The Liberal Democrats must not become the battered wives of British politics

So the leaks from the Browne Report were right. The cap on university tuition fees will be removed. A real rate of interest will be applied. The cost of studying for a degree will reach the level of a small mortgage. Many young people will have a lifetime of debt hanging over them as they study, continuing through the years when they would hope to be setting up home and starting families of their own.

What will the Liberal Democrat MPs do now? Before the general election, Vince, Nick and the rest of the Lib Dem MPs committed to abolishing tuition fees and voting against any increase proposed. Now we will see just how strong their mettle is. I have been willing to back the coalition in all the difficult dealings that they have had. I do so as an elected councillor in a local authority with a Lib Dem majority administration, knowing that the actions of the government may not make things easy for us locally. I am not 100% happy about the coalition, but I truly believed and still do that there was no sensible alternative that would have been better for the country or indeed my party in the medium term.

I have been a member of this party and one of its predecessors for over 25 years without a break. During that time I have been a loyal activist. I am a conscience liberal. I met my husband in the party and we have been together for over 18 happy years. But there are limits to loyalty in any partnership – and that has to include receiving loyalty back. Student finance has always been a touchstone for the party, in an area where there have been many debates. Those of us who believe in students receiving an undergraduate education available free to those who can benefit celebrated when the policy became party policy and then was incorporated within the manifesto. We cheered when candidate after candidate pledged their support. There could have been no clearer part of our manifesto than that on tuition fees, which stated: “Liberal Democrats are the only party which believes university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost.”

I’m not going to jump the gun. I have no idea what position our parliamentary party are going to adopt in the end, nor how they are going to square it with their government partners. I am heartened by yesterday’s report that Lib Dem ministers including Nick and Vince will refuse to back any proposals to raise university tuition fees. But I know what position I believe they should hold and hold to firmly, and that’s the one that every single one of our MPs, including Nick and Vince, signed up to so publicly before the election.

Of course political coalitions, like marriages, need compromise to make them work. Just as Nick Clegg was prepared for his children to be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith of their mother, rather than with his own atheism so I have been prepared to see some Lib Dem policies being lost to maintain the coalition. There are far more Liberal Democrat policies being enacted than there would have been with a quick second election, leading to an inevitable majority Conservative government. But this is no love match. The two parties are not together till death us do part. We are staying together for the sake of the children, or in this case, the country.

Had Nick turned round to Miriam on the birth of their first son and told her he had changed his mind over enabling their children to be brought up as Catholics, she would have had every right to feel betrayed. A promise made before a contract signed is part of that contract, whether the contract is for business, rather than love. And whilst the Liberal Democrats’ promise is to a third party, it was one that our betrothed was more than aware of when the deal was made.

I am certainly no oppositionalist. I am not scared of political power; I actively relish using it for good, or at least to restrain bad. I realise that if we reach the party’s favoured position of using STV for parliamentary elections that the art of compromise and coalition are likely to become a permanent political necessity and I’m more than willing to give both a go now. But there have to be some red lines. Seventeen years ago, I said ‘for better, for worse’, but I didn’t envisage that including becoming a battered wife. Were that to ever happen (and I think it is most unlikely!), I would have no problem in walking away from my marriage, even if some would see it as breaking my marriage vows.

So with the coalition. As a party which believes in political co-operation, we must be willing to bend and to compromise, but not to break or be broken. But there is little point in being in a relationship at the cost of your own personal principles. So it should be politically. Yes, we may have gone into the coalition agreement, but we made what I see as cast-iron promises to the electorate that enabled us to get to that position. I hope that Vince and his colleagues can square the circle of student finance and I’m holding fire until I see what is eventually proposed. We had already seen Liberal Democrat policy modified to fit the economic circumstances, with fees phased out over a six year period, rather than immediately. Why can we not look again at that position? But this must be where our MPs show that we do not make promises to the electorate that we will not keep.

Let me be clear: I am making no threats. I do not intend to leave the Liberal Democrats. I can certainly see no future in any other party – certainly not in a Labour Party that puts forward blind hope and deceit in the guise of economic policy and where Ed Balls and Phil Woolas are seen as the new generation. It was of course Blair’s Labour Government that introduced tuition fees and Brown’s that commissioned the Browne Report. But there have to be some places where we will not allow this coalition relationship to go. If we are going to keep our self-respect we cannot allow the Liberal Democrats to become the battered wives of British politics – going back for more time after time. Because he doesn’t love us – and the next time he may kill us and those we are seeking to protect. Enough is enough and we must be prepared to say so.

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72 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 12th Oct '10 - 9:15am

    Well put Sara.

    One of the problems with the Browne Report is that its principles (which it sets out very clearly) were established under the previous Government. To an extent it is a perfectly good report based on those principles.

    The problem is that they do not fit our principles, and, therefore, neither do the conclusions.

