Opinion: Why Nick Clegg was wrong to apologise for tuition fees

When he apologised for the tuition fees debacle this week, Nick Clegg went dramatically down in my estimation.

From the start of his leadership, Clegg has taken the longer term view, and cast his gaze upon the country as a whole, rather than simply focusing, as previous leaders have, on playing to the gallery of the party membership.

His is the Liberalism of the historical sweep, as aware of the intellectual traditions that can be traced back to Edmund Burke as to the ‘pavement politics’ of David Penhaligan, and while seeing a place for both, respecting that embracing the former may leave the latter feeling a little unloved.

In this, Clegg is not unique among UK political leaders, but it is a rarity.

Many is the Labour leader who draped himself in the red flag and waited for the people to elect him, while both immediate predecessors of David Cameron wrapped themselves in the sackcloth of Tory tradition and waited for the “silent majority” to elect them.

It’s no coincidence that apart from Clegg, the two other political leaders of recent vintage in the UK who have tried to look beyond the main thoroughfares of their members concerns and into the byways of what interests the public were Tony Blair and David Cameron.

Both achieved the highest office whilst arguably being more popular in the country than with their own members.

With his apology over tuition fees, Clegg has signalled a narrowing of his focus at the precise moment when the country needs a grand vision. He is playing to the gallery, sating the members appetite for morality when the public’s desire is for a daring pragmatist.

The most popular politician in the land is Boris Johnson, respected because in his individualism people see a maverick incapable of conforming to the norms of his party, but also someone they respect as a ruthless operator and a man with a plan who is unafraid to thread on toes to achieve his aims

It is one of the ironies which litter Nick’s relationship with the Lib Dem grassroots that a central failing of his leadership style is one he shares with members as a whole. Disdainful of the chicanery of national politics, he wishes to treat voters, journalists and political opponents as adults with whom a mature conversation about policy can be had. The snakepit of coalition is no place for such niceties.

This apology is thus out of character for Clegg, and as an attempt to be overtly political, to covertly neutralize the issue, it will prove to be ineffective.

The public at large view the tuition fees vote as a symbol of their disillusion with the party since 2010, rather than as a major issue in its own right. So apologizing for the particular symptom of the tuition fees, does nothing to address the wider malady of public discontent with the party.

If the aim of the apology was to draw a line under the issue it won’t work, the media have made the apology the story instead of highlighting the main policy initiatives announced at our conference. What has evolved is a Pavlovian situation; our opponents use the tuition fees apology to trigger a response from the Liberal Democrats, so they control the agenda. This apology does nothing to address that, and the situation will get worse later this year when Labour table a motion to reduce tuition fees, and the Liberal Democrat leadership, last heard apologizing for the policy, have to reinforce it by voting against its alteration.

One of the principal benefits for a third party entering any coalition is that it gives the party a relevance which they lacked in perennial opposition.

Allowing Labour to dictate the agenda in the way Clegg has with this apology neutralizes that, and serves to gift Ed Miliband the confection of strong leadership, when in most of his dealings he shows himself to be a much weaker leader than Clegg.

The period post-2015 will present the Liberal Democrats with the choice which will define the party’s future. It can be radical, or redundant.

And there is nothing radical about a party which lacks the courage of its convictions, and forgets the bigger picture in exchange for a burst of short-term gain. With this apology Nick Clegg, the most radical leader the party has had, slips closer to the redundancy queue.

* David Thorpe was the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Ham in the 2015 General Election

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

101 Comments

  • Callum Leslie 25th Sep '12 - 11:30am

    I was giving you the benefit of the doubt until you said Boris Johnson was the most popular politician in the land. Easy to see someone has never left the South!

  • It’s not the apology that’s the problem, it the the fact that it wasn’t the right apology, and the whole country can see that.
     
    Nick needed to apologies for breaking his word. He campaigned on being different, on “No more broken promises”, on a new kind of politics. His first act was to break a promise, thus making a mockery of the entire election campaign. Yet Nick apologised for making the pledge, not for breaking it, in effect saying that the party were liars rather than oath breakers.
     
    You argue that making the apology made him look weak and gave the agenda to his opponents and I think that is true. But if he had apologised for breaking his word, he may actually have salvaged something. Apologising when you are wrong isn’t weakness and the electorate would have respected it, as it is he just looked like just another politician trying to weasel out of what he had done rather than someone having a mature conversation about policy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Sep '12 - 12:32pm

    Boris Johnson is popular mainly because he has received consistent strong backing from the right-wing press. Had they decided instead to pursue a policy of constant negative ridicule, as they have Nick Clegg, his popularity ratings would be very different.

    This is all part of the culture of celebrity. We are encouraged to see the world in terms of manufactured personae. The manufacturing will be done in the interests of those doing it. Those doing it are those who have the power of media control to be able to do it. While in politics (less so in entertainment) the manufactured persona cannot be completely separate from the real world person it is built on, subtle differences in presentation – all carefully planned by professionals in this thing who know what they are doing – can make a huge difference in public perception.

    I don’t see Nick Clegg as a broad sweep man at all, rather I see him as someone who has mugged up a little on current ideological fashions favouring free markets economics and trying to link this with the historical idea of “liberalism”. He’s a sad case of the manufactured image, because he was pushed up by the press who managed the very favourable one of him as the great communicator and instinctive liberal (he is neither) in order to put at the top of the Liberal Democrats a man who wouldn’t challenge right-wing orthodoxy in terms of economics and political party management, and now he’s served his purpose he’s being knocked down in a way which is equally deliberately biased in order that he should seem ineffectual and so let the Tories win all the arguments. End goal – destruction of the Liberal Democrats and return to the good old two party system, with the Conservative Party generally on top.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Sep '12 - 1:02pm

    On the tuition fees issue itself, the reality is that they reflect what university education actually costs. Many of the attacks on Coalition policy on this are based on the naive assumption that if it is state funded it really is “free”.

    Since it is NOT really free, if the state funds it, the state has to find a way of paying for it. I would have much more respect for those hurling abuse at the Liberal Democrats on this issue if they would at least give some indication of how THEY would pay for it. If it’s more government borrowing, the next generation are still going to have to pay for it out of their future taxation, and actually they’re going to be paying much the same amounts as this IS what it costs. If it’s taxation, well just WHAT will you tax? Not just hand-waving on the lines “oh there must be some rich people somewhere we could take it from, but not my mum and dad and gran and the huge capital gains they are sitting on and I expect to get as an inheritance”. I’d like to see an approximation of a budget line, a tax that will raise what universities cost.

    I am (and I am sure this will shock many people seeing as how usually I position myself on the left of the party) coming more and more round to the idea that full tuition fees are a good idea. In effect it’s saying to students “Look, this is how much the state is paying for YOU to do your university courses, now you go off and make sure you take full benefit of it and try and earn at least that much from it in the rest of your life”. I say this seeing as a university lecturer just how many students waste the opportunity we are giving them by just not turning up to lectures, tutorial and labs and not bothering with full time study.

    I write “the state is paying for you” because the guaranteed “loan” to pay for it is really just state borrowing, labelled in a way that means it isn’t formally counted as such. The state then gets it back as loan repayment, which is managed through the income tax system and levied only on those who earn over a particular amount. I.e. it’s a graduate tax.

    The silly thing was making a big thing out of no tuition fees before the election, holding it up not just as a manifesto line but as a formal pledge candidates were encouraged to sign. Party policy in a manifesto is what the party thinks it can do if it governs alone, it ought to be obvious it cannot all be implemented even if possible if the party does not win a majority and relies on what other parties will support to get anything through. The attacks on the Liberal Democrats for “breaking your promise” are really rather childish, based on not understanding democracy, and in fact in having a Leninist view of political party. Perhaps this is a reflection of the past strength of Marxist-Leninist in university politics teaching – I remember when the politics shelves of most university libraries and bookshops were groaning with Marxist texts. As a Liberal, I am against that sort of thing (not having such books available, I mean the ideas in them!). However, it is a little more difficulty to wriggle out of when you promised to vote AGAINST something, as it implies a promise not to support it even if you are in coalition with another party that does. I cannot read the “pledge” in any other way, because as opposition parties tend to vote against the government anyway, what would be the point of the pledge – voting against is what opposition parties do.

    Out line SHOULD be that of course we would have supported “No fees” had we been in government alone, but as junior partner to the Tories we can’t because they won’t let us raise the taxation needed for it. Obvious, yes? So why couldn’t Clegg put it this way? Putting it as “no money available” makes us look weak and incompetent, as if we were unable to do the calculations, and makes us look as if we are just agreeing with the Tory line. The Liberal Democrat conference this week is actualy talking about wealth taxes – and here was an excellent chance to promote the idea. Use it to push the line “If you want the state to pay for it – and here you do, otherwise you would not be so angry with the LibDems about it – then the state must pay for it, so here we are, proposing taxes to do that, taxes you may not feel comfortable with, but if you don’t them stop moaning at us for not supporting more state spending”.

  • @Matthew – I’d shrink the sector and pay for three years for each qualifying student out of general taxation. The elephant in the room is that much of University education is of limited value. If it has to be a graduate tax, tax all existing graduates and phase the tax in at a much lower level.

  • Peter Watson 25th Sep '12 - 2:06pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    There are two distinct issues here:
    1. tuition fees for students
    2. the competence and trustworthiness of Clegg (and Lib Dem MPs in general)
    I find the worst arguments are those that mix the two, whether that is criticism of tuition fees because they were increased on the back of a lie or defence of pledge-breaking because the new system is less unfair (to avoid any misunderstanding, I think that Matthew successfully separates the two issues with great clarity).
    The party needs a settled, considered and consistent view on tuition fees, whether that is for or against. Currently we are a mess on this and the whole thing seems to be rife with contradictions. Our policy is to get rid of them although we endorse increasing them, we have an affordable alternative that is unaffordable, we criticise Labour for introducing fees and we broke promises by increasing them, we defend the new fees system as “fair” because graduates will pay back much more over time but less per month, we claim that students won’t notice the effect of increased cost but it will still create a market in which they seek value for money. None of this makes Lib Dems look competent or trustworthy. The problem is at the top of the party, so this is where it must be fixed, and Clegg’s apology for something but we’re not sure what, no matter how tuneful, does not help move the party forward.

