The other new party of the moderate liberal centre

Hardly a day goes by on my social media feeds without some form of the following conversation:

Commentator/political has been: What we really need is a new moderate centre party in the UK, standing up for all the internationalist, tolerant liberal values that Corbyn and May have abandoned.

Liberal Democrats: Helloooooo!!!!!

Every time somebody calls for a new centre party, a puppy dies, goes the tweet.

It is always more an observation than a plan. Starting from 0% and 0 MPs and councillors is always going to be harder than starting where we are. But I don’t think the commentators and has beens are being obtuse. There are reasons they are not all saying we should join the Liberal Democrats, and I’d like to reflect on those reasons and what we can do about them. Do please all submit further articles expanding this theme.

1. Momentum

People like joining sides that are winning. That’s not unreasonable. A large part of what made Corbyn possible both in winning the leadership and then in not losing the General Election as badly as people expected, was the realisation that it could be happening.

We don’t just sit and wait for momentum, we build the fightback, and we get the other ingredients right:

2. Strength

There is a danger of appearing nice but ineffectual. It is an obvious attack line to choose against us. During the coalition, Labour changed tack to horrible and ineffectual, which is just as bad.

It is cobblers of course. Nobody who worked with Paul (now Lord) Scriven when he ran Sheffield Council would call him nice but ineffectual. He was a fearsome challenge and highly effective for it. And the actual record of coalition government was one of strength and stability provided by Liberal Democrats, with a firm hand on government decisions; in marked contrast with the chaos that followed. This is not the perception that it suited both Labour and the Tories to create: they understand the importance of appearing strong.

We don’t do ourselves any favours here when we consistently adopt and emphasise policies which send the message ‘nice and soft’. Good policies, for sure, on drugs, welfare and immigration, debatable policy on Trident, all adds up to an impression that the party doesn’t believe tough choices are ever necessary. Maybe many of us don’t even believe tough choices are ever necessary.

And one person’s tough choice is another’s sell out. See any debate on security and civil liberties. There are no easy answers, but we shouldn’t make every issue a signal of how virtuous we are: some should signal more important and popular qualities than virtue.

3. Policy and strategy in the round

Labour during the Thatcher years had a reputation for weakness. Tony Blair overcame it not least by taking on his party’s ideologues and winning. Maybe this was partly for show, but I think the perception was fair that in leading the Labour Party, Blair shifted it, and that was a positive story about him and his strength. (Clearly it didn’t last but that is not relevant to my point.)

We seem to make a virtue of being led by committees that meet in secret to which our leader is accountable, and which have the power to manipulate conference to achieve almost any result they wish. We are institutionally set up to let ideologues run riot, to prevent leadership from happening, and so to prevent an understanding of policy and strategy in the round. (Policy and strategy are even separate committees.) This is not to denigrate the people involved, they are good liberals, but the structure is built on the assumption that a committee is the democratic and the effective answer to any problem.

And we should be the last people to consider some policy a sacred cow on the basis of a bare majority or a sham debate at a party conference. Our core values as liberals are not so cheaply bought. Yes, there may be some conflict between the absolute sovereignty of conference and our ability to work constructively with others. I favour working with our allies. I even voted Remain.

When the opportunity arises for a broader coalition of the tolerant liberal centre ground, we have to be ready to take the committees to the vets and put them to sleep; to challenge our conference when it behaves like a bubble. We have the strength to do that. We might then become the new party of the liberal centre that the country can see it needs.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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161 Comments

  • Unfortunately when we only have 12 MPs and around 8% of polling. We are a long way from government. This is one reason many want a new party.

  • I am not a ‘centrist’. A political position, by definition, entirely dictated by others. I am a Liberal & want radical change, not managerialism. The big changes in this country were implemented by radicals, not centrists.

  • Neil Sandison 15th Aug '17 - 1:58pm

    Good article Joe .I have no interest in us becoming the soft center of British politics but the radical progressive social and economic reformers we have always been .Conviction wins elections and if we are to be the democratic reformers we claim to be then its time we got some edge on our politics and challenged once again the cozy carve up of Labour and the Tories who time after time block major reform of our governance .
    Liberal Democrats shouldnt just be about taking power but sharing power with our communities enabling more local determination on matters that effect your local community.The Tories have ripped the guts out of the Localism Act and increased the power of secretaries of state to the detriment of communities.