    There are some good bits in their, such as raising the repayment threshold from £15K to £21K. The £15K starting point was one of the most shocking parts of Labour’s scheme and this will help a large number of low paid graduates.

    But overall the proposals remain seriously flawed.

  • Thanks for this article. I agree with your position. There are a number of lines that both coalition parties have drawn in the sand and for Lib dems this is one of the thickest. To go back on tuition fees puts every Lib Dem MP on the rack for the next 5 years and seriously undermines their personal integrity, given the very public signing of the NUS pledge. We saw Liam Fox stamp his feet and get what he wanted on defence, as he knew this was a battle Tory party members would support him on. Nick and Vince need to stamp their feet in a similar manner, as both a point of principle but also to steel party members for the tough times ahead after the spending reviews. Compromise is necessary in this coalition but all out surrender of red line policies is not. This could be a move that does see the party wither away. We can kiss goodbye to the hard won student vote and to those MPs who owe their seats to being strong on the fees issue. Feeling very despondent this morning. Vince will need to pull off a blinder this afternoon to prevent meltdown.

  • Sunder Katwala 12th Oct '10 - 9:17am

    You should also be clear that there is absolutely nothing in the Coalition agreement to commit the LibDems to drop their pre-election pledges to constituents.

    The Coalition Agreeement is curious in covering this subject.

    “If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats can not accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote”.

    This doesn’t make much sense. For it squarely contradicts every claim that this is a genuine Coalition government, rather than a Tory government with a LibDem appendage. If this was a partnership government then, if the response of the Conservative partyto Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats can not accept, then the Coalition government does not have a policy unless and until that deadlock is broken.

    If the LibDem leadership has already in effect agreed to gift the Conservative Party – through abstention – a majority that they did not win in order to lift the fees cap, then they have done so in a secret pact as a side agreeement to the Coalition Agreement. That may be one plausible implication of what was published, but it is not what LibDem MPs or the party voted on when agreeing the Coalition.

    ***

    So, in a hung parliament, it ought to be perfectly possible to explore alternatives to what the Conservatives propose, and to see if there might be a majority for a different approach. That might involve compromises too, but of a less stark kind if it turned out that there was the potential for more common ground on future policy priorities, for example between the Labour opposition and the LibDems. In my view, you could call this ‘the new politics”. This is certainly within the power of the LibDem MPs to explore, as long as they do not simply cede their power through abstention

    http://www.nextleft.org/2010/10/what-about-new-politics-approach-to.html

  • Colin Green 12th Oct '10 - 9:31am

    Browne has reported but the coalition hasn’t yet decided which of its recommendations to accept. Both sides know the situation. Both sides know that Lib Dem MPs signed the pledge. Let’s give them time to see if a compromise can be reached that is acceptable to all. Then, if required, we can lobby our MPs to honour their pledge.

  • If you earn the median wage, your monthly repayments will halve if this scheme was implemented, no matter how much your univ claimed to be charging you. Surely that is the sort of progressive change we want? In addition, all students get access to maintenance loans – which is a big shift to treating students like adults, in a way our party has always supported.

    It isn’t what we pledged to deliver, but it is progressive. I would be really disappointed if our MPs vote against a package along these lines.

  • BBC has it now – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11519642 – free market in fees, up to £12,000

    The first question every UCAS adviser now asks will be “How rich are you parents?”. If you’re poor, you don’t get to go to Cambridge. If you’re rich, you won’t have to be as clever.

    Every time Nick defends taking away people’s public services, he says “We have to do this, to avoid passing debt onto our children”. The best way to do this, he is now claiming, is massively raising debt on children!!

    There is no National Interest here. This is a straight ideological choice. University education: public service based on ability, or free market based on ability to pay?

    Come on Lib Dems, are you a right wing party or not?
    If you let this go through, what won’t you vote for? A war in Iran? Privatise the NHS? I mean, god, we haven’t even got Nick’s signature on something saying he won’t privatise the NHS!

    http://i56.tinypic.com/ff2xag.jpg

    Cambridge isn’t for talented people to go to for free any more, like Nick did, it’s for people who go to exclusive private schools, like Nick did.

  • @ tim leunig

    Open your eyes. You are advocating children taking on up to £80,000 debt.

    Hey just thought of an awesome way to get rid of the National Debt, yeah, see, we make the next generation of the British Economy pay it all themselves.

  • A good step in the right direction on this issue would be to reduce the “real interest rate” to zero for those at or under the median national wage.

    This would solve the problem of the poor paying more than the rich because of longer repayment. (Although it should be noted that this is already the case with Labour’s scheme, and of course it is already the case with every repayment scheme, including mortgages, and people dont seem to say “the poor pay more than the rich for houses”).

  • charliechops1 12th Oct '10 - 9:50am

    The issue of tuition fees is one of a series of awkward policy decions that Lib Dems MPs face in the coming weeks and not necessarily the most important. The Coalition will secure its way on this and on all (or most) of them because of Lib Dem support. Isn’t it time to stop? Do political values stand for nothing and managerial politics for all?

