so they alone should be taking the flak.

  • There is very little that I can add to what David has said – he is right on almost every point. So I will keep my comments brief.

    (1) Cameron is unlikely to call a general election any time soon. Prime Ministers only call general elections if (a) they have run out of time, or (b) their party enjoys a substantial and sustained opinion-poll lead.

    (2) Scrapping the AV referendum would be a very good thing indeed. AV is a bad system, is bad for the Liberal Democrats, and is not PR. However, I think we would have to insist that the accelerated boundary review and the reduction in the number of MPs go into the long grass as well.

    (3) Losing some junior ministers would be good for the party. It would preserve those MPs’ reputations and enable them to do more work in their constituencies, thereby increasing their reelection prospects.

  • @Sesenco Completely agree with you ‘Losing some junior ministers would be good for the party. It would preserve those MPs’ reputations and enable them to do more work in their constituencies, thereby increasing their reelection prospects.’
    In fact we should make it clear that no Lib Dem MP will ever serve as a Minister, so they all have more time to ensure their reeelction.

  • First of all, whatever the rights and the wrongs of the underlying subject, this situation has been horrendously handled. To such an extent that the subject is now being lost under the pantomime of a party in government unable to decide which way to face and unable to put out a clear, consistent, credible message. It is embarrassing and will cost us votes in the short, medium and long term, irrespective of how the vote now goes.

    In an era when people have lost faith in their politicians, Lib Dems had a different approach. We were portraying ourselves as honest, genuine, authentic, caring. We held that ground well over Iraq and it started to pay dividends through the leader’s debates. It started to wobble over immigration where it became apparent that the detail was slightly less straightforward, but our stance over tuition fees was clear, our commitment boldly made, and it won us support, votes and seats.

    Now we see statements by a variety of senior MPs saying things like “I am only following the coalition agreement”, “I regret signing the pledge” and “had I known we would be in power, I would not have signed the pledge”. Again, whatever the rights and wrongs of the underlying subject, and however the vote ends up going, this cynical approach has simply harmed us. We have to realise that when politicians make personal commitments, they have to stand by them.

    The farce of the stories coming out of Westminster are terribly damaging – the very idea that Vince Cable could introduce a bill into parliament and then abstain; the idea that the party could be split three ways, the lack of coordination and sensible approaches to this issue. On the ground we face ridicule from our opponents and challenges to our integrity and credibility from the electorate.

    We have to try to take control of this situation and move forward. I see two options.

    First, we do the right thing. MPs who signed the pledge vote against tuition fee rises carry that through. Ministers and all, Deputy Prime Minister or Business Secretary or whoever. (Yes, that means Vince should not be the one to introduce the bill – can we not see how deliberately the Tories stage manage these problems for us?)

    Failing that we take a more cynical but less incoherent approach than the one we are seeing. I am told that the proposed new tuition fee system is fairer than the old one. “Fairer” is a heavily overused word at the moment and I am not always sure whether those who use it politically have the same meaning I have. Putting that aside, it does give a possible approach to this issue. The pledge signed by prospective MPs was to vote against rises in tuition fees and to push for a fairer system. Notice that “and” in there? Two halves of a pledge. The party decide that to be able to deliver the second part of the pledge now, whilst working towards delivering the first part of the pledge “over the longer term” (as the public purse recovers), Lib DemMPs have to breach that first part and allow tuition fees to rise for the short term. It isn’t elegant, it won’t be popular, but at least it has coherence.

    Looking to the future, the party needs to realise that it cannot keep working this way. We are a party that exists only because of our values. Among those values, contrary to the other two parties, is a consistent philosophy and set of principles. Both other main parties will totally revise their principles at the drop of an opinion poll, we don’t.

    We must stand up for what we believe in. We must be active members of this coalition to ensure future electoral reforms are seen as desirable, even though they will create permanent coalitions. But we must remember that our parliamentarians are only one part of our organisation – we must not sacrifice, for example, our local activists and local politicians at the altar of clinging onto this current coalition agreement. For if we do, who will deliver the leaflets?

  • One calculation that will be foremost in Liberal Democrat MPs (and I’m sure more than a few ministers) minds before the vote is their own majority for their seat and whether it can stand a ‘poll shock’. But that only applies to seats with a large student vote you say ? Not anymore. It’s become a trust issue.
    Those who think the fees promise will not be used ruthlessly on the ground by Labour and the Conservatives in an election campaign are delightfully naive. Any MP with a photo of him or her grinning and holding up the fees promise will want some insurance against that and voting no is about the only way to mitigate it.

    Nick and the Leadership are having blazing rows about this now but the truth is when Nick signed the coalition agreement he should have made it a red line issue, regardless of his personal feelings about fees. As this was always going to end in a chaotic and hugely damaging debacle.

  • Bravo! Call the bluff indeed. It is time the Lib Dems stood up for their policies and stopped acting like they are powerless. This is not the end of the road of course. There should be a better balance of public and private spending in higher education, as in everything else. Force the Government to go back to the drawing board and come back with better proposals.

  • The Lib Dems are in government now. That means it’s time to grow up and stop behaving like a holier-than-thou opposition party. The tuition fees pledge was made to try and obtain student voters, there was never any realistic chance of tuition fees being held down and the Lib Dem leadership knew it.

    Government involves hard choices, deal with it.

  • Paul Kennedy 5th Dec '10 - 10:40am

    Nick and Vince have been driving this forward against the party’s wishes and will have to answer for the resulting car crash, but let’s have no more games. Let every Lib Dem MP now vote according to his or her conscience.

  • Interesting take on the debacle – that is to relate it to party branding. It is exactly the right perspective.

    Clegg + Cable have, in my view, irreparably damaged the Lib Dem brand. Their flip-flopping on this has set them back 30 years. The pre-election pledge will not been forgiven. Abstention would be a disaster for the party. The electorate can forgive policies they disagree with. They never forgive politicians without backbone.

    Cameron has played this one superbly. By putting Cable in charge of the Business Dept – he has given the Lib Dems so much rope to hang themselves.

    I agree that the party should split 3 ways. Clegg + Cable have created this rod for their own backs. It is interesting how the rest of the front bench have gone incommunicado recently. Plotting or allowing the front 2 to cut their own throats? Who knows – but it is far from presenting party unity.

    Even now, there seem to be policies made up on the hoof. We find out today that actually those from poorer backgrounds will have their first year’s fees paid. Really? Why wasn’t this announced when the Browne review was announced by the Lib Dems? If it looks like a concession, smells like a concession and feels like a concession – it must be a concession. It kinds of kills the argument once and for all that this policy is in response to the budget deficit.

  • Cash for the free Year for poorer student would come from The £150m National Scholarship Programme already announced. IF we can get more funding for this so that more students are covered then this would be a way out. As it stands at the moment our MP’s have to back the pledge they each made.
      

  • @David Allen

    “…could still see the Tory proposals win through…”

    It’s been widely reported on BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, the proposals were announced by Vince Cable – not the Conservatives. I remember it on TV in the House of Commons. A host of LibDem MPs have been in the media, on talk-shows, Radio 4 etc, supporting Vince Cable’s proposals to increase tuition fees: Stephen Williams, Norman Lamb, Jo Swinson and Nick Clegg, to name a few.

    I don’t think anyone believes these are Conservative proposals.

  • I have really enjoyed reading most of the comments on the thread and they have opened up new perspectives for me as to Liberal thinking on the mechanics of the coalition.