  • Elephant in the room.
    Student fees. Broken Pledge.
    LibDems are a wounded brand until we do something about it. Who wants to join a party with millstone round its neck.

  • Graham Evans 15th Aug '17 - 2:14pm

    All this talk of a new centralist party is nonsense unless scores of Labour and Tory MPs defect to join it. FPTP elections necessitate polling numbers of about 18% plus with targeting, and 25% plus without, of the popular vote to achieve significant membership of the HoC. UKIP in 2015 did much better than us in terms of the popular vote, but got nowhere in terms of MPs elected. Moreover, at present there aren’t even any defectors who could complete in terms of prestige with Owen, Williams, Rogers and Jenkins who founded the SDP.

  • Graham Evans 15th Aug '17 - 2:16pm

    @P.J. It ain’t going to happen, so why keep mouthing the same old mantra?

  • Tony Greaves 15th Aug '17 - 2:33pm

    Since we are a Liberal Party of the centre-left and not a liberal party of the centre, this all seems a waste of breath?

  • Labour were out of power for 18 years from 1979 to 1997, in part due to the SDP breakaway and the first past the post system. The Liberal Party were out of power for twenty years following defections to the newly formed Liberal Unionist Party in 1886. A new centrist party will likely have the same result and maintain Conservative hegemony fora succession of parliamentary terms.

    P.J, read the economist article this week on Univerity fees and standards https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21726100-our-new-guide-answers-which-british-universities-do-most-boost-graduate-salaries

  • Funny, isn’t it. I believe we are a party if the centre, and that we are radical, progressive social and economic reformers. So it is a matter of perspective. The most important thing we need to do is to shape our progressive social and economic policies so they are understood and bought into by the electorate. The centre ground is our home land. Other parties only try to occupy it to try to get elected. They don’t believe in it. We have the potential to attract many from the moderate left and one nation, moderate Tories, if we communicate our policies well. Let’s not debate if our party is centre, centre left etc. anymore. We have a big task to save the country from the difficult position it is in. Let’s get after it!

  • @Graham Evans.
    Then toll the bell.
    I for one am not knocking on another door till that policy is fixed.
    It’s called integrity, something this party needs to examine.
    Vince Cable made a great play of saying the old had shafted the young. Well he needs to put policy where his ‘mouthing’ is.

  • There is a role for leadership. In the past conference was much more willing to pass policy against the wishes of the leader and the leadership team. It is no longer so willing. Therefore we need a radical leader not a moderate one, we need to have radical policies which reject the current economic orthodoxy and make reducing economic inequalities our major priority. So we can become a liberal party for the whole nation not just the middle class and those who are managing well.

    P J is correct we do need to have a position and policy to fix tuition fees. We need to state we were wrong to try to implement the Browne report as Conservative changes since 2015 have made the tuition fee / loan system so bad in has to be scraped and replaced with a graduate tax. We need to state we were wrong to reject a graduate tax in 2010. It is only once this has been fixed that we can talk about the government allocating a fund for adult education and training to everyone.

  • Phil Beesley 15th Aug '17 - 3:11pm

    @P.J. Tribal left wingers will try to make tuition fees into a millstone for a long time. Other people move on. Lib Dems should argue for liberal values because no other party does. Other people might even consider voting Lib Dem.

    The tuition fee blunder was an easy one to make. When the party created policy, the economy was rosy; when the general election was called, the economy was lousy but for populist reasons the tuition fee policy was continued.

    In coalition, it all went horrible, with Lib Dems arguing for a tuition fee payment system which acted like a graduate tax but looked like an up front demand for £27,000. Bummer.