  • A very good piece indeed and it should be a wake up call for those who still think sitting quietly hoping for the best is a tenable strategy. And lets not pretend that this isn’t going to be a huge issue on the doorstep because we all know it is.

    I’m dismayed that this seems to be fitting into a pattern of the ‘Americanisation’ of British public services as if this gets through, even with a few token but welcome measures. (such as the small variation in interest rates and the raising of the repayment threshold.) It’s pretty clear that if the cap gets lifted fees will skyrocket and we’ll begin to resemble the American education system. Why would we want that ? I know I don’t consider the U.S. education system a model of excellence and the league tables of industrialised countries bears that out.

    The NHS reforms also seem to be pushing for a more cut-throat U.S. market led style health service, and again, why on earth would we want to model ourselves on that system ?

    The welfare reforms are also heading that way now the universal barrier has been breached. I.D.S. has already started to lay down arbitrary precentages for those he considers ‘worthy’ among the poor and vulnerable who will be allowed a safety net. The direction of travel has been set and I fear that the details still to come will not make happy reading for those who think our welfare system must not be slowly dismantled using cuts as a cover.

    Lets also be crystal clear that Osborne and the Tory right would love to set the right wing press on to the Liberal Democrats if Nick and Vince do support the fee rise or abstain. They will be ruthless in putting all the blame on Liberal Democrats, as usual. If you think the Mail was foaming at the mouth over Clegg’s school choice imagine how gleefuly they will label every Liberal Democrat a hypocrite while printing front page pictures of Nick and his MPs holding up the pledges with HYPOCRITE in massive typeface as they blame student fees on us and let the Conservatives off the hook.

  • Roy's Claret Army 12th Oct '10 - 9:59am

    I think the battered wives analogy is ridiculous. It’s not that you married him and he turned into a monster and you can’t get out. You married him knowing what he was like and would do anything for him because you wanted the power that goes with it.

    Stop kidding yourself on that your leaders are any less venal than other party leaders. Stop kidding yourself that this is anything other than a grubby grab for power. You’re like the Labour left-wing saying “it’s nothing to do with us” when Blair rolled into Iraq.

  • Terry Gilbert 12th Oct '10 - 10:01am

    There are basically two ways to fund the higher education gap: through fees or increased general taxation. We will all pay for it no matter what, it’s just that, if the Tories get their way, lower middle income families will pay more and richer ones less (because their taxes will be less). Under taxation, HE is rationed according to ability. Under fees (apart from a sop to “poorer families”, to cover the Government’s embarrassment, akin to the Tories cynical “assisted places” scheme for private education), rationing is done by parental income. At its root, that is what this argument is about.
    The Liberal Democrat leadership, and our MPs needs to be very very careful here. After 27 years as a Liberal/SDP/LD member, including stints as a Councillor and as a Parliamentary candidate, I may find myself unable to bring myself even to vote for the party.

  • While I don’t consider my self loyal to any particular party, I tended to vote Liberal in the locals and until recently Labour in the main. I know on the large scale I am not important and you’ll probably think I am just having a pop, but I can assure you that I will never ever vote for your party again.

    People will not forgive what you are doing. And you come a cross as a spineless lot.

  • Roy's Claret Army 12th Oct '10 - 10:02am

    I don’t think you need to worry about the Mail. You need to worry about the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and the Telegraph as well as every student newspaper and every newspaper in a University town.

    Lying to your core voters is stupid as well as despicable.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 10:03am

    “If you earn the median wage, your monthly repayments will halve if this scheme was implemented, no matter how much your univ claimed to be charging you. Surely that is the sort of progressive change we want? In addition, all students get access to maintenance loans – which is a big shift to treating students like adults, in a way our party has always supported.”

    The interesting thing is that any outstanding debt will be written off after 30 years, and it’s estimated that only 40% will pay off full amount during that period. Payments don’t depend on the amount owed – only on salary – so for the majority (and certainly for those on the median wage) this is entirely equivalent to a straight graduate tax, payable for 30 years. The only difference is that the wealthiest 40% will get to stop paying earlier than that.

  • University fees double, triple, quadruple! Yet they only propose nudging up the threshold from £15,000 gross to £21000 gross. If costs are to rise by so much, the threshold should at least double.

    A £30,000 threshold is the absolute minimum if the rest of these proposals are to go through. Ideally it should be around £50,000 before payback commences, though repayable at a higher rate.

  • It’s becoming more and more obvious that you’ve got no leverage over the Tories now they’re in power- The Lib Dem MPs appear more and more like mouthpieces for the Conservatives. They are making use of you for their own ends and as soon as you are of no more use to them they will drop you. You could have avoided the dilemma you are now in if you had allowed the Tories to form a minority government, that was the only truly progressive option given the electoral results. Ironically, you could then have had a more powerful influence to steer policy by voting as a block with or against the Tories on each proposed policy as it fit with your own Party’s policies.