    One thing I think that has been missed is the way in which power can, if not corrupt, most certainly bend personal principles.

    I have been involved in politics for 50+ years mainly with the Labour Party and I have seen how the trappings of ministerial office can go to the head of the most doughty fighter for the working class. It isn’t just about the ministerial Jag and extra money – well maybe in the final analysis it is for a lot of elevated backbenchers.

    No it’s much more complex and subtle and I’ve slowly come to believe that the road to eventual moral corruption starts with the blinkered belief that backbenchers are merely lobby fodder with no real ‘power’. If only they can get a bit of power in a junior ministerial role or even access to an ‘ear’ as a PPS then they will be able to do so much more to help the people they were elected to represent.

    The problem is that this is the slippery slope and once on it the momentum of the power game keeps increasing and at some stage for a lot of MPs they actually ‘believe’ they have a right to be not only a government minister but even PM.

    Knowing so many of these people over the years the delusion could be laughable but it is too dangerous for that as it distrorts and warps the whole operation of democracy.

    Some of the LibDem MPs are in the very initial stages of this journey so beware – they won’t want to voluntarily relinquish their grip on power and they will look for every possible means to advance their personal career. Even some of those who are ‘just’ backbenchers will now be looking with envy at the ones who have already moved on beyond them in the power stakes.

    I am not attacking LibDem MPs in particular or indeed in isolation – I am merely making an observation, based on personal observations over a prolonged period, on human nature and the problems that political parties face in implementing party policy or manifesto commitments when their MPs have other fish to fry.

    Yea I vote Labour but I don’t want to see the side of the LibDem Party that I value in terms of democracy and social values being destroyed by a cynical Tory Party which has dreadfully used a very naive LibDem Parly leadership. So I hope these comments will be taken in a constructive way.

    However, to go back to my hobby-horse – never forget the real issue here is Tory ideology and the more LibDem MPs get caught up in the financial detail of making any fee rise a progressive one for poorer students then the more they lose sight of the real prize for the Tories which is turning the funding of UK unis into one where the state makes no contribution to teaching costs but they are borne solely by students with some alms distributed to ease social conscience.

  • Dave Page.

    Was it made clear that it would be free for poorer students? Free – not cheaper. I must have missed that – along with everyone else.

    Come on, admit it. They’ve just made that bit up because they’ve been spooked by the protests.

    Clegg still misses the point. People aren’t protesting because of the policy. They’re protesting because he has jumped behind the Tory policy with apparent glee.

  • This article makes a lot of sense to me as a voter.

    Aside from the politcial mismanagement of this, the whole policy seems to be turning into a complete shambles. It now seems that a ‘sweetener’ of extra funding, as discussed above, has been offered; the Scots and Welsh have gone their own ways, leading to a split system that discriminates against English students; and, as discussed elsewhere on this site, how the threshold for repayment will change with prices/earnings doesn’t seem entirely clear. The policy seems like a turkey, just in time for Xmas!

    A ‘no’ vote would show the LDs did the right thing (well, in the end: in a few yrs, maybe the dithering can be put down to inexperience in government). As I understand, there will be no income stream from the proposed fees for 3-4 years, so I can’t see the financial imperative – and, in any event, we can apparently borrow a similar amount to lend to Ireland. Better for this thing to fail, go back to consultation and then decide in 2011, when things are less frantic?

  • @ Dave Page who said: ‘People are protesting because the NUS, Liberal Youth etc. are lying to them about what the proposals involve.’

    Been watching Aaron Porter on TV just now saying he’s been challenging Nick Clegg to a public debate for weeks on the issue and Clegg is bodyswerving him. Aaron seems totally au fait with his brief unlike Clegg or Cable so I’m not surprised Clegg won’t face him.

    You must be in the information food chain Dave because the big problem about these proposals is that the detail of what they involve just haven’t been published and I reckon that’s because they haven’t yet been worked out yet,

    It’s just being made up as they go along and little bits are being squeezed out when Clegg/Cable wants to do a bit of spinning. MPs will vote next week and we still don’t have any details. The vote has even been split in two parts because there isn’t any details available.

    The £150m is a drop in the ocean and has to be seen against the £500m EMA which the coalition has scrapped as well as other schemes. Unis already have to give fee assistance to poorer students so is the new scheme going to provide more – well we don’t know because no details have been published.

    How many students at Russell Group unis had school meals at school? Not a lot when you consider that Goves before the GE attacked Labour’s record as there were only 40-45 Oxbridge students in that category. In any case my suspicion is that 9K unis will subtly exclude FSM students to avoid losing income. Will the coalition set a percentage they have to take – who knows as no details are available.

    What about my case – I was eleigible for free school meals but my single parent mum worked even harder so that I didn’t have the stigma attached and I think that even today there will be many others in that position. But would I qualify for fee assistance – again who knows.

    This coalition is spewing out legislation and the coalition is voting it through and the detail is very very defficient – but these will present as future pitfalls for the coalition.

    One thing that has really amazed me about some LibDem members is the hatred with which they now view all students and the terminology they use when referring to them – obviously these students can’t be that cuddly bunch who the LibDems were wooing pre-election when they were trying to con votes out of them.

    Oh and Dave, whether Labour u-turned or not doesn’t seem to be bothering those irrational pesky students who I doubt will ever vote LibDem again. And I’m really surprised at your attitude to Liberal Youth – if young party members ain’t revolting against their elders and betters then gawd help whatever party they belong to.

    Only as I moved into my 60s did I really come to appreciate that the future is Youth and always has been and always will be. Like it or not it’s the way of the world and that’s why I believe in having as educated and articulate youth as this COUNTRY can afford and not just rich families.

    Of course if all the guff we are now getting about how progressive all this were actually true, where does this lead the middle classes who appear to be getting squeezed in every direction. But I suppose that’s another issue and to be fair it’s unlikely to bother the coalition as the Tories have no real interest in them except as voting fodder as Tories are only really interested in the rich and that won’t change under Cameron.

  • How is coalition government supposed to work if one of the partners betrays the other as soon as it has an incentive to do so?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 1:11pm

    “How many students at Russell Group unis had school meals at school?”

    That’s an interesting point. This 18,000 students will represent maybe 3% of the university population. But it seems that about 14% of school pupils are eligible for free school meals. On that basis only about a tenth of them go to university, compared with half of the population as a whole.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '10 - 1:43pm

    If coalition politics is ever to work, then parties have to stick to specific pledges they make such as “I will vote against any increase in tuition fees”. The specific pledge is between an MP and his or her electorate and is more important than anything in the manifesto, or any subsequent coalition agreement. Clegg, Cable and the rest should have been more careful about the pledges they made if they did not believe in them, but cannot weasel out now by either voting for or abstaining. The fact that the whip system persuades MPs to vote against their conscience or their personal promises is the number 1 thing wrong with our political system. Real people understand that you cannot get out of a promise by making a later one!

    I agree with other posters that this issue may kill the referendum vote. I have certainly lost all enthusiasm for what is only a marginal improvement to FPTP (and I am a member of the electoral reform society). Now STV would be different – then I could use my vote to get rid of pledge-breaking Lib Dems and replace them by more honourable people.