  • paul barker 15th Aug '17 - 3:24pm

    What happened in 2010 was that because we had a quarter of the Vote we came to believe that we were a Party of Government, unfortunately our Voters didnt agree. Most of the Millions who voted for us thought of us either as a Party of Protest or as a means of keeping the “Real Parties” honest, they hadnt Voted for us to be in Power, doing stuff because we hadnt prepared the ground. We didnt talk, act or think like a Party designed to form a Government, our MPs signing The NUS Pledge was just a symptom of that.
    We have begun to rebuild on a much firmer basis, I think, but it may well be a long road.

  • Bill le Breton 15th Aug '17 - 3:35pm

    If a leader understands political management they can usually get what they want through Conference – eg Paddy getting the Party away from the policy of equi-distance.

    There are number of reasons why Leaders sometimes lose an initiative that they have become associated with. One of these is listening to advisers who think every leader needs to have a Clause 4 moment. Another is being in a hurry and unwilling to spend time persuading and explaining.

    Another is when the collective wisdom of Conference is wiser than the Leader’s team. Conference is normally able to be more flexible. Leaders get hooked on a policy and are then unable to react to ‘events’. Conference was wiser on tuition fees as collectively it had far more experience of electioneering than the new Leader and knew our supporters better. A part of Conference was more flexible on tax at the time of the Great Financial Crisis – the Leader won and went on to take part in the mistake over austerity https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/how-did-uk-austerity-mistake-happen.html

    This power of the Leader is even more true of Committees which are usually stuffed with members of the Parliamentary Party and Leader groupies.

    Joe is right to be worried. But Conference is likely to be more a guardian of the Liberal flame than a liability.

  • Joe – you speak for a lot of us in your frustration about this centre party talk. Its interesting that most of those talking about it are journalists and civil servants. In other words, people who have no experience of what a political party actually is, and how it works. Sending out a few tweets is one thing. I can’t see many of them sitting in windowless rooms for hours every night hammering out a constitution and detailed policy documents, let alone organising fundraisers and selections.
    In terms of why people are reluctant to join us. PJ has it in a nutshell: we are still suffering the legacy of the coalition and tuition fees. It’s no great secret – look at our poll ratings and our electoral performance, at all levels, since that moment. We threw away our biggest asset – our likeability. Can we get back? Yes, but it will take time. The fightback is just 2 years old, and I’m afraid that’s not really enough time to expect serious progress. We need to keep plugging away. But Brexit is certainly an opportunity and that’s why we need to keep banging away at it. Our referendum message is becoming more popular by the day. We just need to make sure we get the credit for being first with it.

  • Phil Beesley 15th Aug '17 - 3:41pm

    @Michael BG
    “We need to state we were wrong to try to implement the Browne report as Conservative changes since 2015 have made the tuition fee / loan system so bad in has to be scraped and replaced with a graduate tax. We need to state we were wrong to reject a graduate tax in 2010.”

    Lib Dems or coalition government could not implement a graduate tax in 2010 because the UK government cannot impose income tax on citizens living outside UK. UK government can demand tax, but there is no imperative to pay unless people choose to live in the UK. That’s why the contractual tuition fee payment system was smart: there was a legal way to collect fees from overseas students and a legal way to dismiss fee collection from those who would never earn much.

    “It is only once this has been fixed that we can talk about the government allocating a fund for adult education and training to everyone.”

    I agree partly. Government and society have to understand that university education is a part of post-18 years education. It is not about half of kids going to university; it’s about giving all people opportunities in continuing education. Stop fetishising three year degrees.

  • Richard Easter 15th Aug '17 - 4:39pm

    A new party would simply split the Liberal Democrat vote (which in many places is not particularly high). It would also split the Labour vote considerably in some areas.

    The Tories would simply mop up – they are very good at keeping together, as after all the rise of UKIP (and the BNP for that matter) hurt Labour more than the Tories.

    Finally a party which consists largely of the (dare I say) “globalist elite” of Blairites, Orange Bookers and Osbornites, will have very little appeal outside of certain affluent areas of the South East, and would be an easy target for Labour to call it “the corporate party”, The SNP to call it a “Westminster stitch up”, and UKIP to call it a “coalition of unpatriotic remoaners”, thus making it highly unpopular amongst large sections of the electorate who view politicians, corporations, free market economics, open borders and supranational institutions with significant skepticism.