  • @ Jan

    Yeah but then Nick Clegg wouldn’t have got to go to the UN and shake Hilary Clinton’s hand…

  • Grammar Police 12th Oct '10 - 10:22am

    @ Andrew – what exactly about the independent report set up by the last Labour Government (who also dictated its terms of reference) ie the Browne report – makes you promise never to vote Lib Dem again? This report would have happened whoever was in Government. And a Gordon Brown / Labour Government would probably be implementing it in full, no questions asked.

    If you’re going to threaten not to vote for us again, at least let that be because of something that our MPs have done, as opposed to the recommendations of an independent review, which may or may not be implemented.

  • “The interesting thing is that any outstanding debt will be written off after 30 years …”

    Currently it is 25 years!

  • David from Ealing 12th Oct '10 - 10:26am

    Note that the coalition agreement allows abstention, but not opposition.

  • Grammar Police 12th Oct '10 - 10:26am

    @ Jan – I repeat my comments to Andrew above.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 10:33am

    “Currently it is 25 years!”

    You miss my point. It isn’t the exact length of time that’s significant. The point is that it’s expected that most people will never repay the full amount. Paradoxically, that makes it entirely equivalent to a graduate tax for the majority.

  • Grammar Police…

    I would have found this despicable if implemented y any party. And whether this would have been implemented if the old government was in power we will never know. But you all made a pledge against this, as they did about other things, and all I hear from your side of government is excuses.

    And please do not tell me what I should or shouldn’t do after reading a few lines about how I feel, and as I said you come across as a spineless lot.

  • Well I’m just about sick and tired of crossing my own red lines and kidding myself that I have to except it in the name of unity or it’s for the good of the country. anyone here remember the election manifesto? the promises made on the doorstep? the debates? I do.
    How can a pledge to scrap university fees turn into unlimited fees plus interest in just four months? how can a pledge to honour ‘universality’ turn into the exact opposite? how can a democratic vote opposing free schools turn into coalition policy to promote them? could go on but what’s the point.
    I personally can no longer support the coalition, nor can I support the leadership of the Lib Dems, I’ll still describe myself as a Lib Dem but one of the manifesto, not one of the coalition.

    Don’t want to be the battered wives of British politics? then stop handing out the boxing gloves.

  • The problem the lib dems have is that up to now ‘anything goes’ and it has. Now the most expensive place to get a degree is going to get even tougher. It will, of course, put the working class children in their place.

  • The Browne report was not commissioned by the Liberal Democrats who should have nothing to do with it. It is the Conservative response to it that we await.

  • The Mail was just an example. As you rightly say every Newspaper will beat the crap out of Liberal Democrats for sport if this gets mishandled any further.

    But if enough MPs vote against it we will finally break out of the cycle of subservience Nick has foolishly beenleading the Party down since May. And if that happens we will finally start getting some respect back from the public. Coalition should not mean submission. Some of us will NEVER be Conservatives.

    I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that Nick comes off well from this debacle but if the Labour leadership were contemptable for pushing the Iraq War then so were the Conservatives for supporting it almost to a man. It hardly needs pointing out that Liberal Democrats were not the fools supporting that catastrophe.
    Liberal Democrat MP’s have a choice to vote against the Fees and keep their dignity, like some Labour MP’s did for Iraq. Those who vote Fees through will have to take their chances with furious constituents at the next election. And that means Conservative MPs too.

  • THE BEST THING THAT ALL OF THE POSTERS CAN DO IS TO EMAIL MR CLEGG AND MR CABLE NOW!

  • A strong title to this piece and then, oh my goodness, your arguments then go down exactly the ‘battered wives’ route. “There is no alternative…. what else can I do…. it’s not all his fault.” You forgot to say “You love him (Clegg or Cameron? Not sure). He’s really good to me? Really he is. He cares but in different ways…” Any more clichés?

    Wake up! This is policy is going to deter thousands of students simply based on economic privileged. It flies in the face of the most emphatic promise made by the LibDem Party. Is there no integrity left at all in the party? Of course, @ Grammar Police is strictly correct to say that this only the report. It does necessarily follow that it will be implemented. But come off it we know the most substantive parts will – perhaps with a few minor tweaks. That’s just smoke and mirrors.

    It’s ironic that Condems bang on about Labour’s failures re the economy including too easy access to credit and reckless spending. Yet their chosen prescription for students is to saddle them with record debt before they even consider the additional financial responsibilities such as the family, housing and pensions.

    I would never have gone to university but for the grant. My mum and dad worked all their lives and we were a small, poor family. In our situation taking the risk of debt of this magnitude would be unthinkable. Students from low and middle income backgrounds will obviously be put off by this. These are frightening numbers of debt.

    I was amazed that your article talks about the ‘deceit’ of Labour.