    Anyway, after wrestling with myself for a month and some correspondence with Simon Hughes I have finally resigned from the Lib dems today. For me the means (political process and being straight with the voters) is more important than the end (power). At the moment I doubt if I will ever vote again, I feel so betrayed… Maybe when the orange bookers have all moved over to the Tories I will rejoin the Lib Dems or whatever emerges from the wreckage

    If people want to know what is probably in store for the Lib Dems electorally, look up the 1924 election, which completed the decline caused by an ill-advised coalition with the Tories….

  • Firstly Matt is right – the removal of the EMA complicates this. Secondly, most unis cannot charge 6K – they would go bust OR will have to cut lots of frontline staff – including lecturers. Senior managers will not cut themselves, so frontline staff will go and the work be shifted sideways. Already, class sizes are huge. UCU have voted to ballot for strike and this will happen. Everyone is HE is fed up with the lack of leadership over this.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '10 - 2:16pm

    Dave,

    I don’t really care whether the orange bookers are or are not Tories – I just think that when the Lib Dems collapse at the next election that will be the way that those of the orange bookers who believe political power is more important than principle (like Clegg) will join the Tories, where they appear to be very comfortable. But I have been wrong plenty of times before!

    Philosophically I am actually a believer in sustainable economics – both “Liberal economics” and socialism believe permanent growth is the answer, and the present crisis is one result of living beyond our means. Of course, having got into such debt then growth is the only way out of it! When we really start running out of oil the current situation will seem like nothing…. The biggest historical mistake for UK plc in my view was giving all our oil revenue away in tax cuts instead of joining OPEC and getting the true value of this finite resource

  • Andy Robinson 5th Dec '10 - 4:00pm

    How is coalition government supposed to work if one of the partners betrays the other as soon as it has an incentive to do so?

    The question you should be asking is: how is democracy supposed to work if MPs betray the electorate as soon as they have an incentive to do so?

    Lib Dem MPs made their tution fee pledge to the electorate before they entered into the Coalition Agreement. It is the pledge they should hononor. To do anything else is to place their own self-interest above the interests of those they were elected to represent, and betrays the basic principles of representative democracy.

  • It is a fact that the proposals are better for people on low incomes, in particular for part time students. You know, those people who mostly didnt get a chance (let alone felt entitled) to go into adult education immediately after school.

    How is it better for Lib Dems to vote against proposals that benefit low income citizens in order to ‘keep a promise’ to maintain privilege for mostly middle class?

    Who really thinks that loyalty to the privileged class is more important than supporting equal access for those outside of it?

  • Speaking as some-one who joined the party at the last election and who now feels completely betrayed, I agree very strongly with this article. I shall go on supporting Julian Huppert in Cambridge, assuming that he keeps his word, but I will never give the national party any more money if they can’t demonstrate that they too can keep their promises.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 4:54pm

    “It is a fact that the proposals are better for people on low incomes, in particular for part time students.”

    Hold on a minute.

    The proposals may indeed be better for part-time students, but that’s not the same as being better for students on low incomes. Surely part-time students will generally have higher incomes than full-time students?

    What is the evidence that the proposals will be better for full-time students, given that the repayment threshold will be lower compared with earnings than the current threshold?

  • As a very angry student at the moment I cant believe how silly Clegg is being. If he lets this through then he ends the Liberal Democrats’ prospects of ever being in government again – and will cause an inevitable SDP moment where MPs desperate to avoid the LD name will flock and flea – leaving the Lib Dems into a 1950s size Liberal Parliamentary Party – if fortunate. The uniform swings suggest 16 LD seats, take marginals into account and the figure projected is that Ross Skye and Lochaber would be the only seat left.

    If the Lib Dems voted against these, and voted them down, then it will have a real effect for the party – no doubt the popularity would improve – and the student support would be reaffirmed, they’d probably get more seats in a snap election too.

    Nick Clegg will have the Liberal Democrat death warrant placed in front of him, if he signs it then you guys – who do seem reasonable are finished.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 5:19pm

    “the figure projected is that Ross Skye and Lochaber would be the only seat left.”

    Well, if there can be only one …

  • David Allen 5th Dec '10 - 5:49pm

    “How is coalition government supposed to work if one of the partners betrays the other as soon as it has an incentive to do so?”

    Fair question. Andy Robinson has given a key part of the answer – that the pledge to the voters has to come first. But it isn’t a complete answer. Cameron does have some sort of a case for arguing that we should stick to the deal we agreed. (It would be a much stronger case if Cameron hadn’t torn up the agreement himself, by bringing in major changes in schools and health policy which were not mentioned in the agreement, but let that pass!)

    What Clegg should have done, months ago, when the nature of this train wreck became apparent, was to go back to Cameron and say “Dave, we’ve boobed. We should have drawn a red line around tuition fees. We simply can’t break that pledge. Yes, of course we understand that we shall have to sacrifice some of the other good things we were expecting to gain from this agreement, in order to get your agreement to drop Browne. I’m very sorry, but we really can’t avoid re-negotiating this part of the agreement.”

    But he didn’t. Our backbench MPs must tell him that he should have done – and that it is not too late to start now.

  • “Surely part-time students will generally have higher incomes than full-time students?”

    how do you figure that?? Part-time students tend to be more likely to have dependents and less likely to be able to take three years out of work. Part-time students also tend to be doing part-time degrees because they didnt have the opportunity to do a full time degree after school. It may also be worth pointing out though that the number of young part time students has soared in the past couple of years. Reasons for going part time are overwhelmingly financial. Very few people are able to take three years out of work or looking for work to do full time study as an adult.

    And full time young students have a hell of a lot more flexibility to move to a different city to study a particular subject – or to stay in their parents home and not pay rent – than part time students. There is no way I could consider moving cities to do a specific course, I have children and a partner to consider among other things! These are major decisions for mature students with responsibilities, not so much for the young fresh out of school.

    So part-time students then tend to be in a far more precarious financial situation as well as having less flexibility to pick and choose universities and courses than young people. Part time Open University students also get a great deal less access to extra curricular activities and resources than young full time students. When people moan about the cost of university I dont think they can have honestly taken into account that what a full time student has access to is far more than just the course theyve chosen.

    The current system, while letting in more students than ever before, is still a discriminatory system that privileges the youth of a particular class as against adults across all ages who have not previously been given access to higher education. Even if you buy the idea that the educational privilege of higher education for a minority is beneficial to society as a whole (even though there are many negative yet generally undiscussed impacts on the majority who dont have a degree) the fact is higher education is NOT like the NHS, its not a service that everyone can access as and when they need it.

    Noone HAS to go to university – its a consumer decision that one usually requires a position of privilege even to consider. Seems these days that noone wants to admit that it is a privilege and a choice, or talk about the effect that privilege and choice has on those who dont have it!

    These proposals are better than the current system in that they will make university more accessible than it currently is. You cant deny that! Piddling about wondering whether people will be paying £7 a month or £30 a month isnt an argument – if the loans get you access in the first place then thats a start! Whichever way you want to look at it the cost monthly is going to be less than many of my graduate acquaintances spend on mobile phone contracts. And they would have to pay anyway – through regular income tax, through graduate tax, or through a student loan repayment scheme. The proposed system seems the fairest and most sensible way if people insist on keeping university resources exclusively for students. Id like to see people making arguments to keep them publicly funded to some extent, but stop the exclusivity, make university resources accessible to the public.

    But yeh, failing that, let students pay for their exclusive access, through loans to be paid back when theyre earning.