  • A graduate tax is no panacea. So much of the loan book is currently expected never to be repaid that a graduate tax would have to be set at a level that recouped substantially more of current disposable income from over the lifetime of graduates.

    Damien Green has made a salient point https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/01/damian-green-tories-must-modernise-to-win-over-young-voters in in arguing:
    “If we want to have 40%-plus of people going to university and if we want those university courses actually to be valuable, which I think is where the strain is often taken in European universities – you actually look at the teaching that you get in some European universities, you have lecture halls with 600 people in and things like that – it’s not actually as good a teaching and learning experience as you get in this country.”

    He added: “If you wanted to say you want to reduce [fees] then either fewer people go to university or the experience would be less. Because the only other way you can get extra money to go in, if you wanted the same number of people, the same kind of teaching, would be to take it from working people through their taxes … it may well be that this is a national debate that we need to have.”

    Phil Beesley makes an important point when he notes “It is not about half of kids going to university; it’s about giving all people opportunities in continuing education. Stop fetishising three year degrees.” Adult education and training and apprenticeships are as important, if not more so, than expanding University education.

  • @ Joe Bourke “The Liberal Party were out of power for twenty years following defections to the newly formed Liberal Unionist Party in 1886.”

    Errr, well actually, no, Joe. Sorry, but you’ve forgotten the Gladstone/Rosebery Liberal administrations between 1892 and 1895. It included the last attempt by W.E.G. to resolve the Irish question, and Rosebery’s failure (as a right of centre Liberal leader -no surprise there then).

    For television addicts – the Liberal administration included the great grandfather and great uncle of Diana Spencer (who were quite radical for their day).

  • At the risk of ‘mouthing’ off again. I just don’t see what is so hard about this.
    In breaking that pledge we did two major things.

    1, Said that we don’t care that our most motivated and diligent young people are going to be saddled with £45k of debt by the time they put all that enthusiasm for learning into effect. The learning and skills that will propel this nation forward and make us competitive.
    2. You can’t trust a word that the LibDems say. If they can renege on a solemn pledge then why should anybody take us seriously. You can’t trust them.

    Now some people say we are rebuilding that trust slowly but surely. Well I suspect that I will be long gone before that is sufficient for us to have real influence. A a time this country needs us most we are at our weakest.
    The Solution: WE HONOUR THE PLEDGE.
    The SLC website has all the figures. I was surprised it took Labour so long to work out that the total student debt was about £100billion, as it’s all there on an excel spreadsheet. To retrospectively honour our pledge would cost about £18billion at the start of this academic year and about 6billion+ per annum for each additional year. Most students would not mind the £3k cap and would see it as a realistic contribution to there education. In any case we would probably end up recouping about the same amount as one third to one half of the debt is going to have to be written of anyway. We also need to look at the interest rate applied to student loans which at 6% currently would require £2700 per annum contribution just to stay on an even parr. It is utter madness. Other people will say that we have the wrong system and we should have a graduation tax. Well that’s debatable but who is going to listen to a word we say on student fees. If you are looking for a conference motion that will make a difference then somebody write it up (correctly worded obviously). Rant over.

  • Richard Easter 15th Aug '17 - 5:20pm

    It is things like the NHS re-organisation, privatisation of Royal Mail, support of TTIP and secret courts which bother just as many people as tuition fees.

    I thought Farron represented a clean break from fees (and all of the above). However the risk with Cable is that all that other stuff will resurface.

  • paul barker 15th Aug '17 - 5:22pm

    The supporters of a New Party/Alliance do however have a point.
    The very first question Voters ask is what a Party is for. The answer for most Tory/Labour voters is Government & Opposition. When we got 24% in 2010 few of our Voters really saw us as a potential Government or even as an Opposition. Our main functions were to keep the Big Parties in line or to act as a a Safety Valve. When our Voters saw us in Government most of them felt angry because that wasnt why they had voted for us, they felt betrayed; Tuition Fees was just a handy label for that feeling.
    We now know the size of our “Real” Vote : about 7%.
    To be the largest Party we need a minimum of 35% – thats a big ask. Supporters of a New Party believe that we cant make that jump on our own & that is a reasonable opinion.