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 2:51pm

    Thanks for the comments. I agree Nick apologised for breaking the pledge, but the distinction is lost on the public and much of the media-on pinaers politics on radio live on sunday night-the presenter asked danny alexander what the apology was for-saying it was unclear. I have knocked on hundreds of doors in the past two years for the party-including in oldham east and saddleworth immeidately after the vote-and I kept a record while there-The Issue was raised ONCE in 76 doors in a working class district-the one mention was by a labour member who didnt actually know aANY detail of the policy.
    Borsi jOHNSON is exceptionally popular among tory grassroots throughout britian

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 2:54pm

    @ mathew
    bnrosi is popular because the voters made him so-labour have a huge lead in the polls-the rightw ing press didnt make that happen-and at a time when labour have that lead-boris beats ken for mayor of london-thus some labour voters voted for boris-labour voters dont take advice from the right wing press-the rightw ing press also backed?(and still do) IDS and William Hague-neither benefitted much-and disdain of Cameorn-who became PM-your argument doesnt stand up and is just a cop-out typical of lib dems-blame the media for reality-rather than trying to alter the reality

  • daft ha'p'orth 25th Sep '12 - 2:55pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Matthew — nobody thinks education used to be ‘free’, although many people think it was paid through taxes. However, those who work in university contexts will have noticed that, by and large, costs go in one direction – upwards. The USA’s endless tuition fee hikes, consistently outstripping inflation with no apparent ceiling in sight, represent a nice example of where this loans-for-paper lark is likely to lead us.

    Your post comes across as rather blinkered. Are we trying to provide educational materials and context and certify the result as inexpensively, accurately and effectively as possible, or are we trying to force an audience primarily composed of feckless late-teens into appreciating the financial investment that the state has bestowed upon them? These are very different aims, and I don’t honestly feel that the current strategy does either effectively.

    First, if a proportion of students can pass a university degree without bothering to show up in lectures, which they self-evidently can, then why are you trying to force the buggers to make sure they take full benefit of something expensive? Absenteeism in lectures is much higher than failure rates (I’ve seen a 40% average quoted) and while there is a correlation between grade achievement and attendance, it is not clear that increased attendance would bump those grades any higher. So, why force those who don’t bother with lectures to pay for them in the first place?

    Secondly, is the latter motivation, bringing home the gravity of the financial investment, best achieved by signing them up for some apparently notional thing that the government itself markets as not-really-money, you-probably-won’t-have-to-pay-it-back, don’t-let-it-put-you-off? If you want them to understand that it costs money, make them pay a few hundred quid up front, or volunteer some time to something or whatever, so that they see a real ‘cost’ before starting the course. The way this is currently set up, they learn about the cost in the thirty years of their lives AFTER they waste the opportunity — fantastic choice of teachable moment there!

    I just saw the Open University’s study materials for first-year Italian. It’s literally a copy of Routledge’s Colloquial Italian, market cost around £25, plus a 28-page softback booklet containing a bit of clipart and a CD tracklist. Add to that a few online tutorials and an exam. Doesn’t its £1250 price-tag look a bit excessive, let alone the £2250 that it would cost at the majority of bricks-and-mortar universities? Sorry to say it, because most of the time I like my uni job, but like Alistair says, a lot of it just isn’t worth the money we’re charging. At this point the majority of the cost is for the credit, not for the tuition, which could be obtained privately at a fraction of the cost. Our overheads are too high. We’re ridiculously inefficient. We should be standardising resources where possible, sharing course creation costs, making use of new technologies, and by and large we should be charging students for what they use.

    At some point the university sector needs to take a long hard look at itself and say: nostra culpa. Then it needs to get its head in order, drop the idea that it deserves the big £££ for graciously permitting a few well-heeled disciples to partake of its wisdom, and figure out a new, robust, mutually acceptable model for affordable HE qualification (i.e. disruptively undercut its own gravy-train). I’m not holding my breath.

    @Peter Watson
    Your analysis is spot-on and I fully agree with your conclusions, although I did buy Clegg’s single 😉

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Sep '12 - 5:27pm

    I am interested in this idea that by making young people a loan for their higher education we are somehow teaching them to appreciate their own education. Perhaps this idea will soon be extended further. How about previous graduates who never paid a penny towards their HE (such as Nick Clegg) having to take out a loan now to repay all the tuition fees, grants, benefits in the summer holidays and housing benefit that they received whilst studying all those years ago? NHS treatment must be very expensive. So why not make patients take out a loan to pay for it when they earn over a certain level? School education must cost a lot. Why not make children sign up to a loan to repay it when they “earn enough” after they finish school? How about benefit recipients taking out a loan to repay their benefits when they “earn enough”? I jest, of course, but who knows whether even now the government are thinking along these lines. Why is it only university education that must be paid for in this way? I think the answer is snobbery. There is still a feeling that only an elite number should receive HE and that extending HE to the lower orders is somehow vulgar. By imposing tutition fees, politicians hope to tap into this snobbery and the distate that many people have for a person of low class who has “got above themself”. Well, no apologies for saying that I think all people are entitled to lifelong education that is free at the point of delivery and is repaid through a progressive tax system. We pay for health-care, policing, social services, benefits and a whole heap of services in this way. Why not fund lifelong education in the same way?

  • @peter watson

    Thank goodness Peter can so clearly state the mess the party is in over this – until these contradictions are sorted out the party’s position can easily be attacked (quite rightly) – that post should be stapled on the leaders door…..

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 5:52pm

    @ ed sheppard, nick clegg will have had to pay for the majority of his University eductaion as it happened in institutions which are not in the UK,.
    Also heatl and basic primary and secondary eductaion are a human right for all-and it was the liberals who made both free at the point of us-third level eductaion is not a basic human right and so should not be measured in the same way.

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 5:57pm

    what fees do achieve is to ask better off students(poorer students dont pay them) whether they would really beneift from going to UNI, RATHER than it just being a lifestyle choice. Thats why since the bnew fees regime was introduced, there has been a decline in the number of better off students attending but no decline in the number of poorer students

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Sep '12 - 6:11pm

    @ david thorpe.
    (1) I seem to recall that Nick Clegg did a degree at Cambridge. He said on Desert Island Discs that he did not have to run up debts when at university.
    (2) Lifelong education is a basic human right, in my opinion.

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 6:46pm

    @ ED YES HE DID A DEGREE AT CAMBRIDGE, ALSO DID ONE IN PENSYLVANAI AND THE COLLEGE OF EUROPE, THSOE COMBINED are more years than his three at cambridge, hence my use of the word majortiy, i never said he ran up debt, I said he didnt get it for free, which he didnt,

    and why should third level education be a human right offered to thsoe whio havent the academic ability to utilise it?

  • It’d be nice to get a few apologies from all the people who made errors of judgement (some much bigger).

    It took 23 years for the truth about Hillsborough to start to come out, so maybe now this will set a precedent which instills more honesty in the public arena. Think of the expenses scandal, press standards etc – the public should be demanding honesty.

    We know who made the decisions who caused the various crises facing the country, so when will they stand up to admit it?

    Politicians cannot claim to be responsible figures whilst they refuse to publicly accept their responsibilities. As individuals they must face their consciences – how do they look themselves in the mirror?

  • Simon Titley 25th Sep '12 - 7:07pm

    The basic problem with David Thorpe’s original piece is that it trots out the clichéd narrative of ‘wise and visionary leader versus short-sighted and undisciplined party’. This elitist view of politics is commonplace in the Westminster Bubble but is nevertheless a travesty. Talking up the elite while denigrating the grassroots serves the interests only of those who seek to monopolise power. It is not a liberal view and, in any case, completely fails to explain the tuition fees debacle.

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 7:22pm

    @ simon

    thats not the cliche or view I am trying to posit-nick ios not a visionary of anything new-he is a very tradtional liberal and as such should undersatnd the fact that any truly liberal party should be less disciplined than any alternative-but on tuition fees he was right in being against signing the pledge and being against the policy and the members were wrong.
    Nick’s achievement wasnt about vision-it was about ambition-seeing beyond the grassroots trying to take his very tradtional liberal values to a wider audience-he isnt a vision guy-but the members enjoy their cocoon too much to want to govern-thats the perception of the party from outsiders and they are not wrong-thats why Nick delivered the most votes for a Liberal party in the UK in decades.
    Its nick who tries to go beyond the westminster bubble-and there is a very solidly liberal argument for the current tuition fees policy-but nick doesnt need to make it-the NUS and the IFS and moneysavingexpert.com do that for us.

  • david thorpe 25th Sep '12 - 7:23pm

    @ ornagepan
    I agree about apolgies generally but no other politican has done it-not for their own mistakes- and that leaves nick open to ridicule for doing it

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Sep '12 - 7:44pm

    @david thorpe
    (1) Nick Clegg did a degree at a British university. He did not have to pay tuition fees. If some people in the LibDem party are now asserting that it is morally (not just economically) right that students pay tuition fees then I see no reason why that policy should not be backdated to cover the education that he received for free in Britain. I can understand a purely economic argument for making students pay for their courses but when a moral argument is introduced then the slope becomes very slippery.
    (2) I said that I think lifelong education is a human right (that includes O-levels, A-levels, FE courses, degrees and other courses throughout the lifetime of a person). If a person is capable of doing a degree course (or any other course) then they should be allowed to do it and the costs should be paid through a progressive taxation system.

  • David,
    ridicule is one thing, contempt is quite another.

    Compare Clegg’s dignified acknowledgement of truth, with Brown and Blair’s slimy technical excuses and false sincerity, the two Eds’ bullish denials and changes of subject, Andrew Mitchell’s spiral of lies and attempted cover-up, or the commoner silence after the fact in the hope things blow over…

    I’d say Clegg sets a good example we want more of, and I think the wider public and media should be able to say thank you to him. This should be the ‘new’ politics he talked about.