  • @ John Kiely

    John – I wonder if you could tell me what the positive aspects of the policy are? I hear what you say about agreeing a line and involving the wider party as well as spinning the media. But that could never prevent a train wreck like this if the Parly Leader scraps party policy and manifesto commitments and goes it alone, for whatever reason, despite the vast bulk of his party being opposed. And along the road he has talked his PPCs into signing personal pledges which he had decided months before wouldn’t be honoured.

    I realise Vince really just doesn’t seem to be able to handle his brief and that further complications have arisen because Goves at Education is equally all at sea and will obviously be replaced by Cameron at the first opportunity.

    But Clegg is the main mover behind all this and it most certainly will be interesting to see when the Palace Revolution will happen. I am well used to politicians never ever providing an actual answer but Clegg has developed this to a new art form. There is absolutely no substance or detail in anything he says – it’s all candyfloss – tastes sweet but has no substance.

    But John I am really confused about the admonition to PPCs not to sign uncosted or unrealistic pledges in the future. I thought your party policy on tuition fees was just that a party policy so does that mean the whole of the LibDem Party was being unrealistic and your Manifesto Commitment was fully costed I seem to recall. And it’s hardly fair to blame the PPCs when they were all but ‘whipped’ to sign the NUS pledge by Clegg.

  • Any bets on who will defect first to Labour?

  • Great article, agree totally with it.

    Even if it led to an election standing up to the Tories and keeping the pledge would help to return the party to it prior poll position. True it would be the end of Clegg and Cable, but it would keep my vote which along with many others will be lost the day of the vote if it goes the way I fear.

    Some on here seem to think that it’s OK to ignore pledges and play the long game. People have long memories as a party that has a high percentage of students and young professionals amongst it’s voters the damage would be huge. The prize for this betrayal is the AV vote. Just like Judas the party will find that the thirty pieces of silver bring no happiness…

  • I dont care that the party has “a high percentage of students and young professionals amongst it’s voters”. Prioritising loyalty to the privileged – which includes most students, graduates, and ‘young professionals’ – over people of all ages on lower incomes who would gain from the proposals, is the wrong thing to do.

  • Can anyone who posts “you don’t understand Coalition politics” tell me what prior experience they have of National Coalition Government?

    And I don’t mean devolved government – because it is similar only in name.

    It seems to me that the posters on this site who state “you don’t understand” (rather condescendingly I might add) are actually the ones who don’t understand. You see – I lived under Coalition governments in Germany for years. And as a political nerd – I took an active interest.

    And they were nothing like this one. The parties maintained a sense of separate identity. They took months to work out their coalition agreements, carefully protecting their red lines by careful negotiation. They campaigned on coalition policies as separate parties, detailing why they were for and against. They were open about disagreements in an adult way – but communicated them with truth.

    This Coalition appears in every way what it was – a rushed marriage of convenience. Clegg’s aim was so transparent that day-by-day you see just how much Cameron has him wrapped round his finger.

    It is shameful.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 8:04pm

    max

    What I asked was “What is the evidence that the proposals will be better for full-time students, given that the repayment threshold will be lower compared with earnings than the current threshold?”

    Was there any answer to that in your long comment in response to mine? I couldn’t see one.

  • @max
    The tuition fee proposals are rgressive above middle incomes, meaning that graduates that end up on high incomes will pay a smaller proportion of their income than the majority of graduates that end up on middle incomes. That’s why the tories like it.

  • @ Bryan

    I’ve always felt that the first defections will be to the Tories rather than Labour.

  • Oh I should have said that Milliband was on the news earlier calling on LibDem MPs to vote against and that certainly is a sure sign that those doing so could have a home in the LP should they require it at a later date.

  • Im not bothered particularly about people on middle incomes. Its all relative.

  • “Anthony Aloysius St
    Posted 5th December 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    max

    What I asked was “What is the evidence that the proposals will be better for full-time students, given that the repayment threshold will be lower compared with earnings than the current threshold?”

    Was there any answer to that in your long comment in response to mine? I couldn’t see one.”

    Beginning to pay back at £21k is better than paying back at £15k.

    Paying back a student loan that covers acces to three years of full time curricular and extracurricular activities at university is better than never having access at all.

    Otherwise why do it? If its worthwhile enough that taxes should be asked to cover it, then its worthwhile enough that individuals who benefit from it should be asked to cover some of it, especially when it is not a free service open to everyone but an exclusive service open to a few.

  • @Max It is a fact that the proposals are better for people on low incomes, in particular for part time students.

    The problem is that a ‘fact’ at the moment tends to be what the government (and in particular the Lib Dem element) hopes will be the case rather than what may happen in reality.. There’s been a lot of focus on the supposed benefits for part-timers, (very similar in tone to the ‘progessive’ nature of the the threshold figure, which also turns out to be a dubious working of sums) – why do I say this? Because the government’s own business department had this to say about the potential effects of the fee proposals

    We estimate around two-thirds of part-time students will not be eligible for fee loans. At the same time, the withdrawal of the teaching grant might mean that fees are increased across the board (including for students not eligible for fee loans). This could have a negative impact on part-time participation overall.”

  • Thats my issue here – university is an exclusive service open to a minority of people, and then only temporarily. Why should an exclusive service which massively benefits its users – not just in possible future employment terms but in other cultural and educational ways – be funded by taxes rather than its members?

    I would support tuition fees covering only an individuals tuition and related costs, if universities and their resources were opened to the public. But as long as that isnt going to happen, then students should pay for their exclusive access. I dont think its right that those who cant afford it should pay up front, and I think everyone should have a chance to make use of those resources, so the best way to go then is to provide loans that are repayable at an appropriate level at an appropriate time, and I think that these proposals do a good job on that point.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 9:06pm

    max

    Thanks for explaining. But I’m afraid I don’t agree.

    “Beginning to pay back at £21k is better than paying back at £15k.”

    But you’re comparing £15,000 now with £21,000 in 2016-2020. If you take the level of earnings as your standard of comparison, the new threshold will actually be lower than the present one (based on the Treasury’s own projections for earnings growth). That means that if you compare people in corresponding places on the wages scale (e.g. at the median), then their annual payments under the new scheme will be larger – not just in cash terms, but also relative to prices and relative to wages. And of course the total amount to be repaid will be much larger for everyone. So I find it very difficult to understand how this will make anyone better off.

    “Paying back a student loan that covers acces to three years of full time curricular and extracurricular activities at university is better than never having access at all.”

    But how is this new scheme going to improve access? On the contrary, there has actually been concern that student numbers may have to be cut because of the borrowing implications. The following is from one of William Cullerne Bown’s blog articles:
    Because it actually is DMO debt, the Treasury will need to keep a tight rein on how much is lent. Browne argued the money should be rationed by limiting loans to students scoring well enough in their A-levels. That was widely criticised and, as yet, we have no guidance from the Treasury on how much money it is prepared to provide for loans in future years, or how it intends to ration.
    This is one of the biggest gaps in the plans set out by David Willetts. But, if HEPI is right, then the minister for universities and science now has a whole new problem to worry about. For if most fees rocket to £9,000 a year, then that is substantially more per student on average than universities are currently receiving in teaching grants from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (after allowing for some continuing subsidies for more expensive subjects). In this situation, there is only one way for the Treasury to keep control of its DMO debt—cut the number of students.
    For fees of £9,000, HEPI puts the average increase in spending per student at £2,600. To balance the books, the Treasury would have to cut the number of students by about a third.