  • Paul Barker makes a good point and it is backed by the polling evidence. The decline in opinion polls began soon after the coalition was formed in the summer of 2010, and had pretty much halved by the Autumn of that year from 24% to 12%. By the time of the tuition fee vote in December of that year much of the fall in support had already occurred.

    The university tuition fee system and Adult education and training needs to be put on a sustainable and equitable basis, but don’t expect a reversal of electoral fortunes as a result. Much deeper and wide ranging program of economic reform will be required to bring about a resurgence of Libdem support.

  • Colin Paine 15th Aug '17 - 6:00pm

    David Miliband as Macron/En Marche and us as Modem? Any students of French politics out there?

  • Richard Easter 15th Aug '17 - 6:18pm

    David Miliband being popular is simply a media creation. He has got away with this because his actual politics have barely been scrutinised, such as his links to Kissinger backed think tanks, support for foreign wars, rendition and even discussion of privatising the Amazon forests.

    The man is not a liberal by any means, but simply a British foot soldier of the US corporate consensus. Most of what he speaks is sub-Blairite PR waffle with zero substance. The party needs the next Charles Kennedy, not this character.

  • David Milliband “The former foreign secretary has earned £125,000 for 15 days’ work since becoming a director of Sunderland Football Club in February 2011. The figure is, pro rata, the equivalent of nearly £42,000 a week, or more than £2.1million a year. In total, the South Shields Labour MP has registered nearly £1million of outside earnings since the 2010 Labour election. After losing the Labour leadership to his younger brother Ed, Mr Miliband went on to make £985,315 from the public speaking circuit and his work as an adviser. The figure, drawn from the register of MPs’ interests, includes hospitality, travel and gifts.” Daily Telegraph, 1 January, 2013.

    Clearly a man of the people in one of the most deprived parts of the North East ………… and couldn’t wait to get away from there as fast as his little legs would take him back in March, 2013. Just the man to lead a Centre Right party to ‘modernise’ the UK.

    Curious to know what my Great Granddad who died of miners’ lung in County Durham aged 28 would make of him. It would probably start with, the Gr–dy Ba—-d.

  • David Evershed 15th Aug '17 - 7:59pm

    The electorate will not vote into government a party which is not competent on government finances.

    Promising to abolish student fees would demonstrate economic incompetence at a time when the government has a £70 billion deficit and a £1.5 trillion debt.

  • I agree to an extent with those who argue that the 24% of the vote we got in 2010 was due to our oppositional politics. But it was also due to our being perceived as left of centre. Research indicates that about two-thirds of our voters considered themselves left of centre. We were perceived in Government, not entirely unfairly, as being right of centre, so I suppose it was no great surprise we lost about two-thirds of our vote.

    What is centrism? I don’t really consider myself to be a centrist, but since I’m not too sure what it means, who knows? In a way we’d all like to consider our political viewpoints as representing the ‘centre ground’, at least in an ideal world. What we mustn’t do is to allow this to define us according to the other parties, such as being a bit to the left of the Conservatives and a bit to the right of Labour. Instead we must be bold and radical in developing policies that we believe meets the needs of the country based on our own principles. We can leave it to others to decide whether we’re to the left or right of this or that other party.

    While we must remain welcoming to everyone who broadly shares our principles, I’m not too keen on the prospect of large numbers of clapped-out Blairites washing up on our shores in the event of a split in the Labour Party. Whatever New Labour was, it certainly wasn’t liberal; indeed it was highly authoritarian in many respects. And as for the egregious David Milliband – well, other contributors have already said what’s necessary there.

  • David

    You said

    “The electorate will not vote into government a party which is not competent on government finances.”

    You are wrong the electorate often vote in “government a party which is not competent on government finances.”. The electorate may think they are voting for competent politicians but as can be seen in electing Cameron and May they are often mislead.