    Goodness knows Labour had their faults which is why I voted Lib Dem. But really, can’t you see the irony of using that phrase to attack labour in the context of this issue and the potential for LibDems to break their pledge?

    If LibDems don’t take a stand over this issue then just precisely what will be the last straw? Ah, but back to the battered wife analogy, of course, the answer is YOU never get elect to make the choice you just keeping going back for more. And boy, don’t Clegg and Cameron know it. What a real tragedy that the LibDems graft over all these years to be taken as a serious party is trashed with breakneck speed.

    And @Grammar Police, should you reply with your normal invective – the issue here isn’t about the threat of voting LibDem or not. Believe it or not there are more important things than the future of the Lib Dems. And no I am not a mischief maker from the Labour Party as I am sure you would wish to believe. Just one very ex LibDem voter who is so disappointed with how the LibDems are behaving. By the way just which part of the Tory manifesto have the Lib Dems ensured will not be enacted? Answers on a postage stamp.

    Why don’t the LibDem PLP’s just merge with the Tories? There must be some savings there too. Perfect. As for the LibDem membership and voters – well clearly, who cares?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 11:32am

    A hint of what’s in Vince Cable’s mind:
    Last night in a meeting with Lib Dem MPs he [Cable] talked about adding variable interest rates to the debt to squeeze more money than Browne does out of the better off.
    http://blogs.channel4.com/gary-gibbon-on-politics/lord-browne-briefs-mps-on-tuition-fees-review/13890

  • Oh, and for those with short memories, some of us still remember who started this mess and why Labour supporters would do well to drop the pious self-righteousness lest they forget how eagerly they tried to form a coalition, or how much credence we should give to Blair’s young acolytes now in the shadow cabinet, considering their masters record.

    In 1997 Tony Blair said Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.
    Labour then introduced tuition fees.

  • Just listened to Clegg on the BBC, I didn’t hear any condemnation about the report but I did hear the phrase “remain free at the point of use” no guesses on his views on the report then.
    It also worries me that the phrase used by Clegg is one you usually hear being used about the NHS, doesn’t bode well for future reform of the health service (sarcasm mode) Loans for operations anyone?

  • Clegg on the BBC: “remain free at the point of use”

    Like getting domestic appliances with money from a loan shark!

  • LDV Bob wrote –
    “Oh, and for those with short memories, some of us still remember who started this mess”

    Well said!
    Still doesn’t distract from the mess the party finds itself in now unfortunately, it only shows that they ignored their 1997 manifesto so it’s probably best if we don’t throw too many stones in that particular greenhouse.

  • Richard Hill 12th Oct '10 - 11:51am

    To say we are all against tuition fees is wrong. It is Party policy so it is only the view of the majority.
    Personanly I think people are not seeing the advatages;
    Students will think a lot more carefully about the course they choose.
    When they think about studying or going out on a binge, studying will seem a lot more sensible.

    After all, they only have to start paying anything if they get a good job and a reasonable wage. Which are normally the benifits of getting a degree and if that doesn’t happen they do not have to pay anything. If a person puts in the work they should be rewarded but people in poor jobs with poor wages should not be punished with higher taxes to support that process.They may think they will have to work harder, however, they will normally get the benifits later in life.

  • Labour are the ones usually throwing stones in our direction nige, and until we have the vote they can’t complain that Nick has done the same thing on Fees as Blair did. If Nick does a Blair then we will all suffer for it but Nick and Vince will have to shoulder most of the responsibility. It’s their move and they must know that the backlash from the Party and the country will be ferocious if they don’t get this right.

  • I guess buying a house will ”remain free at the point of use’… i.e. using a mortgage.

  • Richard Hill wrote –
    “To say we are all against tuition fees is wrong. It is Party policy so it is only the view of the majority.”

    This is written in the Lib Dem Manifesto –
    “Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their fi rst
    degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000
    each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over
    six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult
    economic times, and without cutting university income. We will
    immediately scrap fees for final year students.”

    It also happens to be the reason why people voted for the Lib Dems, what part of that do you not get?

    this bit of your post “so it is only the view of the majority” got me angry, if you do not know why then I worry about you,
    and then you go on to say that people “aren’t seeing the advantages” …. what of? a debt of £36000 debt ? JEEZE WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM?

  • @Anthony Aloysius St: Very good point about the payback rate meaning it is little different to a graduate tax.

    @Andrew: Why has the publication of an independent report made you say you will never vote Lib Dem again? You dont even know what will happen yet! Maybe you are trolling?

    @Roy’s Claret Army: Who has lied to their core voters?

  • Richard Hill 12th Oct '10 - 12:24pm

    @ nige

    What part of democracy do you not under stand. It is part of the manifesto because the majority of people voted for it but I still have the right to have my own views and argue for a change in the manifesto. However, at the end of the day I will support the party. As we uderstand more surely we are allowed to change our veiws or are you more of a religiuos type that once it is written it should be set in stone for ever no matter what.