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

    Basically there is a huge amount in these proposals that hasn’t been properly considered or discussed.

  • I think that the Treasurys projections for earnings growth are hilarious tbh. And if it werent for their convenience in helping the anti-tuition fees argument, I reckon the anti-fees people would admit theyre ridiculous too.

    My family’s income hasnt hardly changed at all in ten years, although our gas and grocery etc bills have gone up by a large amount. Do you really believe that 15K now is going to be £21k in five years??

    In any case my family income (2+2) is just less than 15k and so even going along with these highly unlikely projections, we’re talking about a single graduate individual beginning to pay back their student loans at a tiny rate on an amount that a whole low income family is able to live on. I mean its not luxury living but its not the end of the world either. Its less than the cost of Sky movies or a new middle range mobile phone on a contract.

    Ever heard of a Career Development Loan? Thats what people outside of university have to consider when they cant afford the costs of training themselves. You have to pay it back from a single month after training is finished and at 9.9%pa. Thats what non students have been doing for years, or not doing if it isnt viable for them. I dont remember any outrage, protesting and demands about that.

    I get housing benefit and expect to be losing approx £12 a month from that pretty soon even though we pay a reasonable rent in a poor city – so nothing like the sorts of rent that get discussed in newspapers that always seem to be in London. I get DLA and expect to be losing some or all of that at some point as well. Im worried about it but Im not noticing anyone claiming the Lib Dems should step down over that. I have friends and family paying to study lesser than degree level qualifications part time as well as working, because theyre desperate to get more stable work and they find themselves unable to compete for anything in a job market saturated with freshly minted graduates. Im studying a part time degree myself with financial support because of my situation, but it doesnt cover all my costs and I dont get access to extra loans or extracurricular activities like full time students do. The world is an unfair place and I wish it werent so, but the simple fact is that students do not have it particularly hard relative to their peers, let alone to the generations of us who came before 40% of school leavers went to uni, and find we’re struggling to compete to stay in our jobs let alone move to new ones.

    The subject is bigger than is being allowed.

    I wont even start on how difficult it is to rent a family home these days when it seems theyve all been turned into student houses. The subject is bigger. Students get exclusive rights to certain resources, and come out of uni with better opportunities than those who never went. Think its hard for graduates to find work? Try being a non graduate. Its no good pretending that three years at university isnt a luxury product because it is. Todays higher education system is a consumer product, those who consume it should pay towards it.

    And if student numbers fall, is that such a bad thing? So a bunch of them are consigned to live like the rest of us do. Then maybe we can have the conversation about how education should be available to everyone who wants it, for whatever reason – and I support that. Im far more bothered about libraries shutting down than I am about student fees. Some people want to believe it isnt an either/or situation but it is. There is a finite amount of money in the world, and paying for exclusive luxuries is not where I think it should be going.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 10:02pm

    “And the new Labour NUS will whinge and whine until the next cheap vodka night comes around and they’ll get back to urinating on war memorials or whatever passes for student entertainment these days.”

    Pleasant. And yet the Lib Dems were bending over backwards to ingratiate themselves with the NUS only a few months ago, when they thought there might be some votes in it. But we always knew that politicians tend to change rather radically once the polls have closed!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 10:14pm

    max

    Look – I’m just trying to make sense of your statements about the proposals being better for those on low incomes and increasing access to higher education.

    I don’t disagree when you imply student numbers may be too high, but decreasing student numbers is hardly consistent with increasing access. For the rest of it, I don’t see anything there that’s really relevant to whether these proposals are better or worse for those on low incomes – apart from your view that the Treasury’s projections are “hilarious,” and frankly that smacks of rejecting an inconvenient fact.

  • “decreasing student numbers is hardly consistent with increasing access”

    That depends on whether you think that university should be the only place (or the place taking the majority of funding) providing adult education.

    At the moment all the focus is on universities and degrees. It doesnt have to be that way.

    In my ideal world universities would be entirely open to the public and their spaces would be used to put on a vast number of different courses at different levels, so that everyone who wants to go and learn something can. Degrees would mean nothing more than ‘this is what I was interested in for a few years’, maybe theyd be useful in some specialist jobs but if everyone has access to education, then education stops being the privilege of a few professionally or otherwise. You see what I mean? People could compete for work based on much more than which ones got to stay on after school and which ones didnt. The playing field would be more even. Education wouldnt be just about employment, it would just be something we all do because its good for us and we enjoy it. Thats how Id like it to be.

    But politicians dont seem to want that and people who benefit from the situation as it is (meaning they benefit professionally and financially from having had access to exclusive educational resources) dont want to make any radical changes either. They want exclusivity for some, and that means exclusion for others. While this continues to be the case, yes they should pay for it, and yes, the fewer who get that exclusivity the greater the number excluded and therefore the more equal it is at the lower end of the playing field.

    When 10% of people have higher education qualifications they compete with each other.
    When 20% of young people start to get them they begin to take work from the 90% of older people who dont.
    When 40% of young people are getting them then we who do not have a serious problem.

    And not just in work – we have difficulties finding family housing (bought by buytolet landlords and rented to groups of students) amongst other things. A lot of problems have been created by increasing the number of graduates. The only way to solve the problem is to a) reduce their numbers to a more sensible level or b) massively increase their numbers so that everyone has a chance at it.

    I think the proposals are a stab at (b). I have two kids and I didnt think it was likely theyd ever go to uni, like every other member of our family (except me, recently, and part time). As it is, £9000 per year for 3 years seems absolutely reasonable, especially given that its on offer under really decent repayment levels and that there will most likely be extra support for the lowest income students.

    Anyone who doesnt want to take that contract doesnt have to.

    I do think that the idea that 15k income is equivalent to 21k in five years is wild. Just wild.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 5th Dec '10 - 11:01pm

    max

    Actually, I don’t disagree with a lot of what you say. But what’s at issue right now is this particular scheme of higher education funding.

    “I do think that the idea that 15k income is equivalent to 21k in five years is wild. Just wild.”

    It’s 8-9 years, not 5, because the £21,000 threshold will apply from 2016 until it’s revised in 2021.

    And as I’ve said, that’s what the Treasury’s own projections imply. You can easily check it if you think I’ve got the calculation wrong. If you think the Treasury’s got it “wildly” wrong, you’d better take it up with them, but I think it will be a bit pointless unless you can show them something a bit more solid than you’ve shown us.

  • Well ill believe it when i see it. everyone i know is expecting their income to go down, not up.

    And my point still stands that 15k for an individual is what many whole families are able to live on, and that the amount theyll be paying back every month for their education is equivalent to a minor luxury like a mid range mobile phone contract. Which seems totally worth it to me, as someone from a family where noone had such an opportunity.

  • It is a shame that the honour, integrity and the morality of the Lib Dems can be bought and so quickly…
    Can you not remember?

    Change for you
    End the trail of broken promises
    Say good bye to broken promises

    The liberal democrats will keep their promises, trust us, and vote for Liberal Democrats…
    Turns out that is not quite the truth after all… oh I know, you don’t have to explain… it’s how politicians work, you know bend the truth or just outright lie, and smile while they do it…

    Lib dems putting their heads in the sand, and pretend it is not happening, until it is obvious you got things wrong, and then try and say sorry to the electorate and we won’t do it again, and we are supposed to believe you again?