  • Peter Watson 25th Sep '12 - 11:22pm

    @Oranjepan “Andrew Mitchell’s spiral of lies and attempted cover-up”
    Listening to senior Lib Dems comment on Mitchell (most recently Jeremy Browne a couple of minutes ago on Newsnight) is truly depressing. Tortured wordy sentences vaguely saying that if said what he might have said then that would be rude and is not acceptable and … lots of ambiguity and no commitment.
    If instead of a senior tory it had been Labour MP, then Lib Dems would be calling for his head. We are not the conservative party so we do not need to defend the appalling behaviour of some of our coalition partners like Mitchell, Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, … let the tories defend their own without dragging us into it. Condemn bad behaviour whoever it is, call for the resignation or sacking of those who deserve it.

  • Simon Titley 25th Sep '12 - 11:22pm

    @David Thorpe – Your reply to me contains a bewildering assortment of bald assertions and grammatical errors. Leaving aside the latter, you assert the following:

    1) “…on tuition fees he [Clegg] was right in being against signing the pledge and being against the policy and the members were wrong.” – The decision to sign the pledge was made by the parliamentary party, as part of its much-vaunted “fully costed” manifesto process. Clegg did not voice his opposition to the policy and did not use his power as leader to question the wisdom of signing a pledge (the policy did not necessitate the pledge). It is therefore wrong to blame the members, whatever they might have thought.

    2) Your subsequent assertion that Clegg was “seeing beyond the grassroots” is consequently baseless.

    3) “…the members enjoy their cocoon too much to want to govern-thats [sic] the perception of the party from outsiders and they are not wrong” – Three bald assertions in succession. What evidence do you have for any of them?

    4) “Nick delivered the most votes for a Liberal party in the UK in decades” – Factually incorrect. Compared with the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats (and the Liberal-SDP Alliance beforehand) won a higher number of votes in both the 1983 and 1987 elections, a higher percentage vote in 1983, and more seats in 2005. So while the 2010 result was among the better post-war performances, it was not outstanding as you suggest.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 12:05am

    david thorpe

    bnrosi is popular because the voters made him so-labour have a huge lead in the polls-the rightw ing press didnt make that happen-and at a time when labour have that lead-boris beats ken for mayor of london-thus some labour voters voted for boris-labour voters dont take advice from the right wing press-the rightw ing press also backed?

    Of course Labour voters take advice from the right-wing press. THE Sun newspaper is part of the right-wing press, yet it is read by many Labour voters. THE Sun does its political propaganda well. It was often out that as many of its readers think of it as a “Labour paper” and did so even when it was backing the Tories, that shows its readers are ignoring its politics. Far from it – that just shows how effective it is. What it actually meant was that people who generally voted Labour still thought of THE Sun as being on “our side” even when it was recommending voting Tory, so they accepted that guidance more than if they had though of it as a “Tory paper” in the first place.

    Your argument seems to me to be ridiculous because no-one would know who Boris Johnson was if it were not for the media coverage he gets. So quite obviously they are opting for him on the basis of that media coverage. That media coverage tends to portray him as an amusing figure rather than what he actually is – a right-wing Tory. People who don’t like his politics are more likely to vote for him because he is not portrayed primarily in terms of his politics.

    Now, I would like to suggest to you that someone who was to the left politically would be less likely to get the sort of positive amusing personality coverage that Johnson gets. That is, it is not just down to personality as you are suggesting.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 12:13am

    david thorpe

    thats why Nick delivered the most votes for a Liberal party in the UK in decades

    Personally? Well, take an example – there was a big increase in the Liberal Democrat vote in the three Lewisham constituencies, with the Liberal Democrats coming second in each of them, whereas in the 1990s they came a distant third. You would say that big increase was all due to Nick Clegg?

    Nothing to do with myself and others who were members of Lewisham Liberal Democrats putting huge amounts of our own time and money into building up the party in that borough?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 12:23am

    Ed Shepherd

    I am interested in this idea that by making young people a loan for their higher education we are somehow teaching them to appreciate their own education

    I said I am “coming round to the idea”. That is, I can see some arguments for it. I’m a Liberal – that’s what I do – see the arguments on both sides of issues, come to a balanced conclusion. Just because I can see some arguments in favour does not mean I’ve become a mad keen advocate of the idea, I am not, I would prefer university tuition not to be paid in this way.

    You have missed my point however, which is that as it still has to be paid for, if it were not paid for as it is now it would be paid for either in direct state borrowing or more taxation. The net repayment would be the same, since it is what it costs, and would tend to fall on much the same people, since people with degrees tend to earn more.


    There is still a feeling that only an elite number should receive HE and that extending HE to the lower orders is somehow vulgar.

    Er, if you mean me, how come I spent over ten years as my university department’s admissions tutor, passionately working with the schools in inner east London where my university is to get the kids from those schools into the university? And how does this fit in with the fact my father worked in a university as well – as a cleaner? I.e. I am one of those people from the lower social orders.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 12:43am

    daft ha’p’orth

    However, those who work in university contexts will have noticed that, by and large, costs go in one direction – upwards.

    My wages haven’t. We’ve had below inflation wage rises for several years running now.

    First, if a proportion of students can pass a university degree without bothering to show up in lectures, which they self-evidently can

    In part this is due to the British idea that it’s bad to fail people. The more you pass, the higher you go in the league tables, and the better students you get. In other countries the opposite would be assumed – high failure rates would be seen as a mark of high quality.

    I can assure you that in the subject I teach students who don’t turn up fail. Oh, they may think they can do it all by “revision”, or they know it all already, but they can’t. They fail. Maybe the “mug it all up on the night before the exam” technique works for the arts subjects the media people take, which is why university life is written up in the press like that. In my subject, if you take that approach, you fail. Which I’m always very sorry to see, I want to teach them useful skills, and I hate the way I end up having to fail so many of them because they just don’t turn up and do the work it requires.

    So, why force those who don’t bother with lectures to pay for them in the first place?

    No, the main thing I want to do is to get them to attend – and in my subject it’s labs as well as lectures – and it’s because I care. I really do care passionately that my students, many from the “lower social orders”, do well. The skills I teach get them jobs – industry is crying our for them now. I just hate to see students throwing their chances away by not attending and so not picking up these skills.

    Sorry to say it, because most of the time I like my uni job, but like Alistair says, a lot of it just isn’t worth the money we’re charging.

    Commercial training courses in what I teach at university cost something like £2000 for three days, and doesn’t go into it nearly as deeply as I do for twelve weeks teaching and another six weeks marking and giving feedback (for which they pay about £1000 as is one of the eight modules they take in an academic year).

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 12:51am

    Ed Shepherd

    We pay for health-care, policing, social services, benefits and a whole heap of services in this way. Why not fund lifelong education in the same way?

    Because the people of this country are not willing to pay the taxes it requires.

    Sorry, this is the bitter truth. I have throughout my life campaigned for taxes on the huge amounts of money that once gets just by sitting on one’s bum and owning a house or having parents who own a house. I believe these sums should be taxed in just the same way as money earned by working is taxed. And yet I find when I argue for it, I am often in a minority of one. Look at how even the tiniest form of this, Vince Cable’s “Mansion Tax” has got shouted down as politically impossible, a vote loser.

    I wish people were willing to pay the taxes it requires or these things, but they are not. See, for example all those people moaning about tuition fees? Has ONE of them suggested a serious alternative way of raising the money? What about you, Ed, how would you raise it? I’ve said what I would do, but I know (from real experience) that saying this sort of thing means you don’t win elections.

  • david thorpe 26th Sep '12 - 1:05pm

    @ mathew-of course its not nick personallyd elivering them-but as party leader he is judged onr esults-the local electionr euslts and national eleciton results-and just as not every councillor lost their seat because of the national party-not every vote won in 2010 is due to the national party leadership-but if nick gets all the blame for everything that happens at any level-he deserves his chunk of the credit.
    as for your boris arguments-if labour voters read the SUN-then vote Lbaour-that implies that the right wing press dont have the inluence you acredit them with-which invalidates tyour argument-and boris johnson first found fame on the BBC show have I got news for you-the BBC is hardly part of the right wing press. That boris gets the endorsement of the tory press is not surprising-but previous tory mayoral candidates got it as well-and they lost.
    and people know who he is because he is the tory candidate-just as they know who ken is because he was a labour candidate(by the way you are aware that livingstone had a column int he sun for many years?)
    The Tory press back tory candidates-the labour press back laboru candidates-but they dont always get the outcome they want-the gaurdian did not endiorse the lib dems in 2005-but did in 2010-yet the proportion of gaurdian readers wgho voted Lib Dem was higher in 2005 than in 2010, that shows that while the press are infleuntial its not conclusive

  • david thorpe 26th Sep '12 - 1:10pm

    @ simon

    vinec cabke and nick clegg both expressed their reluctance about the pledge-and both tried to get the wider policy ion tuition fees changed at conference-so Nick was publically against the tuition fees policy a long way out-he was wrong to sign the pledge and even more wrong to make others sign it.
    The reserach conducted by the party post 2010 into why the initial surge of support for the party didnt translate into votes found that voters regarded the party as all right and with some good policies but not serious players.
    I dotn dispuet that in two previous general elections the party won more seats nbut in 2010 it won more votes-Im not referring to proprtions of the vote-Im talking about actual votes cast-and my assertion is correct-and the Alliance was not a Liberal Party it was two parties working together so its not comparing like with like.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 1:15pm

    david thorpe

    as for your boris arguments-if labour voters read the SUN-then vote Lbaour-that implies that the right wing press dont have the inluence you acredit them with-which invalidates tyour argument

    Yes, but plenty of them only went back to Labour after it became Tory-lite, and Murdoch felt its safe and expedient to back it.

  • Steve Griffiths 26th Sep '12 - 1:41pm

    “His is the Liberalism of the historical sweep, as aware of the intellectual traditions that can be traced back to Edmund Burke as to the ‘pavement politics’ of David Penhaligan, and while seeing a place for both, respecting that embracing the former may leave the latter feeling a little unloved”.