    @Rob

    But with a mortgage you normally have to have a good deposit to show intent and proof of the ability to pay it back. Also you are expected to pay it back no matter what. Plus, you have the house as security.

  • “Personanly I think people are not seeing the advatages;” [sic x2]

    The advantages are that only students from rich families will apply to the expensive universities; students from poorer backgrounds will apply to the budget universities. Students wishing to go into a low income career – teaching, social work, charities – will also restrict their application to the budget universities. Result: a widening gap between the top universities and those at the bottom. Employers, already bedazzled with Oxbridge degrees, won’t be asking WHAT degree you have , but WHICH university did you attend?

  • I was just having another look at the coalitions agreement and noted the following paragraph

    “We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents”

    So I reckon this should be a stark warning to ALL LIBDEM MP’s.

    I for one will be looking very closely to see how “Simon Wrighte” My Local Lib Dem Mp votes on tuition fee’s.

    If he votes yes or even if he ABSTAINS from the vote. I will regard this as wrongdoing as he made an election promise to Vote against any rises in tuition fee’s and I will regard it as my MP has blatantly lied to me in order to get my vote.

    I will then personally seek a petition from our constituency for a right to recall on that basis.

    I think it would be a good idea for others who have a Lib Dem Mp’s to also make there intentions clear to them.

  • Well, this piece and the comments show a lot of heat caused by outrage, but not much in the way of illumination. As with everything, when outrage takes over the thought process takes a back seat.

    First of all, kids were lied to with some vague notion that if they got a degree they would be able to earn more. But a degree is like any other commodity, it is most valuable when it is rare, as more and more people gain these degrees the potential return (in monetary terms) reduces. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t try for university, but they should at least be aware of the facts.

    So if you accept the above and still think that we should try to send as many as possible to university then we obviously have to find a way to pay for it. At present, the only 2 options that seem to be under consideration are either loans or taxation. With the former you lumber kids with huge debt that will hang around their neck for years to come (loan), with the latter you lumber the kids with huge debt that will hang around their neck for years to come (tax). In other words, there isn’t much difference, except perhaps, the latter option gives the current generation a nice warm feeling, but of course many of us won’t be around to see if there is also a cost to our grand & great grand children.

    If you don’t want to lumber the next generation with this debt, then you really have to think outside the tax/loan box, which will be difficult in normal circumstances but almost impossible if you’re concentrating all your energy on outrage.

    So to kick off the discussion, it’s unlikely that one scheme will be able to solve this issue. But we do know that business prefers the hard degrees (e.g. science based etc) which tend to be more expensive, so why don’t we try to get business to drastically raise the number of university scholarships for these types of courses. The bonus for them would be that the available pool of talent increases and the future cost of employing such people would reduce (see comment above regarding commodity value). There may be a requirement to offer some sort of tax incentive, but any tax break could be offset by an agreed figure that would denote the future value to business.

    We have over 60 million brains in this Country; surely it’s possibly to come up with other and better ideas than the one I’ve just mentioned? – Discuss

  • @Richard Hill
    “are you more of a religiuos type that once it is written it should be set in stone for ever no matter what”

    No I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious type but I would describe myself as a honest type and as such I would stand by my promises, including pledges made in the manifesto made only four months ago.

  • ” “If you earn the median wage, your monthly repayments will halve if this scheme was implemented, no matter how much your univ claimed to be charging you. Surely that is the sort of progressive change we want? In addition, all students get access to maintenance loans – which is a big shift to treating students like adults, in a way our party has always supported.”

    The interesting thing is that any outstanding debt will be written off after 30 years, and it’s estimated that only 40% will pay off full amount during that period. Payments don’t depend on the amount owed – only on salary – so for the majority (and certainly for those on the median wage) this is entirely equivalent to a straight graduate tax, payable for 30 years. The only difference is that the wealthiest 40% will get to stop paying earlier than that.”

    It’s fascinating, all this financial juggling, isn’t it?

    At the moment, we’ve got something like Model A. Student is saddled with big mortgage, call it £20K, around neck for ever. Must pay off all the capital. Pays next to no interest.

    What beckons is Model B. Student is saddled with huge mortgage, call it £60K, around neck for 30 years, then written off. Pays lots of interest, which may or may not vary with student’s income. Probably never pays off the capital.

    What happens in 5 years time, when the Tories win outright, and change the interest rates so that they are no longer any lower for poorer students? What happens in 10 years time, when the Green Socialists win power and tell universities they now have to chase their own students’ debts to survive? How many different schemes will there be for 1990 students, 2005 students, 2010 students, and 2020 students? Won’t everybody be at each other’s throats arguing that it is their generation which has come off worst?

    There is a simpler way. Today’s students are paid for by today’s taxpayers. When costs rise, today’s politicians decide whether to let taxes rise or to cut back on courses. Too simple?