    The electorate voted in Cameron and May and no one could claim they are economically competent or even generally competent, one is a fly by night gambler the other obsessed only by immigration and what the home office want.

    By promising to abolish student fees the Labour party offered hope and even with the tail wind of nationalistic Brexit behind her May could not gain a majority. Your prescription of Gradgrind and more Gradgrind will do little to offer hope and will doom the Lib Dems. Hopefully the membership will realise if we can’t offer hope there is no hope for us.

  • Richard Easter 15th Aug '17 - 9:57pm

    MerseyLib – To me centrism is doing what works, regardless of political dogma.

    What the public view as “centrism” would be “common sense” in many ways – and in many cases the opposite of what those in positions of power want. If I can give two policies which are generally considered “far left” or “far right”, but are pretty much universally popular with the “man in the pub”:

    Nationalising the railways would be a centrist position, as privatisation has failed woefully, we are subsidising foreign state owned railways and our fares are the highest in Europe – and the rail system cannot be allowed to fail and be shut down and therefore the state has to step in, it is an essential public service and a natural monopoly.

    Immigration controls would be a centrist position, as you need to know who is coming into the country, plan for the potential infrastructure and public service provision that extra people require, you will need to ensure that the people are suitably skilled and are of good character and unlikely to commit crime or simply park themselves on benefits either on purpose or through lack of available work.

    Both would be considered amongst ordinary people to be common sense, despite the fact that they are generally characterised as “extreme positions” amongst the wider political and media class. And yet I am fairly sure that any new “centre” party would advocate privatisation and less restrictions on immigration, despite the views of the general public.

    Centrism however in the way the media are pushing it, sadly seems to be just stock adherence to the international pro-corporate consensus, which may be popular amongst certain social classes, but often does not work for the benefit of the ordinary public.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Aug '17 - 9:58pm

    A split Tory party has come up with a policy nobody understands, Withdrawal from the EU customs union and the creation of another customs union which would be almost identical, but would only last for 2-3 years of a transition period yet to be negotiated.
    A shambles in the absence of the PM on holiday with nobody deputising effectively.
    The Tory brand includes a perception that the Tories have the most economic competence. Such confidence is declining, but labour under Corbyn and co are worse.
    Vince Cable was on Channel 4 News 15/8/2017.

  • @libdemer

    We MIGHT be closer to power or influence than we might think.

    The number of lib dem English MPs at 8 is close to the number we achieved in 1992 at 10 and we went on to 46 UK wide in 97.

    Scotland might change dramatically as the SNP’s shine is tarnished.

    FPTP may be a cruel and harsh mistress but is also a very fickle one.

    We need ro march towards the sound of gunfire with bold policies. Particularly I believe on education and yes tuition fees. Paddy rightly went beyond labour in 97 on education and health.u

    On Brexit we need to demonstrate and persuade people that their jobs and therefore their schools and hospitals are better protected by being in than out.

  • Mersey liberal.
    I sort of agree, when the Lib Dems were getting 24% the vote was disproportionately made up of the young(students), the disabled and public sector workers. The drop off was very rapid because of going into a coalition committed to clobbering Lib Dem voters. Voters vote for what most closely suites their needs. The coalition was a catastrophic and obvious epic blunder. People on here talk about left, right and centre, but really it’s about “what are you offering, how will this affect my lot and will you stick to it”?

  • @david evershed

    Labour’s policy on abolishing tuition fees was costed at £10 billion.

    If paid for solely out out of borrowing this would increase the total debt by just over half a percent.

    Arguably it doesn’t much matter as regards the overall soundness of the nations finances whether the debt is held by individuals or the government. What is of importance is whether we as a nation can repay it.

    We effectively added – I think rightly – £35 billion a year to the deficit by increasing the personal allowance and decreasing therefore the amount people pay in income tax by £1000 a year.

    We are now roughly at the point where the debt is stable. If inflation is 2% and growth 2.5℅ you can increase the debt by 4.5% and it remains the same as a share of national income.

    Of course part or all of tuition fees could be paid for by increased taxes. Effectively what happens now except it falls on particular individuals.