    The cons, did a right job of conning the lib dems, hook line and sinker

    But I think that you do not understand the outrage and anger against the lib dem party, but I am afraid you will learn, and sooner than you think…

    J

  • @max
    “an exclusive service open to a few”
    It’s nearly 50% of school leavers now so hardly a few. These policies will help to make it exclusive again. If the taxation system was properly progressive we wouldn’t need to be having this debate. Higher earners, including those graduates you believe are the priviliged few, would pay a greater contribution to support those who earn less.

    I note you don’t care about middle earners or students, but the party reached out to both during the election. If their concerns are to be ignored then those votes were obtained with pure lies and deception.

  • @max
    “I get housing benefit and expect to be losing approx £12 a month from that pretty soon even though we pay a reasonable rent in a poor city – so nothing like the sorts of rent that get discussed in newspapers that always seem to be in London. I get DLA and expect to be losing some or all of that at some point as well. Im worried about it but Im not noticing anyone claiming the Lib Dems should step down over that. ”

    I have posted numerous times about the disgrace of the housing benefit reductions and DLA and I know many others on this forum have also done so. These are simply punishing people for no reason. But the issue here is that people stood for election and chose to make a pledge. Their leader appeared in a campaign film boasting there would be no more broken promises. The first “broken promise” he highlighted was Labours introduction of “top up” fees. The benefit changes are scandalous, but so are the changes to tuition fees.

  • But it is a few. It might be 40 odd percent of the current cohort of school leavers, but you’re forgetting the already existing adult population who do not have any higher education qualifications.

    So the degree qualified are a minority. And university is even more exclusive than that – the only people who get access are the current lot of students. Once you’ve got your degree you don’t continue to get access so yoy can keep learning. An even tinier minority get that, for a limited time only.

    Whichever way you look at it university is an exclusive system where the majority are excluded for the entirety of their lives and the minority are given access on a temporary basis. If students don’t want to pay for that exclusive access then I don’t see why everyone else should pay to be excluded!

    So that’s it. Pay for it, or share it. But the status quo isn’t going to go on, its unsustainable and ridiculously unfair.

    Even if it were only about school leavers – why should half get access and the other half not? Opposing tuition fees is not addressing the real issues about what universities are for, and whether there are better models for higher education we could be using.

  • Also, its not about caring for higher and middle income earners. They are already doing pretty well by relative standards. Its not that I want to reduce them to hardship, its that I don’t consider protecting theit privelege to be a priority.

    People are saying that a pledge to a privileged group should be given priority over making an unfair and exclusive system a littlr bit fairer. I don’t buy it.

    And I don’t think that protecting exclusivity in our national higher education system qualifies as liberal. Everyone getting to decide for themselves whether or not to participate, that’s liberal. Making uni a matter of individual choice backed up by reasonable loans to afford it, that’s as liberal as we can make the current system.

    The better thing to do would be complete reform, but I’ve yet to see any indication that the anti fees activists are interested in that at all.

  • Hmmm, plenty of these Lib Dem MPs don’t seem too bright by saying that, on one hand, they oppose the tripling of fees but, on the other hand, they intend to abstain. That might be defensible in some situations but, given the parliamentary numbers, an abstention is effectively a vote in favour; if the cabinet LDs vote in favour and a significant number of LD MPs abstain, the thing will sail through…

    Still, I suppose one shouldn’t apply logic to politics. Perhaps LD MPs are hoping to fool their electorate by saying “Oh well, we tried to stick to our pledge by abstaining, but – bother – it wasn’t enough”. It won’t work.

  • Astonishingly this is going from bad to worse.
    The media this week will be full of talk about “sweeteners”.
    That some poorer student will benefit is of course a thing to be welcomed but dropping this in at the 11th hour just before the vote will only add fuel to the fire that this whole tuition fees mess is a grubby deal and feed into the narrative that this vote has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with ramming through a policy by swaying unprincipled Liberal Democrat MPs with sweeteners.
    You could almost be forgiven for thinking this was a deliberate strategy from Cameron and Osborne to extract maximum damage on Nick and the Liberal Democrat MPs wile they sit back smiling and watch the Bill pass.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 6th Dec '10 - 9:01am

    max

    “Well ill believe it when i see it. everyone i know is expecting their income to go down, not up.”

    Sorry, but I think you’re being a bit silly about this now. It’s exceptional for average income _not_ to rise every year. If it actually fell over an 8 or 9 year period it would be absolutely amazing.

  • Interesting how much of the debate is about whether the new system is fairer, and not about whether the MPs should keep their pledge. I heard Paddy Ashdown on the Today Programme – I man I respect a great deal – saying that the pledge was meaningless because prospective MPs were signing to say “if we have a LIb Dem government” then we will do X.

    Not so. The pledge was simple. “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.” No mention of Lib Dems being in government or not. In fact, no mention of Lib Dems at all. A personal pledge.

    This is going to haunt us for an awfully long time and the first effects will be felt on 5th May 2011 as a large number of local council seats are fought across the country.

  • Paddy really did make a hash of things on Today and sounded embarrassingly complacent about the whole fees issue.

    You can see why he would instinctively feel such sympathy for Nick though.
    Paddy was duped and conned by Blair into believing 1000 impossible things before breakfast in the same way Nick has now been made to look a fool by Cameron.

  • Max

    After an (admittedly brief) consideration of your comments, I can only assume you’ve never driven across a bridge designed by someone with a BEng, never benefitted from a university-educated Dr, your children do or will not be taught by someone with a BEd, your comments are not being typed on a computer produced by the efforts of graduate software and electrical engineers – and so on and so on.

    You seem to be arguing that graduates get 100% of the benefit from their degrees and so should pay 100% of the costs; sorry to labour the point above but I’m just trying to illustrate this isn’t the case. Putting it even more basically, I work in a company where there are 3-4 non-grad support jobs for every graduate who brings in the core work.

    One could easily turn your arguments around: why should a young person from a an ordinary working-class background study like hell to get their GCSEs, A levels, degree AND have £40-50K of debt, so that the children of people who couldn’t be bothered to do this benefit from their health or teaching skills?! Please understand I’m just writing this to make the point rather than to offend.

    I’m afraid you also rather undermine your point by referring to the ‘time limited’ aspect of degrees: getting a lifetime of benefit from a skilled Dr, surgeon, teacher, engineer, etc seems like great value for a few years intensive investment and study!

    I know what you meant re access. But I’m afraid some limitation to access is the nature of the beast, in the same way you wouldn’t want me representing the UK at the Olympics. But I believe access has improved a lot over the years – we’re not in an elitist pre-war situation – and there’s the Open University, etc etc. Personally I’d prefer my nuclear engineers and aerospace designers to have the training and aptitude required!

  • David Allen 6th Dec '10 - 12:51pm

    Sesenco, Liberal Eye, Jason Good, and many others, thank you for your supportive posts. Of course, these are also in line with the very emphatic votes at almost all our recent Regional Conferences.

    I mentioned Iraq in my article because two features of that disaster still resonate. One, Blair’s invasion was a breach of public trust because he took us to war on grounds he knew were specious. Two, Blair was given strong advice by ordinary reasonable members of the public who protested and he chose to ignore it. It is trust, and listening to people, which again matter today.

    This isn’t really an issue of “social liberals” versus “orange book liberals”. It’s much broader than that. It’s simply about doing what you told the voters you would do when you asked them for their votes.