    Where is the evidence for this, especially the claim that he is aware of the “pavement politics of David Penhaligon”? The “whole sweep” of the direction of the party under his leadership has been away from that style of campaigning and presentation, as if he does not believe in, or as if he does not recognise the value this approach has given to the party. His team of advisors have demonstrated they do not have any faith in this approach, and his ministerial appointments suggest that he has turned his back on that wing of the party that always advocated such a direction.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Sep '12 - 3:07pm

    @david thorpe: The Liberal Democrats is the legal successor to both Alliance parties, which fought elections on a single platform. So it is appropriate to compare our vote share now with that of the SDP/Liberal Alliance.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Sep '12 - 4:52pm

    jedibeeftrix

    I confess to being one of the difficult majority that has made it difficult for the exchequer to ever reliably tax more than ~38% of GDP.

    Yes, and if that is the position to which people hold, they must be prepared to accept the consequences of it.

    See, for example, Ed Shepherd at 7.44pm yesterday writing “If a person is capable of doing a degree course (or any other course) then they should be allowed to do it and the costs should be paid through a progressive taxation system.” Yes, fine. So, Ed, are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is and argue against Mr jedibeeftrix? Are you prepared to stand up to those howling down any proposal to tax wealth and join with me in saying “That’s what you have to do if you want all the things you have got used to being paid for from state funds”? This is what it comes down to – I am being honest and accepting what needs to be done to balance the books. Too many people throw abuse at us for trying to do that, screaming at us what bad people we are that we are supporting all these cuts in services, tripling tuition fees and the like. Then they go strangely silent when it comes to “OK, how would YOU pay for it?”. That, of course, includes the entire Labour Party.

    I personally seek to keep it below 40% (a politically useful threshold as much as anything else) because I want to see a limit in the power of gov’t to intervene in individual life, even if i accept that it in consequence limit the power of gov’t to aid individuals across the bumpier parts of their life.

    Well, there you go, you don’t want to be enslaved by the horrors of a National Health Service, you would regard it as far nobler and more free to die of a curable disease if you couldn’t afford to pay for treatment. Fair enough, so long as you are honest about that.

    As for me, I don’t think it would suddenly make me oh-so-much more free if instead of paying for my health care through taxes which pay for the NHS I did it through an insurance company – which is what your argument is saying. Actually, from the wranglings I have had with insurance companies, I think it would make me quite a lot less free. But anyway, as an old fashioned Liberal I have this quaint idea that one may be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity. You, however, seem to think the only thing that enslaves one is government services.

  • Christopher Townsend 26th Sep '12 - 5:37pm

    “He is playing to the gallery, sating the members appetite for morality when the public’s desire is for a daring pragmatist.” David – I am firmly in that gallery, the only question for me being whether the apology was too little and too late (i.e. I’m not sure my appetite’s sated). Our party needs morally daring leadership now. (And niceties.) The public should have to look elsewhere if they want to find amoral pragmatists to lead them.

  • david thorpe 26th Sep '12 - 6:44pm

    @ ornanjepan

    I agree we should see more of it in politics-but because we wont nick was at fault for doing it-also it wasnt clear enough what he was apologising for.

    @Steve Grriffiths

    There is no wong of the party that advocates pavemnent politics versus one that doesnt-there are some who got elected using it more than others-but having campiagned all over London plus in bristol and cornwall-in held seats and no hop areas-I have never encountered an area where the pavement politics campiagn techniques are not used.

    In his ministerial team he has some p[eople who undoubtedly had to use them personally less than others-but they do still use them-thats wht they kept their seats, and the greatest pavement politician left in our party in parlaiment at this stage-Simon Hughes was offered a ministerial role and turned it down, vince cable is another who is an expert pavemnet politician and he is the most high profile minister

    Nicks view however is that pavement politics is note nough on its own for a party of government-there must be a narrative-nick is much better at the narrative thing than the pavemnet politics thing-but that doenst mean he disdains of one over the other.

  • Richard Morris said:

    ” Nick hasn’t apologised for tuition fees (I wish he had, but he didn’t); he apologised for making a pledge that he couldn’t keep. Quite a different kettle of fish.”

    and Carl said:

    “It’s not the apology that’s the problem, it the the fact that it wasn’t the right apology, and the whole country can see that. … Nick needed to apologise for breaking his word. ”

    Well, I do believe that the first thing Nick needed to do (pity it wasn’t done earlier, but let that pass) was indeed to apologise for making the pledge in the first place. And yet I also think Morris and Carl are right. Let me explain.

    The pledge was a crazy mistake because, whether we were dead keen to scrap fees or whether we weren’t, we knew perfectly well that potential coalition partners did not want to let us. That being the case, it was just monumentally stupid to make a pledge that we would definitely beat them down in negotiation. So yes to Nick, it was right first and foremost to say sorry for that piece of incompetent leadership,

    However, it doesn’t stop there, and this is where Richard and Carl are also quite right.

    Having found out that he did actually hold the balance of power, our leader should have stopped and taken stock. On the one hand, he wanted to get lots of Cabinet jobs from the Tories, he wanted AV, and he wanted something vaguely progressive-looking on tax. On the other hand, he had only made one pledge to the voters, and that was on tuition fees.

    What he should have done,therefore, was to go along to call-me-Dave,and declare that tuition fees were the Lib Dem first red line. Call-me-Dave would have said that it was difficult, and that the Lib Dems would have had to give up a lot of their other demands if they really wanted their way on tuition fees. Nick should have responded that he would have to give way on those other demands, in order to stick with the red line on tuition fees, Because, if you make a solemn pledge to the voters, you just must keep your word. Then learn not to make such rash promises another time.

    So, I think Nick was right to apologise first and foremost for making a silly pledge. He should not have apologised for the actual policy he espoused on tuition fees, as there are in fact perfectly respectable arguments one way or the other. But he should have added one more apology, which is that having (rightly or wrongly) made a pledge, he should have stuck to his word.

  • One more point. Finally, when Nick said sorry, that is all he should have said.

    Is Cameron bombastic on occasion? Undoubtedly.

    Did we hear any bombast when Cameron apologised for Hillsborough? No.

    Why not? Because Cameron is not a complete emotional illiterate, and he recognised that boasting was best left to another day.

    So why did Clegg combine his apology with so much boasting about what he claimed to have done well? Because he hasn’t even got as much sensitivity to what might upset people as our PM from the Bullingdon Club, that’s why!

  • The pledge was made by Nick and others without ever having the slightest intention of keeping it. That’s the crime. Making false promises and then having the cheek to say ‘no more broken promises’. It’s beyond unacceptable.

  • David Allen

    Totally agree. And if he had stuck to the pledge, the chances are the country might have given him a fair hearing over AV. As it was, so many people were deaf to anything that Nick wanted. In fact the NO Campaign used the broken pledge against the AV campaign. Unbelievably crass.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '12 - 7:54am

    @Phyllis
    I think you have highlighted a reason why the tuition fees was such a disaster for the party; we lost our opportunity for electoral reform because of it. There would always have been those opposed to AV, but our opponents’ campaign was all about Clegg. Whether it was “Do you really want more Nick Cleggs?” or “Nick wants AV so don’t let him”, the real issues were rarely discussed.
    Perhaps we’d still have lost the referendum after a fair debate (Clegg’s “miserable little compromise” statement would always have been damaging), but Clegg et al threw away the chance to achieve something so important to the party.

  • Again, the pledge was to vote against increased tuition fees – that should have been the redline for Lib Dems, it was not a pledge (in any possible joint administration) to actually implement it. We are really back to what can be promised before any election by anyone – the media these days are ALWAYS trying to get cast iron guarantees on various policies, spending commitments etc, and it is an issue of trust. It is clear that no party can get away with promising the earth, but on the other hand, a party which promises nothing, would be seen as slippery and evasive.

    In the case of fees, this was not only a pledge, but a long term commitment of the party – I think my view would be it should have been separated from the Coalition agreement per se, and Lib Dems should have said they had all pledged to vote in a particular way (as a Lib Dem commitment), but that didn’t hold the Tories to vote that way. Had Labour and other parties decided to go along with a similar approach, then a way later of incorporating it into spending plans would have had to be devised. Don’t tell me not possible – I simply don’t believe it!

  • There were two things wrong with the apology, that it was for making not breaking the pledge, and that it took two years to make. It is strange to say that because others do not apologise for their wrongs that the Lib Dem leader should not. What about the new politics ? Did we not all vote for something different rather than more of the same lies ? Do we really want the type of politician typified by the smooth operation of Teflon Tony?

    At risk of joining other in descending into the same old arguments about the rights and wrongs of breaking the pledge, let’s stop for a moment to consider Cameron’s attitude to pledges. He was boxed into a corner during the debates and pledged to keep the universal benefits for pensioners. Clegg was right to raise these recently, they are just plain wrong in a time where better off working people are losing their benefits. Yet Cameron pledged so they must stay for the duration of this Parliament and working people will bear the cost of giving middle income pensioners benefits they do not need. We can reduce benefits to the disabled but not the elderly rich, is this a fairer Britian ?

    Universal benefits for pensioners were a Tory red line, Tuition fees should have been a Lib Dem one. Then there would be no need for any apology regarding them.

  • daft ha'p'orth 27th Sep '12 - 10:53am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    ” My wages haven’t. We’ve had below inflation wage rises for several years running now.”
    Yeah. The VC’s Jag won’t pay for itself.

    “Maybe the “mug it all up on the night before the exam” technique works for the arts subjects the media people take, which is why university life is written up in the press like that”

    Does one score bonus points for taking gratuitous pot shots at the humanities, or is it just a habit?

    I believe that your subject is comp sci, or at any rate CS-related. In this area, training courses are indeed often so ridiculously expensive that they make university look reasonable, but that doesn’t mean that either one is realistically priced in the long term.

    Your post, however, demonstrates exactly what I’m saying: it admits only one model of HE provision, does not acknowledge any of the complexities of the thing, and permits no possibility of constructive change. It also made me wonder how Open University students manage to gain an education without attendance at bricks and mortar universities, until it eventually occurred that from your point of view they probably don’t – we just give them certificates anyway because according to the British way, they aren’t ‘allowed to fail’.

    FWIW it’s exactly this horror of failure that is exacerbated by £9k fees. Wouldn’t it be preferable to pile ’em high, teach ’em cheap and examine ’em rigorously?