    Older students like me (1970s) didn’t “get their degrees free”, as the Guardian crazily suggested today. They were paid for out of our taxes and our parents’ taxes. In my turn, I should now be funding my children’s generation to get their degrees out of my taxes. It means the generations properly supporting each other, and avoiding some of the so-called “pinch”, whereby the older generation rip off the younger, according to David Willetts. Time he read hisown book and learnt its lessons?

  • Matt Simon Wrighte was only 1% ahead in the polls. I suspect this is mirrored across the country. Will the lib dems agree with unlimited fees ok? They have already ensured that people who live in London will soon be homeless.

  • PS I find the title offensive by the way

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 1:11pm

    “The advantages are that only students from rich families will apply to the expensive universities; students from poorer backgrounds will apply to the budget universities. Students wishing to go into a low income career – teaching, social work, charities – will also restrict their application to the budget universities.”

    I don’t see this at all.

    On Browne’s estimate the bottom 60% of students in terms of income wouldn’t repay the full amount. They would effectively just pay a graduate tax for 30 years. The amount paid would depend on their income but not on the amount they owed (it would be something like £500 a year for someone on an average income; something like half what they would pay annually under the current system, but obviously continuing over a longer period). It wouldn’t make any difference whether they went to a university with lower fees or one with higher fees.

    The only people with an incentive to go to a cheaper university would be the 40% of higher earners. It wouldn’t make any difference to the size of their annual payments, but it would allow them to finish paying earlier than if they went to an expensive university.

    Given all the ballyhoo, I’m surprised by how progressive these proposals are. Of course, the fact that the Lib Dems made this pledge to oppose any rise in fees still puts them in a very difficult position.

  • David Allen 12th Oct '10 - 1:30pm

    “The only people with an incentive to go to a cheaper university would be the 40% of higher earners. It wouldn’t make any difference to the size of their annual payments, but it would allow them to finish paying earlier than if they went to an expensive university.”

    Well now, the point of this marketisation is supposed to be cut-throat competition, the weak universities going to the wall if their product is not worth the price. How is this price competition going to work if most students have no incentive to choose cheaper? What is the best game plan from the uni point of view – to charge the max, because they might just as well?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 1:53pm

    Guardian report with a round-up of reaction from various Lib Dem MPs, and this on Cable’s planned modification of the Browne scheme:
    “Vince Cable, the business secretary, plans an early repayment penalty for tuition fees to prevent rich graduates paying less for their university education than middle income graduates by avoiding cumulative interest payments.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/12/tuition-fees-vince-cable-lib-dem-rebellion

    I really don’t see how that would work. How would you stop them just investing the money in something that produces a return of 2%?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Oct '10 - 1:54pm

    And more to the point, would the rich bother to repay early anyway? A 2% interest rate is hardly “crippling,” as the article suggests elsewhere.

  • @Pat

    I suspect your right.

    I cant understand why Liberal Democrats seem so unconcerned by all this.

    Liberal Democrats have gone from highs of 23 in the polls down to just 12.

    As I said in another thread.

    “There are Tories on one side of the party who regard the Lib Dem coalition with profound cynicism. They have only signed up to it because they thought it was vehicle for winning power and plan over time to destroy the Lib Dems and try to create the circumstances for a single party Tory government”

    in my opinion the polls are showing this is already happening.

    Libdems have been forced/bullied by conservatives to give way on almost all of their policies that where in their manifesto. They are being forced to support Conservative policies that they dont necessarily believe in.

    All resulting in making the Libdems look weak and insignificant.

    And what will the repercussions of that be?

    Once the Tories believe they have destroyed enough of the Liberal Democrats support, they will attempt to get parliament dissolved and seek re-election as a majority Government.

    Putting Liberal Democrats back to where they where as a party 50 years ago.

    If you can’t see what’s going on already then there is seriously something wrong with you all.

    You have time and the opportunity to change all this though.

    Yes I have decided to change my support back to Labour, But I believe I have a right to post my concerns to you all. I voted Liberal Democrats at the last election, so I will shout and scream at them, when I see them doing things I don’t agree with!

  • Sara, great post as always.

    I am with you on this one, I’m not resigning because I have no where else to go and I believe that the Liberal Democrats are fundamentally the party for me. I also expected compromise when we went into coalition. It is through having our hands on the levers of power that we can actually start putting Liberal Democrat policies into action instead of just talking about it, and we can only get those leavers through compromise. However, this is a red line. This has been a cornerstone of party policy for goodness knows how long. Even if we can not have a pure graduate tax (which has its flaws) we should at least be ensuring that the fees cap stays in place.

    Our MPs must realise that this is not only important, it is also symbolic. If we can reform higher education funding so that it is demonstrably fairer and does not limit university attendance to the very wealthiest in society, then we can say that we are achieving in government. If not, then we are room meat and lobby fodder.

  • I think another thing of great concern, which will also have an effect on this argument is.