    Let me, as a social liberal, try to illustrate that with a bit of fantasy politics. Let’s suppose that what we actually did, at the election last May, was to barnstorm our way to victory in Bexhill and Tunbridge Wells with a campaign to abolish the iniquitous inheritance tax on millionaires, and a cast-iron pledge to oppose any rise. Let’s suppose that social liberals like me had smiled for the cameras through gritted teeth while signing a public pledge to that effect in Lord Snooty’s drawing room. Then, let’s suppose that our senior partners in coalition had proposed that actually, we needed to raise more money through inheritance taxes. What would we have done?

    Well, I think we would have asked our partners to take a good look at raising corporation tax, or tobacco tax, or something. We might have suggested a long fundamental review of how to tax wealth, during which we would keep inheritance tax rates unchanged. We would not have dared double-cross all those feisty rich pensioners whose votes we had gained by making our pledge. We social liberals might very well have gone around trumpeting what a daft pledge it had been, and how we should never do it again. But we know that a pledge is a pledge!

  • I can say hand on heart as a disabled benefit recipient that my income hasnt chnaged more than a couple of quid in ten years. Also, looking at the sorts of jobs I was doing before that in temp agency windows – the wage hasnt risen particularly either. So maybe for those on middle level wages there will be a massive jump, I suspect that low incomes will hardly change at all, and if they do it will be to go down, which is what people on DLA are so scared about right now.

    “I can only assume you’ve never driven across a bridge designed by someone with a BEng, never benefitted from a university-educated Dr, your children do or will not be taught by someone with a BEd, your comments are not being typed on a computer produced by the efforts of graduate software and electrical engineers – and so on and so on.”

    All of these people are paid for their efforts. You make it sound like the only people doing anything worthwhile are graduates! Is your argument that non graduates wouldnt know how to distinguish their arse from their elbow without professional guidance? Not all bridges were designed by graduates (certainly werent built by them), my doctor was educated abroad, my children aren’t ‘taught’ at school, my computer parts weremostly designed and built abroad and then put together by myself. This country is not being held together by home grown graduates. We’ve got to a point where employers insist on degrees for some jobs where they arent necessary at all, simply because we have a excess of graduates, far more than are necessary. Graduates have begun to distinguish themselves by doing second degrees when some people are denied access to even doing one.

    But if you believe that higher education should be supported as it has been because of any technological/medical/etc value, then youre going down the route of saying only some degrees should be paid for (the ‘valuable to society’ degrees), and surely we only need a finite number of doctors, engineers, etc, so should only fund the most able x% of students. If you believe that higher education has value in itself because learning is a wholesome and satisfying thing for people to be able to do, then your argument collapses. Because if thats the case it should be accessible to everyone, not just the few it always has been.

    “why should a young person from a an ordinary working-class background study like hell to get their GCSEs, A levels, degree AND have £40-50K of debt, so that the children of people who couldn’t be bothered to do this benefit from their health or teaching skills?”

    Because the time they spent in education was worth every penny? Because there is better money in graduate jobs than there is in non graduate jobs? Non graduates have a range of (higher education-wise) unrecognised skills, and some spend years and huge amounts of money honing them – think of musicians and craftspeople, for a start. Do you think they sit around wondering whether all the time and money they put into it is worth it when other people cant be bothered? If people dont want to learn for its own sake, because theyre intrigued by the subject, and understand the value of that education, then im not sure they should be doing degrees anyway.

    I think you misunderstand what I was saying about university being a time limited resource even for the individuals who can get access to it. Once their degree is over they cannot go back and use the universities resources to keep practicing and learning. Im saying they should be able to. A degree is three years full time. That isnt a lifetime lasting education. They’ve barely begun to choose their own educational path when its over. I think our higher education system should be reformed to support life long learning for all adults, as and when they find themselves wanting it. Not supplying a limited three years to a minority, and thats it, job done.

    Liberal Eye – for those of us on really low incomes, the spending going on around us has been obviously unsustainable for a long time. People will have to adjust their budgets. But I dont think tuition fees is a big part of that because of the way they will be paid. In my head I calculate it as a mobile phone contract (go pay as you go on an old phone), or the price of a takeaway or two (can go without those), or the cost of an evening out. Its totally worth it.

  • I can say hand on heart as a disabled benefit recipient that my income hasnt chnaged more than a couple of quid in ten years. Also, looking at the sorts of jobs I was doing before that in temp agency windows – the wage hasnt risen particularly either. So maybe for those on middle level wages there will be a massive jump, I suspect that low incomes will hardly change at all, and if they do it will be to go down, which is what people on DLA are so scared about right now.

    “I can only assume you’ve never driven across a bridge designed by someone with a BEng, never benefitted from a university-educated Dr, your children do or will not be taught by someone with a BEd, your comments are not being typed on a computer produced by the efforts of graduate software and electrical engineers – and so on and so on.”

    All of these people are paid for their efforts. You make it sound like the only people doing anything worthwhile are graduates! Is your argument that non graduates wouldnt know how to distinguish their arse from their elbow without professional guidance? Not all bridges were designed by graduates (certainly werent built by them), my doctor was educated abroad, my children aren’t ‘taught’ at school, my computer parts weremostly designed and built abroad and then put together by myself. This country is not being held together by home grown graduates. We’ve got to a point where employers insist on degrees for some jobs where they arent necessary at all, simply because we have a excess of graduates, far more than are necessary. Graduates have begun to distinguish themselves by doing second degrees when some people are denied access to even doing one.

    But if you believe that higher education should be supported as it has been because of any technological/medical/etc value, then youre going down the route of saying only some degrees should be paid for (the ‘valuable to society’ degrees), and surely we only need a finite number of doctors, engineers, etc, so should only fund the most able x% of students. If you believe that higher education has value in itself because learning is a wholesome and satisfying thing for people to be able to do, then your argument collapses. Because if thats the case it should be accessible to everyone, not just the few it always has been.

    “why should a young person from a an ordinary working-class background study like hell to get their GCSEs, A levels, degree AND have £40-50K of debt, so that the children of people who couldn’t be bothered to do this benefit from their health or teaching skills?”

    Because the time they spent in education was worth every penny? Because there is better money in graduate jobs than there is in non graduate jobs? Non graduates have a range of (higher education-wise) unrecognised skills, and some spend years and huge amounts of money honing them – think of musicians and craftspeople, for a start. Do you think they sit around wondering whether all the time and money they put into it is worth it when other people cant be bothered? If people dont want to learn for its own sake, because theyre intrigued by the subject, and understand the value of that education, then im not sure they should be doing degrees anyway.

    I think you misunderstand what I was saying about university being a time limited resource even for the individuals who can get access to it. Once their degree is over they cannot go back and use the universities resources to keep practicing and learning. Im saying they should be able to. A degree is three years full time. That isnt a lifetime lasting education. They’ve barely begun to choose their own educational path when its over. I think our higher education system should be reformed to support life long learning for all adults, as and when they find themselves wanting it. Not supplying a limited three years to a minority, and thats it, job done.

    Liberal Eye – for those of us on really low incomes, the spending going on around us has been obviously unsustainable for a long time. People will have to adjust their budgets. But I dont think tuition fees is a big part of that because of the way they will be paid. In my head I calculate it as a mobile phone contract (go pay as you go on an old phone), or the price of a takeaway or two (can go without those), or the cost of an evening out. Its totally worth it.