  • david thorpe 27th Sep '12 - 11:50am

    @ steve way

    the lib dems came third-the conservrtaives(its an adjective meaning not inclinedto major change) got the most votes-so no perople didnt vote for somehting different-and didnt vote for the lib dems in any great numbers relative to our opponenets

  • david thorpe 27th Sep '12 - 12:11pm

    the alliance were not a liberal party-in the sense that many of its members and candidates would surely not have defined themselves as liberals in any sense? whereas the lib dems-every member does-either via the route of economic liberal or social liberal

  • David Thorpe

    Nick Clegg suggested that he would be a different type of politician, one who wouldn’t break his promises. Now he is saying in effect, ‘well, I broke my promise but the others are no better” !! Well, so much for the ‘new politics’!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '12 - 3:00pm

    daft ha’p’orth

    Your post, however, demonstrates exactly what I’m saying: it admits only one model of HE provision, does not acknowledge any of the complexities of the thing, and permits no possibility of constructive change.

    Sorry, just where does it do that? I’m only explaining my own position from my own experience, it is up to others to explain theirs. I would recommend Peter Norvig’s excellent essay Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years for a little more on why short-term training with assessment based on multiple-choice questions does not work well in this area.

    I am, by the way, still waiting for the answer to the question I posed to Ed Shepherd at 12.51am yesterday. I think it only fair that if he is to make the attacks he made at 5.27pm the day before that he should be willing and able to answer that question. If Mr Shepherd continues to remain silent, then I think it shows up the worthlessness of many of our opponents.

  • @David Thorpe
    Yet again you conflate policy with a personal pledge. It should be accepted that all policy cannot be forced through by the junior partner, but when the public hear a personal pledge from a candidate they have a right to expect it being stuck to..

    How can anyone decide who to vote for ? The language used in the pledge left no wriggle room and voters should therefore have been able to believe that it was a red line.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '12 - 5:44pm

    @Steve Way “The language used in the pledge left no wriggle room and voters should therefore have been able to believe that it was a red line.”
    Exactly.

  • David Allen,
    Cameron was sotto voce on Hillsborough because the tories actively sought to sought to shift blame onto the victims, and had he come over all triumphalist he’d effectively be abandoning the right wing of his party who’d’ve dumped him as leader before the end of the month.

    That’s not emotional literacy, that’s knowing which side his bread is buttered.

    You might also ask why Ed Miliband left Andy Burnham to be the face of Labour on this issue, and why he was also less than triumphal about Labour’s continued attempts to sweep the matter under the carpet.

    That’s the old politics, look where it got the families who suffered for 23 years!

    Phyllis,
    if you don’t want to be accused of hypocrisy too I’ll take it then that you’ll be demanding similar apologies from every public figure whose actions fail to meet up with their rhetoric – you’re going to be a very busy lady from here to eternity!

  • Oranjepan

    It’s not just about rhetoric and actions not matching up – it’s also about the volume of the rhetoric . I remember seeing huge posters saying Vote Lib Dem to Stop The Tory VAT bombshell. I remember seeing Nick standing with students holding a six foot banner with the pledge written on it etcetc. And many believed that the Lub Dem pledge was a bit more than ‘ rhetoric’ as they also had huge headlines and PPB saying No more broken promises. You can’t one minute. Say you are different from the other lot and then say ‘well they are no better’ . I’m. sad that this simple concept escapes many libdems now that they are in government as I have always thought the LDs were better than that. Seems not.

  • Thanks Phyllis, volume obviously counts.

    That’s twice you’ve repeated your original point now, so we can conclude that you are very serious about holding people’s public statements to account, right?

    I look forward to you being more pro-active in living up to your own expectations. How can I follow your progress in eradicating hypocrisy from society?

  • I think when someone is asking for your vote and obtains it on the basis of a pledge, then yes I do take it seriously when it is broken. I, however, am not seeking anything from anyone, least of all a vote to be the next Prime Minister.

  • david thorpe 27th Sep '12 - 7:26pm

    @ phlis
    i agree with many of your points-but the lib dems said we would incrtease VAT as well- our posters were revealing thatt he tory were planning it-wihtout being upfront about it

  • David Thorpe

    Thanks.

    Really re VAT? You are probably right – in which case I totally misunderstood. I was convinced that Nick Clegg thought VAT was a regressive tax and that Lib Dems opposed the ‘ Tory VAT Bombshell’. So all those huge posters were saying ‘ the Tories are planning a secret VAT hike’. And then there was small print saying ‘ so are we but we are not keeping it a secret’ ?? Can this really be true?

  • From Nick Clegg’s speech in run-up to the Election:

    “We will not have to raise VAT to deliver our promises.

    The Conservatives will.

    Let me repeat that:

    Our plans do not require a rise in VAT.”

  • “the lib dems said we would incrtease VAT as well”

    Absolutely untrue.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '12 - 9:18pm

    @Oranjepan
    I welcome your admission that the Lib Dems are no less hypocritical than the other parties, but at least the others did not campaign on the basis of “no more broken promises”.
    Clegg portrayed our party as whiter than white, so every u-turn since then has a double-whammy effect in destroying confidence in our party.
    Equally, how can anybody who saw the “no more broken promises” broadcast, with Clegg’s direct-to-camera, earnest, persuasive speech, now be expected to take seriously any of his subsequent theatrical perfomances, whether apologising for his pledge or making a speech to conference. Fool me once, shame on him. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  • Phyllis,
    that’s disingenuous.

    Politics isn’t about isolated principles, it’s about how it is possible to put principles into practice.

    Clegg’s message from conference and backed up by his apology for making the pledge is entirely consistent – because the public didn’t support the LibDems in sufficient numbers to give the party a mandate to follow through on the pledges we said we wished to enact, it meant that we were unable to.

    The fact is that we didn’t gain a majority, so either we respect the result of elections and listen to what the people say or we condemn ourselves to lose the fight against the facts. That’s democracy.

    LibDem conference regularly provides examples of discontent with the outcome of democratic decision-making, and Brighton was no exception. The fees issue is the same – the pledge was badly drafted by the NUS so that the two parts could be (and as things turned out, were) found to conflict with the will of the country.

    This doesn’t mean we’ve not upheld our side of the bargain or abandoned our principles, since we have introduced a fairer system of HE funding, securing access for wider sections of society by ensuring HE institutions don’t bankrupt themselves. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is an improvement on Labour’s system when respected departments with strong social and economic relevance in Universities and Colleges up and down the country were being closed (including 3 in the University closest to where I live).

    Nor does it mean we were dishonest in pledging our support for students and our education system.

    The sentiment was correct, but the way the pledge was drafted by Aaron Porter et al was dangerously wrong, and this meant support for the pledge was a big mistake. I hope he will also apologise – unfortunately there is no mechanism for holding him to account because he has disappeared from the public arena (as is the correct punishment for his partisan abuse of the position he sought).

    Regarding VAT, your quote supports the LibDem position. A rise was not required, there were other ways of funding the political programme, and we spoke up for these choices. But again, democracy tied our hands.

    So when you complain about politicians appealing for your vote by making a pledge you should look to yourself – if you wish pledges to be upheld it is also your responsibility to campaign to win enough votes to make sure that this is possible.

    Your support for a political system cannot be conditional on it providing you with your preferred result, your active participation is necessary too – you too are implicated in the success or failure of the system.

    Either you respect the democratic process, or you don’t. We do.

    The most painful admission in the apology is in the anger of dissenters, in that their actions didn’t match up to their rhetoric.

    All the anger and bile thrown towards Clegg is displaced confusion about the role of a democratic citizen – as the only fully-democratic party we still have a massive job to do to communicate how individuals must live up to our democratic responsibilities .

    If you want LibDem policy pledges put into place in government then you have to go out and win more votes for LibDems. If we don’t win enough votes, then we must remove the blinkers and adjust our approach. Our apologies are meaningless if the public attitude stays the same.

    Frankly, that Clegg is able to attract so much criticism is a testament to the success of his efforts to change the public attitude – his apology makes the country more liberal and more democratic. And for that he deserves our applause.

  • Peter,
    on the contrary, LibDems must challenge the overwhelming public complacency about politics – equally in regard to social policy, the economy, the environment and everything else.

    The two-party duopoly got the country into a profound mess, and we cannot accept the status quo any longer.

    Clegg has shown himself accountable, and it is only by being accountable that we will put the country on a healthy track. He has shown himself vulnerable and human, and therefore can begin to trusted.

    How can you put your trust any public figure who hasn’t been tested as much as Clegg? How can you have confidence that the next person in line will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear?

    Clegg has now graduated to the next level.

  • “He has shown himself vulnerable and human, and therefore can begin to trusted.”

    “Vulnerable” and “human”?

    He’s broken a promise, and at long last apologised – but for making the promise, not for breaking it. I think in most people’s eyes that’s a pretty strong indication that he can’t be trusted!

  • Oranjepan – are you Nick Clegg?

    Good luck telling the voters that its really our fault that Nick Clegg would not vote against a rise in tuition fees, despite promising to. It was nothing to do with not getting a majority. Laws et al didn’t even press for it in the Coalition negotiations. Interestingly the Tories are somewhat better at sticking to their principles – no House of Lords reform (explained as a ‘principled protest’) and no taking away rich pensioners bus passes. Nick could learn a thing or two about sticking to one’s guns.

    Nick (you?) is a nice guy, it’s hard not to like him and I was gunning for him. But he has failed so many important ‘tests’ – voting reform being a prime example.

  • Oranjepan

    “Politics isn’t about isolated principles, it’s about how it is possible to put principles into practice.”

    Call me naive (I’m sure you will 😉 ) but I prefer to believe that politics is about a ‘vision’ for a better society. Great leaders have this and attract followers as a consequence. Sadly we are lead by career politicians these days. Where are this generations Ghandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela s?