    If what some people are predicting will happen to Child Benefit in the spending review or at least in the very near future. And that is child Benefit is restricted to 16 year olds.

    That would also have a dramatic effect on people from lower and middle income families and restrict their ability to afford to go into Higher Education.

  • “That would also have a dramatic effect on people from lower and middle income families and restrict their ability to afford to go into Higher Education”.

    Not only Higher Education Matt, it would have a knock on effect to the local colleges and further education as a whole (including 6th form)

  • The policy was daft before the election. It’s pub economics to argue free education widens participation. There’s no evidence from UCAS figures that participation rates amongst lower socio-economic groups are lower since the changes in 1998 and in 2006. If anything, participation has increased.

    What’s critical is the repayment mechanism. And I for one think Browne has come up with a fairly progressive mechanism.

    If we want to retain a world class education system, and the government is unable to fund it, there’s very little alternative.

    The pre-election policy was posturing to win votes. It was never going to be realistic. We now have a proposal that combines a progressive repayment system with the funding our universities need.

  • Hello err HELLO parent of teenager with no chance academiclly or otherwise of university how about us the vast majority who leave school looking for work.No disrespect to the minority who go to uni and not underestimating the importance of the issue but what about opportunites for the far from thick but average school leaver.
    When the exam results come out all we hear from the news media and political elite is how they effect university entrance chances not job opportunities.Could this be because the media and political establishment are full of people who went to university?.
    Is it any wonder that Joe Average is feeling increacingly patronised by a educational elite with little understanding of his needs and concerns.This is especially true of the Lib Dems who many turned to when Labour let them down only to sell out to the elitist party of all.

  • @ Sara
    I agree with Pat Roche it was not right for you to compare the Lib Dems to battered wives. It shows a total lack of feeling and recognition of the horrors these women undergo.

  • I think the party’s MPs would do well to read some of the invective that’s being levelled at the Liberal Democrat’s (something I can’t blame people for even though I am a committed Lib Dem). Stuff like this sticks in people’s minds especially regarding a party coming to government for the first time in a generation which often receives derogatory and negative press. We will get hammered at election time at all levels. I for one am not looking forward to the inevitable doorstep question “Why should we vote for you when you went back on your principles/lied to get votes?” No amount of wrangling or arguing over the semantics and exactness of the pledge will give people the impression that this isn’t the case.

    I’m also surprised that nobody has thought of any of the other consequences of Lib Dem support for these proposals. Who’s going to be the major body supporting the ‘yes’ campaign in May? If people don’t trust our integrity on University fees they won’t trust us on AV and the constitutional reforms and that’s yet another ‘red line’ of many Lib Dems gone down the pan and un-achievable for another generation.

    Hopefully these electoral arguments alongside the sensible and principled arguments against the substance will persuade all of our MPs to do the right thing.

    Some things should remain above the world of competition.

  • I swear to you that I will never vote LIbDem. Rest assured that many others will clock this party’s abondonment of its principles in the pursuit of power. Watch your vote disappear.

  • Ian mitchell 12th Oct '10 - 10:52pm

    I bet the supportive pat on the arm Cameron gave Vince as he sat down after delivering his statement will warm the hearts of all those who voted Libdem at the election.

  • Gone are the days when a Man’s word is his bond. I’m always surprised to see how power causes one to forget…forget their roots, their pledges even! Anyhow, as others have said…I’ll withhold judgement for now and see what spin surfaces over the coming days.

  • Sara get ready to be relieved of the burden of office – Labour deceipt?

    “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”.

    Don’t say you weren’t warned when you jumped into bed with that old whore the Tory party – electoral you will pay the price.

  • John M
    retain the support of the young as the leave school to find no work except short term contract minimum wage (for now)exploitation and venom from your new press mates.As they would say yeah right.

  • what the Lib Dems’s do not understand, is that it no longers matters what happens in any cuts or votes for cuts etc…
    In four years time, if and that is a big IF, things hang together…
    it will not be about what the coalition did or did not do, nor what the Tories did… it will clearly be about what the Lib Dem’s did not stop!

    Many like myself hoped that the Lib Dems would act to restrain the government at least a little, but where it matters that does not seem to be happening, so it will not be what the coalition government did to the country, but what the Lib Dem’s failed to stop… be seen as the junior partner, nope…

    The Lib Dem’s will be seen as the party that failed the people, and you know what!
    it will not matter what good if any,the Lib Dem’s do, it will be all about what you failed to stop…

    I think that the Lib Dem party will be the scape goat, and there is nothing you can do about it…
    It is like a train with no brakes, and no more track and still doing 100k
    Close your eyes, grab your cheeks, and pray

    J

  • Thank you sara it does bother me that the language of politics is anti women, for example Brian please can you think of another term apart from whore? At least the labour party has almost equal men/women and the debate shows it.

  • Richard Ormerod 18th Oct '10 - 2:11pm

    I thought the title was pretty apt myself

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