  • David Allen 6th Dec '10 - 1:00pm

    And another thing…

    We are the local activists who go out and talk to people, one by one, and we are the experts who know how to treat voters decently and not drive them away in disgust. The Westminster village people do not have that expertise, and it shows. Gordon Brown’s treatment of Gillian Duffy might have been an extreme case, but if you live the whole of your life in political bubble-land, you do tend to lose common sense and empathy with the public. For another example, just look at all those MPs who get so irritated by the bureaucracy involved in filing an expense claim, as if nobody else ever had to cope routinely with such an affront to their dignity!

    That’s why some of the Cabinet fondly believe they can get away with breaking this pledge, while the people who vote at Regional Conferences know that we can not.

  • @max
    “Also, its not about caring for higher and middle income earners. They are already doing pretty well by relative standards. Its not that I want to reduce them to hardship, its that I don’t consider protecting theit privelege to be a priority.”

    Sorry, but that makes no sense. The tuition fee proposals are regressive above middle incomes, meaning that high earning graduates will contribute a smaller proportion of their salary over the course of the repayment period than middle income earners (compare with the NUS’s proposals, which are actually progressive). The current proposals/Browne are very much about protecting the privilege of high earners. A graduate tax or funding through income tax would make high earners pay a fairer share.

    @ExLD
    “One could easily turn your arguments around: why should a young person from a an ordinary working-class background study like hell to get their GCSEs, A levels, degree AND have £40-50K of debt, so that the children of people who couldn’t be bothered to do this benefit from their health or teaching skills?! ”

    Exactly. Why would anyone bother to go to university, when they can earn a similar money in a trade without missing the years of income/pension contributions, plus having to pay back the high fees? It is vital to the long-term economic prospects of the Country that there is a financial reward for all the hard work and sacrifice of those that spend their youth studying rather than taking the easy option.

    I can’t help thinking that underlying this whole discussion is the great iniquity of house price rises over the last decade. Many current taxpayers can’t afford to pay extra tax or afford a drop in income as they wouldn’t be able to keep up their mortgage repayments. It was of course those very people that forced house prices up in the first place by taking out ever bigger loans and now they want students to pay more for their degrees. The current homeowners may be bailed out of their wrongdoing in the short-term, but if students in 5-10 years time have less money then house prices will fall further, leaving the current homeowners with a house worth much less than they paid for it. Their unwillingness to pay now will come back to haunt them.

    To me, the demonstrations/riots are indirectly about housing costs. The tuition fees/EMA scrapping are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    What kind of Country attacks its future graduates? What kind of party supports such behaviour?

  • @LDV Bob
    “You could almost be forgiven for thinking this was a deliberate strategy from Cameron and Osborne to extract maximum damage on Nick and the Liberal Democrat MPs wile they sit back smiling and watch the Bill pass.”

    That is exactly what they are doing as it is by ensuring it’s Alexander as the Tresury hachet man…

  • Anthony Aloysius St 6th Dec '10 - 2:58pm

    Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more shambolic:
    (1) Norman Baker, when asked whether he would be voting “Yes” or abstaining, surprised an interviewer by indicating that he might resign his ministerial office in order to vote “No.”
    (2) “In a bizarre episode, someone claiming to be Mr Crockart, the parliamentary private secretary to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, told the Evening Standard: “I will be voting against 100%. I’m not going to be pushed out. Resigning probably will be the only option.” Questions were only raised about his identity when the impersonator was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s the World at One, and colleagues realised it was not the Edinburgh West MP.” The real Mr Crockart says he hasn’t made a decision yet.
    http://tinyurl.com/3a724wh

  • Anthony Aloysius St 6th Dec '10 - 4:14pm

    The Standard is now reporting Crockart’s views as follows (as distinct from the imposter’s):
    Mr Crockart, parliamentary private secretary to Cabinet minister Michael Moore, told the Standard he would not be voting for the tuition fee rise and accepted he would have to resign if he voted against it.
    He said: “I have serious concerns about the proposals, particularly about the potential impact that they might have on students from lower social economic backgrounds.”
    But he added that he wanted to discuss with fellow Lib-Dem MPs the announcement of more help for poorer students before deciding whether to abstain or vote against the Government.

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23904019-lib-dems-try-to-halt-student-fees-vote-as-nick-clegg-tries-to-save-party-unity.do

  • Starting my life after university with £24,000 pounds of debt and the prospect of unemployment is not a promising prospect. Graduates are struggling to find jobs, the job market is more competitive than ever. I’m beginning to wonder whether university is worth the cost. The raise in fees will be crippling for graduates trying to find and pay for their own home.

  • Max

    My comments, referring to ‘obvious’ off-the-top-of-my-head examples where graduates benefit society, were simply to counter the point you seemed to make, in at least one of your posts: ‘students get 100% of the benefit, so why should we fund ’em!’

    I completely agree with your points about the personal and societal value of education, degree or otherwise. It’s certainly not all about the money – a qualified gas fitter with his/her own company will earn significantly more than most graduates I know, and that’s ignoring the years they’ve been out of the labour market.

    I also agree about lifelong learning. But a degree can give a great foundation to a lifetime of learning, allowing you to understand those obscure journals on quantum physics and try to keep up with latest developments throughout your life, should you wish, even if you no longer work in the field.

    I can’t see how loading up grads from poor-average backgrounds with debt – effectively privatising uni teaching – can actually benefit folk who want to study for the love/interest of it, i.e. without the prospect of financial gain afterward…

    Apols if I don’t reply again: very busy at the moment!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Dec '10 - 9:38pm

    Just testing whether I’m able to post anything at all on LDV without it being immediately deleted.

    Here’s one of the ones that was deleted from the thread on the tuition fees vote, apparently on the basis that it was “off-topic” (!)

    Sad to hear Shirley Williams on the World at One pushing the same line about how the £21,000 threshold is so much fairer than the current £15,000 – without giving any hint that it will still be £21,000 more than a decade from now, and thus will actually be _lower_ in comparison with earnings than now.

    Of course, as Vince Cable himself apparently didn’t understand this, it may be that she too has been taken in by the sleight of hand. Certainly it must rank as one of the most successful political deceptions of all time …

  • It’s hard to believe but the coalition are apparently only allowing 3 hours for debate on the tuition fee rise – what contempt they show to students and the elctorate in general but I’m not surprised because they got their vote in May and don’t care about them anymore and they’re hoping it will all be forgotten about by the next GE.

    But I think that’s coming quicker than you think lol.

  • David Lawson 8th Dec '10 - 10:39am

    Those who support the government’s fee hike have yet to explain which social or geographical group will vote LD on this basis.

  • Have we hit 100 posts yet?

  • As a young Lib Dem member I am deeply disappointed with how the leadership has handled this fiasco. The Lib Dems garnered a lot of votes off the back of the tuition fees pledge.

    (At the risk of being accused of whinging) I feel my generation has severely let down by the political establishment. Successive Labour and the Conservative Governments have happily sat by and watched house prices massively over-inflate to the extent that the average – unsupported – first time buyer is now 38 years old. Furthermore, because they’ve done nothing to support security of tenure in private rented accomodation whole swathes of my generation are delaying or abandoning any attempts to start a family. This, combined with the fact that we have a duty to support a generation much larger than us through their retirement means that tuition fees are the economic icing on the cake …

    Trouble is though … I’m not sure where folks of my age can turn. Neither Conservatives, nor Labour will represent us. Who to turn to? :os

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