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '12 - 11:26pm

    @Oranjepan
    Lib Dems won plenty of votes in 2010: the lack of seats is a result of an electoral system that Clegg has failed to reform. Those votes were based upon the principles for which Clegg claimed to stand, but why should we give him our own vote, let alone persuade others to support him, if we don’t know what he really stands for. He is right that being in government is different from being in opposition: now we can judge him on his actions not his well-spoken words, and in that respect he is found wanting. If he had come forward at every stage and told us, “We wanted this, the tories wanted that, we have compromised on the other” then I would have respect for him having at least tried to stand up for policies that many of us believe in. Instead he has come out every time, with what to the outside world looks like a very tory policy, and said “This is a great and I really recommend it.”
    Clegg signed off the first draft of the NHS reforms, persuaded his MPs to support increasing tuition fees, cut too far too fast, endorsed a VAT rise for all and a tax cut for the highest paid, helped Gove to bring in free schools, … the list goes on. These were things he campaigned against before the election but then promoted in coalition with all o f the enthusiasm of a religious convert.
    If it does not stand for anything, then a third party is pointless. The Lib Dems could make way for the Greens, UKIP, SNP, and other parties who at least have a distinct brand or selling-point. If we are simply an opportunistic anti-tory anti-labour party who will act as a coalition makeweight for the least unpopular big party, then we might as well pack up now.

  • Peter Watson 27th Sep '12 - 11:29pm

    @Oranjepan “How can you have confidence that the next person in line will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear? Clegg has now graduated to the next level.”
    Alternatively, how can I have confidence in somebody caught out in a lie when he says he won’t lie again?

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '12 - 11:41pm

    Phyllis

    Good luck telling the voters that its really our fault that Nick Clegg would not vote against a rise in tuition fees, despite promising to. It was nothing to do with not getting a majority.

    Sorry, but can you explain how you suppose the Liberal Democrats, with less than one in ten MPs can get a policy through if no other party will support it? I agree it was silly to make such a big thing out of it in the general election campaign, but despite the press commentary now trying to blame the party activists as ever, I remember what happened: it was the PR people around Clegg who insisted on making this one of the centre-pieces of the election campaign and encouraged candidates to sign the “pledge” about it. Those with more experience in politics know what a stupid thing it is to do something like that. I have always been very careful in my own campaigning not to promise anything I couldn’t deliver. One has to be careful to distinguish between the ideal one might aim at, and what one might be able to achieve in practice. Since in practice the 2010 general election was quite likely to end up with a coalition, and the other parties weren’t going to support this policy, it should have been downplayed.

    My understanding is that Clegg was put in the position by the Tories that if he did not back raising of tuition fees, his desire to keep them down would be met by massive cuts to the number of university places. So, Phyllis, what would YOU do if you were in that situation, which of these options would you chose? I expect an answer because this is a very fair question to ask. You are bad-mouthing the Liberal Democrats for the decision they made, so what would YOU have done in their position? Also, I am still waiting for an answer to my question addressed to Ed Shepherd. Ed advocated large scale spending on various things, so I think it only fair that he should say how he would want the money to be raised to pay for it. This the position politicians are in – they must balance spending with taxation, they do not have the luxury of being able to call for more spending and then howling in outrage at the suggestion of raising taxes to pay for it.

    . Interestingly the Tories are somewhat better at sticking to their principles – no House of Lords reform

    Actually, they did promise House of Lords Reform in their manifesto. So did Labour – and it was Labour who deliberately scuppered it. Remember that, Phyllis et al, when we have a majority Tory government (thanks to Labour also scuppering electoral reform, and running on “destroy the LibDems” as their main election target ) and there’s no democratic House of Lords to stop what it will do.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '12 - 11:47pm

    Isn’t it strange? I’m ranting and raving at the incompetence of Nick Clegg in other threads,setting out why I believe he has been a disaster for the party and should go. Yet I end up defending him elsewhere because most of the attacks on him from outside the party are from people living in a fantasy land where with one in ten MPs you can get every policy through you want, Labour won the last general election but were only thwarted of it by the Liberal Democrats, and governments have an infinite supply of money they can spend on anything they like.

  • Mathew

    “My understanding is that Clegg was put in the position by the Tories that if he did not back raising of tuition fees, his desire to keep them down would be met by massive cuts to the number of university places”

    But that was not the position, Matthew. Nick has clearly told us in his apology that the position was that there was no money . He makes no mention of any ultimatum from the Tories. We also know that the Lib Dem top team knew that the pledge was unaffordable and did not argue for it in the Coalition Agreement. My unhappiness is simply with the fact that a pledge was made to great fanfare and then abandoned without a fight.

    What would I do in the situation where the Tories threatened to cut the number of university places? Of course that is a fair question. My answer: I would have reminded Cameron that whilst the Lib Dems account for 10% of Parliament (or whatever small sum it is) they account for 100% of Cameron’s majority. Bring it on.

    Regarding House of Lords Reform, you misunderstand my point. What I was referring to was a few months ago that a sizeable number of Tories stuck to their principles and voted down Lords Reform, even though it was in the CA and this was passed of by the Tory team as ‘principled protest’. And the Tories are not letting Nick get rid of millionaires bus passes etc. Why? because they promised their voters (mainly rich pensioners) that they wouldn’t.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I am not ‘bad mouthing’ the party. I think the party members and activists are a great bunch, as has been demonstrated by a couple of decisions at Conference this week.

    Oh heck they are playing Nick’s song on This Week right now!!!

  • Peter Watson 28th Sep '12 - 12:15am

    @Matthew Huntbach “My understanding is that Clegg was put in the position by the Tories …”
    That is part of Clegg’s problem. Perhaps he did fight, but was forced to compromise. Perhaps he simply abandoned a policy he privately disagreed with (a report in the Guardian supports this). We don’t know, so we rely on our prejudices, gossip, off-the-record briefings, etc.

  • Matthew

    I am not living in a fantasy world at all and yes I do understand that public spending has to come down. . What I cannot understand is how in these straitened times, there is money for the NHS re-organisation, Free Schools and for rich pensioners to keep universal benefits? I think that, also, is a fair question.

    I am sorry if my comments are uncomfortable for some Lib Dems. But this is nothing compared to what the wider electorate is saying. I am genuinely trying to understand and am open to persuasion but so far all I have heard has been even more contradictory/puzzling.

  • Matthew

    What’s so difficult to understand?

    They signed the pledge. They encouraged (to put it mildly) all candidates to sign the pledge. It was a pledge to vote against a particular measure. When you are an MP you can vote against any particular measure – whether you are in government, in coalition, in opposition, or in a minority of one.

    It’s wrong to promise to do something and then break that promise – particularly when the promise is made as an inducement to achieve something that will benefit you to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    It would be helpful if you could indicate which bit of that you disagree with.

  • Peter Watson

    Just caught up with your comments above. Spot on !!

  • Peter,
    it’s a bit rich to say the failure to win the AV referendum is the reason LibDems won less seats than the popular result suggested a year earlier!

    “how can I have confidence in somebody caught out in a lie when he says he won’t lie again?” You can’t, but then you’re making a false accusation if you’re trying to say Clegg lied. A lie must be after the fact, which the campaign pledge patently was not.

    Phyllis,
    I definitely can’t characterise your comments as naive if you say politics is about vision – understanding how to put principles into practise means exactly that, having a practical vision, not just a dream, that’s because success in a democratic system is built upon votes.

    However I’ll repeat my point about the programme of closures to significant numbers of HE departments across the country in the dying days of the Labour regime – in my area the two which really hit home were a Physics research department and one of the few remaining Schools of Health and Social Care in the region. These were high-value, specialised facilities which produced highly-skilled professional graduates with an international reputation.

    LibDems campaigned against these closures, while Labour was silent. Our manifesto proposals would have saved them. Labour’s condemned them to close.

    These departments were closed in favour of keeping open others which attracted greater numbers of foreign students who paid higher fees because this helped subsidise the general admissions from UK students, which the government had provided politically-driven targets to guarantee access.

    Essentially Labour was forcing Universities to run at a loss, which was driving a reduction in standards in order to meet an artifically inflated ‘need’ which failed to match the desires of either the economy or individuals. Then they had nothing to say about the negative social impact that followed.

    So the choice wasn’t to keep fees, to raise them or to have places cut. In fact it was to have fair and equitable funding for HE, or to let market forces dictate which skills are economically viable with the consequence that fewer social and industrial jobs could be supported by the domestic workforce.

    And surely you haven’t forgotten Blair’s statement that he had legislated to prevent fees – now that was a lie!

    I’ll add (Matthew probably won’t thank me) that the UCAS monopoly effectively prevents a fully-functioning market for fees by protecting UK institutions from competition with our European neighbours – international courses (ie taught in English) at places like Maastricht cost as much as 50% less. Why aren’t these marketed to British kids?

    Finally I’ll argue that the level of criticism Clegg and LibDems are taking is a good thing for party prospects, as any unpopularity of the measures taken will rebound when they are seen to be working – such as with recent employment figures showing private sector hiring is running at double the level of public sector lay-offs. It shows we are relevant.

    The only issue for the party is whether this comes soon enough for the general election in 2015.

  • “And surely you haven’t forgotten Blair’s statement that he had legislated to prevent fees – now that was a lie!”
    Of course he never said any such thing. In fact contrary to Lib Dem myth Labour never said they wouldn’t introduce fees and they did not break a manifesto pledge when they did. I don’t suppose the facts matter though.

  • Peter Watson 28th Sep '12 - 8:28am

    @Oranjepan “A lie must be after the fact, which the campaign pledge patently was not.”
    In the last week we’ve heard that Alexander told Clegg about his doubts about the affordability of getting rid of tuition fees. Both went on to back a manifesto that said the opposite and to sign a personal pledge that even Ashdown has described as opportunistic. The Guardian quotes a “confidential” Lib Dem paper from March 2010 which states, “On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.” Before the election we accused Labour and the Tories of conspiring to leave fees off the agenda until after the election when they would increase them. We were constantly asked in the election campaign about our intentions in the event of a widely-expected hung parliament. Nothing about the circumstances in which our parliamentarians found themselves should have come as a surprise. Clegg was giving up on the tution fees pledge when negotiating the coalition agreement within days of the election: he had not seen new figures about the state of the economy and Lord Browne had not published his report. None of this gives the impression of a pledge made in good faith and only broken after the event when circumstances changed.
    Was it a lie? Wikipedia describes a few types of lies. “Bad faith” seems appropriate here: “lying to oneself. Specifically, it is failing to acknowledge one’s own ability to act and determine one’s possibilities, falling back on the determinations of the various historical and current totalisations which have produced one as if they relieved one of one’s freedom to do so.”
    I’m happy to debate whether Clegg lied when he made the pledge, lacked the principles or conviction to keep a promise, or was stupid to make the promise in the first place. I don’t see how any of these characteristics makes him leadership material.
    And is an apology enough? Many Lib Dems this week have grumpily referred to a lack of apologies from Blair and Brown. If Blair said, “Sorry about Iraq, I’ve learnt my lesson and won’t do it again.”, would that make it alright and we’d just forget about the whole thing? I doubt it. An apology is about accepting that one has done wrong and is remorseful. It does not mark the end of the matter and is certainly not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

  • Indeed, facts are troublesome things!

    “We will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them” is a direct quote taken from about two-thirds the way down the first column on page 20 of Labour’s 2001 general election manifesto, no less.
    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/e01/man/lab/ENG1.pdf

    According to Hansard on 22 October 2003, when challenged by Charles Kennedy, Blair initially declared his intention to legislate for variable rate fees after the 2005 election (although fees were included as part of the 2004 Higher Education Act).
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/vo031022/debtext/31022-03.htm#31022-03_spnew10

    This led to the famous exchange at PMQs on 3 December 2003 when Michael Howard said “This grammar school boy is not going to take any lessons from a public schoolboy on the importance of children from less privileged backgrounds gaining access to university.”

    Labour had a majority at this point in time of nearly 150 seats, so it was a matter of personal choice by the party leadership whether or not to honour their own manifesto.

    It is different from Clegg insofar as the contentious 2010 pledge was written by the NUS and it was a campaigning point, those specific words were not in the LibDem manifesto, in addition to the other point that the LibDems did not gain a majority, let alone a landslide.

    The 2010 LibDem manifesto (p39) states the party will “scrap unfair tuition fees… to phase fees out over six years… without cutting university income.”
    http://issuu.com/libdems/docs/manifesto?mode=embed&layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Flight%2Flayout.xml&showFlipBtn=true&proShowMenu=true

    Furthermore the criticism of Blair’s betrayal came from his own backbenches, Eric Illsley said, “This isn’t lifelong learning, it’s lifelong debt.”

    This contrasts with the coalition plan to replace the system of fees with a ‘progressive graduate contribution’ scheme, which it should be noted was welcomed by the NUS as fulfilling the terms of the pledge signed by Clegg and the LibDems.
    http://www.nus.org.uk/cy/news/news/nus-welcomes-vince-cables-backing-for-a-graduate-tax-but-warns-against-tuition-fees-rebrand-con_/

    Isn’t it strange how public perception popularises the choice to label sourced facts as myths!

  • Peter,
    what you’ve heard is commentary on the prospect of scrapping fees without putting in place a replacement funding system, and whatever leaked discussion papers supposedly reputable investigative journalists from The Guardian (hardly an unbiased organisation on this point) managed to recieve cannot be taken out of context from ongoing internal personality battles.

    So you’re basing your judgement on irrelevant gossip, not fact.

    The political damage to the LibDems stems from the way the NUS pledge was formulated in two parts, giving the impression that Clegg and all signatories supported the abandonment of the liberal principle of hypothecated payments, rather than that we supported rejigging the HE funding system to introduce more progressive use of hypothecation.

    The NUS are no so stupid that they did not know what they were doing by writing the pledge in this way, nor can they deny they were in constant dialogue with all political parties before finalising the draft.

    Libdems found ourselves in a bind, because our most definable constituency was the student vote, and we hold many seats where universities are located. So whatever the NUS came up with we were always going to sign it – and because of the limited democratic legitimacy of the NUS leadership their considerations were heavily influenced by partisan motives.

    Effectively Labour thought they were holding a gun to our head – sign the tainted pledge and the left could portray Clegg as someone who ‘went back’ on his word, not sign it and we were guaranteed to lose a swathe of votes.

    Clegg took the only options open to him and has been castigated for it, Labour chooses the worst of all worlds them tries to shift the blame. According to them he can do no right, and they can do no wrong. Labour’s position is just not credible. And it is part of a consistent strategic pattern by them across the policy spectrum.

    What’s interesting to me is that Labour’s dirty politics are beginning to backfire on them as the full facts get out into the public domain. As activists we should be concentrating more on the facts, not the gossip.

  • “So whatever the NUS came up with we were always going to sign it”

    Dear God, it just gets worse…..

  • Phyllis,
    if you’re praying, you can expect it to get worse.

  • Sadly only divine intervention can save us now. We are being ruled by opportunists who, we are told, would sign anything to save their seats. Sigh.

  • Oranjepan
    You didn’t say ‘top-up’ or variable fees. You said “he had legislated to prevent fees” which is simply not true.

  • Peter Watson 28th Sep '12 - 12:00pm

    @Oranjepan
    If there really was no alternative to breaking the pledge and increasing fees, then
    1. What is your opinion of Lib Dem candidates who made a promise that was impossible to keep?
    2. What is your opinion of Lib Dem MPs who kept their promise anyway?
    3. What is your opinion of the voters who believed them?
    Which of these people are the fools?

  • “The political damage to the LibDems stems from the way the NUS pledge was formulated in two parts, giving the impression that Clegg and all signatories supported the abandonment of the liberal principle of hypothecated payments, rather than that we supported rejigging the HE funding system to introduce more progressive use of hypothecation.”

    ?

    I don’t know whether you’re trying to give the impression that it was Lib Dem policy to fund higher education through some kind of graduate tax. Quite clearly it wasn’t. The manifesto policy was to abolish fees altogether and fund higher education through general taxation.

    Obviously the NHS pledge was far weaker than that, so there should have been no “bind” involved in Lib Dem candidates signing it, and no question of guns being held to people’s heads – unless the party’s stated policy was a deliberate deception which was never believed to be feasible. Is that what you are saying?

  • AndrewR,
    no, you’re right and I agree, it is absolutely true that I didn’t say that, it is a direct quote from Labour’s manifesto – as I made clear above.

    Just prior to the 1997 election in response to 50 questions posed to him by Michael Howard in the Evening Standard Blair said he had ‘no plans’ to introduce fees, in 2001 he followed this up with “We will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them”, then in 2004 (in the same Parliament) he legislated for the introduction of fees.

    The whole affair has been mired by Labour’s deceit and contradictions, it was flip-flop, flip-flop, all over the shop – C4’s FactCheck blog went into more detail:
    http://www.channel4.com/fc/quote.jsp?id=73

    Blair’s weasel words were deliberately designed to obfuscate, he provided ‘a lawyer’s answer’, as Charlie Kennedy described in the Commons.

    The final line of the FactCheck post is highly applicable – refering to Alan Johnson’s rhetorical shift, ‘even if… the manifesto pledge had been breached, sometimes it was necessary for governments to change course: “There will be occasions when politicians do have to do something different to what they said they’d do because circumstances change.”

    It’s a shame hindsight didn’t describe Labour’s circumstances for him – a booming economy, record tax reciepts, repeat landslide majorities, three completely opposite approaches on student funding – obviously LibDems are held to a much higher standard than Labour!

    Peter,
    opinion is a waste of breath when we’re trying to dig out the truth of a matter, and those questions are a nonsense in light of my previous comments. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please can we stick to the facts?

    As far as I can see from the evidence Labour’s fractious internal coalition created a destructive paradigm, by putting the state of political opinion and their own electoral fortunes at odds with economic reality, which fostered an unhealthy dialogue on the pressing issues of HE funding and government finances ever since.

    The conflict created by Labour has polarised opinion, undermining the possibility of confidence in any sensible or lasting policy solution. So to state any opinion whatsoever plays into their poisonous trap and harms the future of students and taxpayers.

    The NUS announced they actually welcomed the LibDem reforms as fulfilling the terms of their pledge, so on that basis it is impossible to argue with the apology Clegg made.

    He shouldn’t have signed it, because it inferred an impossible policy choice (to cut the deficit, maintain HE funding and guarantee access for students from all backgrounds – while abolishing fees), yet he has succeeded in balancing the terms of the authors and the requirements of the Treasury nonetheless, and on top of that he has humbled himself by contravening conventional political wisdom not to apologise – it is a complete triumph for him.

    It would be nice if the Labour figures responsible for the mess would now follow Clegg’s lead to apologise for causing the political and economic mess, and it would be even better if Aaron Porter had used his endorsement of the reforms to apologise for the level of public anger and violence that stemmed from his tainted pledge.

    Clegg clearly has far more dignity, integrity and nous than the lot of them put together.

    Phyllis,
    your empty cynicism will get you nowhere.

  • Chris,
    NHS pledge?

    I thought we’re discussing the apology Clegg made for signing the NUS pledge (“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”).

    The new system has been acknowledged by the NUS as a fairer alternative, while Universities have been allowed to raise the fees they charge.

    Given the economic crisis was fully underway while the pledge was drafted by the NUS, the two parts could not be reconciled whilst also addressing the deficit. Therefore something had to give.

    As I recall discussions increased in intensity around the preceding conferences, but nothing came of it and the formal policy making procedures were not put into place. The wider membership had not yet fully woken up to the debate.

    Quite clearly there was a major internal bind at play, completely aside from the external electoral dynamic.

  • david thorpe 29th Sep '12 - 9:43pm

    its a sign of the naivety of the lib dems at times that thye would sign up to any pledge the nus formed-and that those mps who were not keen to sign it were ordered to

  • “NHS pledge?”

    Sorry for confusing you. Of course I should have said NUS pledge! I bet you’re kicking yourself now for not working it out …

    “Given the economic crisis was fully underway while the pledge was drafted by the NUS, the two parts could not be reconciled whilst also addressing the deficit. Therefore something had to give.”

    To be brief – which I was always taught was a virtue – Lib Dem policy was to abolish fees altogether and fund higher education through general taxation. Obviously that would be far more costly than just maintaining fees at the same level, as the pledge required.

    Lib Dem policy (we were told at the time) was fully costed, which means the government could afford to do it. Therefore a fortiori keeping the pledge was affordable. Nothing “had to give”. Unless, of course, the party was telling a very big lie about the affordability of its manifesto programme.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Sep '12 - 10:28pm

    Phyllis

    My unhappiness is simply with the fact that a pledge was made to great fanfare and then abandoned without a fight.

    Yes, and I am unhappy about this as well. Clegg and his supporters are trying to make out it’s all the fault of the party’s democratic mechanisms for insisting on this policy, but it was the PR team running the national election campaign who insisted on highlighting it and making this thing about a “pledge”. The democratic side of the party just wanted this to be pushed for when funds were available.

    Nick has clearly told us in his apology that the position was that there was no money . He makes no mention of any ultimatum from the Tories

    But that has been the problem with Clegg all along, which I have been bitterly complaining about. In trying to make himself seem stronger, on almost equal terms in the coalition with the Conservatives, he actually comes out looking weaker, because it creates the impression that he has just given in. To my mind it would look better if he were more honest about the limitations he faces due to his party having only one-sixth of the coalition’s MPs.

    What would I do in the situation where the Tories threatened to cut the number of university places? Of course that is a fair question. My answer: I would have reminded Cameron that whilst the Lib Dems account for 10% of Parliament (or whatever small sum it is) they account for 100% of Cameron’s majority. Bring it on.

    Look, sorry Phyllis, you still don’t seem to be getting the point. It’s not just a matter of scrapping the tuition fees in isolation, or cutting the number of university places in isolation. It’s a matter of whatever you do, you must do something to balance it elsewhere. That’s all I’m saying – if Cameron had said “OK, I see your point, let’s scrap tuition fees instead of tripling them”, something else would have to give to pay for it. What? My own answer is that I would like to see much higher inheritance taxes to pay for it. But do you honestly think even if Cameron agreed to that he could get the rest of the Conservative MPs to agree to it? Your line essentially seems to be that Nick Clegg could just snap his fingers, say what you said above, and Cameron says “OK, your wish is my command”. I’m afraid the answer Cameron would be more likely to give is “OK, let’s call another general election – I’ll say it was all due to the intransigence of the LibDems in making it impossible to govern”. The reality is that Clegg is in a weak position not just because of the small number of LibDem MPs compared to the Tories, and not just because there are not enough Labour MPs to form an alternative coalition, but also because his party would be the biggest losers if another general election was called.

    What I cannot understand is how in these straitened times, there is money for the NHS re-organisation, Free Schools and for rich pensioners to keep universal benefits? I think that, also, is a fair question.

    No, I don’t think it is a fair question at all. You are putting it to me as if I support these things, but I don’t.I think these policies are expensive madness and will do the reverse of what the Tories claim they will. However, you seem to suppose that the LibDems can just instantly make the Tories change their minds on these things and come round to the LibDem position even though there are five times as many Tory MPs as LibDem MPs. I think that’s living in a fantasy world. I hate what’s happening with this government as much as you do, so please stop arguing with me as if I support all it does. I’m just saying that I’m a realist, I’ve been involved in politics and I know how much of it is about having to give up what you really want in order to come to a compromise that at least enough others will agree to for it to get through. In the case of the LibDems in the coalition, all they can really do is weigh in on arguments where there’s Tories on one side and Tories on the other and tip the balance a little. That is, if there’s a policy which two-fifths of the Tories want and the LibDems want it as well, the presence of the LibDems means that gets through and the one three-fifths of the Tories want does not. But if it’s a policy the LibDems all want but no Tories want, it won’t get through.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Sep '12 - 10:52pm

    Chris

    It’s wrong to promise to do something and then break that promise – particularly when the promise is made as an inducement to achieve something that will benefit you to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    It would be helpful if you could indicate which bit of that you disagree with.

    I’ve made clear what my personal position would be – vote against increasing tuition fees and put introduce sufficient taxes on inheritance or other profits from owning property to pay for the universities. As I say, I;m a realist, and what I’m arguing against here is fantasists – people who moan about government not spending money on things but won’t say where the money should come from if they do.

    I’ve also made it very clear in many places that I’m against the whole idea of a party manifesto as a Leninist Five Year Plan. Even if a party wins a majority, it is simply not possible to predict everything that will happen in the next five years. If it does not win a majority, obviously whatever it can achieve depends also on which of its policies the other parties are willing to support. If I were running an election campaign, I would make that absolutely clear – and in fact when I was leader of the Liberal Democrat group in LB Lewisham I made very sure that we never promised anything unless I was sure we could deliver. I also refused, as Leader of the Opposition, to indulge in the destructive politics I saw in so many other places where the Opposition slags off the Majority party for doing things which in reality it knows it would have to do itself were it running the council.

    I would not myself have made the pledge about tuition fees without considering whether it was sustainable in the event of a coalition – which was hardly an unlikely outcome. I would have instead made clear this was something I would support, but obviously could not be got through if no other party would support it. Yes, I do accept that singling out opposition to tuition fees as the one manifesto item that was turned into a formal “pledge” meant the LibDems were bound to oppose them come what may and regardless of consequences.

    However, I do think the compromise that was reached, however horrid it looks in headlines, was better than keeping the pledge at the cost of dramatically slashing university places. The fact that the loans are made available automatically, only have to be paid if you earn enough to pay them, and for legal purposes don’t even count as loans, actually makes them a form of graduate tax. As I’ve said, if it was done by straight state borrowing paid for from later taxation, much the same people would end up paying much the same money in future anyway.

    As I’ve also said, I’m a Liberal, meaning I try hard to appreciate both sides of the case. I’m being attacked here as if I am some sort of Clegg loyalist just because I can understand the argument from his point of view. This is rather strange since I am probably Lib Dem Voice’s most consistent critic of Clegg, I’ve been attacking him here remorselessly ever since he was pushed on us by the right-wing press as “obviously the best person to lead you”.

  • Matthew,

    ‘Calm down dear’ ! No-one is attacking you personally. It’s Saturday night – time to relax with something suitably chilled. Enjoy!

  • “I’m being attacked here as if I am some sort of Clegg loyalist just because I can understand the argument from his point of view. This is rather strange since I am probably Lib Dem Voice’s most consistent critic of Clegg,”

    Well, you did say you were “defending him”. When all’s said and done, you can’t be too surprised by the fact that a lot of people think his actions on tuition fees have been indefensible.

    Tell me this. If the last election had turned out differently and the Lib Dems had found themselves in opposition, do you believe for a moment that Nick Clegg would have done anything other than voting against raising tuition fees and absolutely condemning the government for raising them?

  • In retrospect it seems clear that the political thing to do would have been to resist any changes on tuition fees and used the issue as an albatross to hang round Labour.

    I understand why the party was pushed into making ‘the pledge’, it was all to do with having something to attract attention and to resist cheap jibes from lazy interviewers about Lib Dems having no policies, not standing for anything etc.

  • daft ha'p'orth 30th Sep '12 - 1:46am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I do wonder whether the new tuition fee approach is actually any cheaper than the status quo ante. It seems to me that your argument that it was the only available solution given the skintness of Britain rather depends on this being the case, but isn’t it more of a balance sheet fiddle than anything else, at least in the short to medium term?

    As for ‘the loans are made available automatically, only have to be paid if you earn enough to pay them, and for legal purposes don’t even count as loans, actually makes them a form of graduate tax’, that’s only if you’re eligible for them. Given that you work in a university, surely you have occasionally had to deal with people who are not so fortunate in this regard?

    @Phyllis
    Good plan. (Lifts glass) Cheers!

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '12 - 5:16pm

    daft ha’p’orth

    I do wonder whether the new tuition fee approach is actually any cheaper than the status quo ante. It seems to me that your argument that it was the only available solution given the skintness of Britain rather depends on this being the case, but isn’t it more of a balance sheet fiddle than anything else, at least in the short to medium term?

    No, you are assuming I am arguing for it from the point of view of a Tory, that it’s what I would have wanted more than anything else. Far from it – I very much wish we did not have this system, and like a lot of current government policy many of the arguments for it are dubious. What I’m actually arguing is that in terms of what it means people actually paying, it’s not so different from other ways of paying for university education as tends to be made out. This was helped by the LibDems managing to get some concessions from the Tories on its details. So, yes – I very much agree, it’s a balance sheet fiddle, that is actually at the core of what I am saying.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '12 - 5:23pm

    Chris

    Tell me this. If the last election had turned out differently and the Lib Dems had found themselves in opposition, do you believe for a moment that Nick Clegg would have done anything other than voting against raising tuition fees and absolutely condemning the government for raising them?

    No, why do you think I would? The whole point of my argument is that the coalition situation means the Liberal Democrats have had to back compromises far from what would be their ideal. However, had the coalition not been formed, the Conservative minority government that would have been formed instead would have called another general election shortly after to gain a majority – and put through even more extreme right-win policy.

    Clegg has made a difficult situation worse by the way he has handled this. He should have been open from the start about the way this is a situation of compromises far from our ideal forced on us by the way people voted and the distortional nature of the UK’s electoral system. Instead, he has exaggerated what he can really accomplish in the coalition, given the impression he enthusiastically supports all of what the Tories are doing, and made it seem this miserable little compromise of the current coalition is the Liberal Democrats’ promise land. He was doing it again in his speech to the Brighton conference. That is why I believe the man to be a disaster, he seems intent on wrecking the party he is supposed to be leading.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarFrank West 10th Jul - 4:09pm
    I would guess that 95 percent of users are not paying aniything where I live - I often seem to be the only one paying...
  • User AvatarDavid Blake 10th Jul - 3:23pm
    I remember David Alton proposing something like this many years ago when he was a Liberal MP. I certainly think it warrants examination.
  • User AvatarGeoff Reid 10th Jul - 3:19pm
    As someone who is multimodal with a preference for public transport, I think Kay Kirkham is onto something when she suggests that free bus travel...
  • User AvatarKaterina Porter 10th Jul - 3:09pm
    Diane's book shows that what was originally planned was sometimes applied by those whose outlook put working class children at the bottom and middle classes...
  • User AvatarKaterina Porter 10th Jul - 2:54pm
    Big problems with computer. Apologies!
  • User AvatarKaterina Porter 10th Jul - 2:51pm
    What comes up in Diane's book is that there were ideas one respects but that people who applied them had a certain mentality eg automatically...