    Personally I would increase national insurance on those earning above £45,000 who pay 2% as supposed to 12% below.

  • @ Phil Beesley
    “the UK government cannot impose income tax on citizens living outside UK”

    At the moment this is true. The USA does demand tax from its citizens living outside the USA, so we could do it for a graduate tax. We would have to accept that if someone refused to pay their graduate tax while living outside the UK we would have to remove their UK citizenship which might be a huge price for them to pay for ignoring their obligations to pay the graduate tax. It might be necessary for students to sign an agreement to pay the graduate tax in exchange for the money to pay their tuition fees and it might be better to keep this in a separate fund.

    @ Joe Bourke
    “So much of the loan book is currently expected never to be repaid that a graduate tax would have to be set at a level that recouped substantially more of current disposable income from over the lifetime of graduates.”

    You are wrong. This is a political choice and a graduate tax could be set much lower than the 9% being charged now. Part of the problem now is the high rate of interest being charged on student debt (inflation + 3%). I think a person paying 1% on income between £26,000 and £45,000 and between £100,000 and £125,000, 2% between £45,000 and £80,000 and 3% between £80,000 and £100,000 and 5% over £125,000 based on a teacher’s salary would pay about £54,784. My solution is a compromise between those who want to see the current student tuition fee /graduate debt as a graduate tax and those who wish to put the whole (or two-thirds in the case of PJ) cost on to general taxation.

    @ Glenn

    We think that we had a high portion of student and public sector workers voting for us in 2010. I would be interested to see the evidence. The British voter survey I looked at didn’t give those figures. In 2010 we achieved 30% in the 18-24 age group, 29% in the 25-34 group, and 26% in the groups 35-44 and 45-54. We achieved 29% in the AB’s, 24% in the C1’s and 22 in the C2s.

    @ Michael
    “Personally I would increase national insurance on those earning above £45,000 who pay 2% as supposed to 12% below.”

    I am hoping to use the revenue from extending the National Insurance rate of 12% to those on higher incomes towards implement of a Basic Citizens Income.

  • Michael BG
    Some groups are bigger than other groups. The percentage tell you quote give you a breakdown of various groups not the actual numbers or where they worked. A.BC1 and C2 in fact do fact include a lot of public sector workers as councils employ a lot of graduates. lots of management, lots of middle management, lots of clerical workers, and lots of say plumbers. I am not saying that everyone in those jobs voted Lib Dem. but that they bulked up the Lib Dem vote. 30% of young people is a lot of people for a small third party as are the other figures you supply from other groups. I’d like to see your evidence that the A.B.C1 and C2 voters involved were not disproportionately say local council workers. Obviously, no one can be exact. but I suspect the vote drop off was caused by a sense of being let down, ” you were supposed to be on my side, you sold me out, I won’t vote for you next time”, is what I think happened. The epicentre of left and right to me is just the kind of thing that preoccupies politicos and has little meaning beyond that.

  • Apparently the “Democrats” are being launched on the 9th September. Not long to wait.
    Where does it leave us, more out in the cold. It must have some prominent support otherwise it would be a waste of time.

  • Neil Sandison 16th Aug '17 - 10:50am

    Most of the commentators on this thread seem to agree we are a radical party of social and economic reform .What we have not discussed is how we capture that center ground in British politics where elections are won and how we promote big tent social liberalism so that the public gravitate towards us. Dont wait for the big beasts from other parties ,use what we have to best effect ,Vince, Sal and co could re-brand us as the progressive voice of Britain looking forward to the future but rooted in strong traditions .Perhaps taking a lesson from Harold Wilson and his speech on harnessing the white heat of technology its certainly a speech Corbyn could not make or be believed about.

  • Nice picture with your article, Joe. Unfortunately, if you stand in the centre there’s not a lot of room and you’ll get wet feet.

  • @ Glenn

    You are correct the figures I give do not disprove the idea that a high portion of students and public sector workers voted for us. The only figures I remember seeing that give public sector breakdown were to do with 1983 and 1987 in Crewe and King “SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party” (but I have misplaced my copy). I am interested to know if such figures for 2010 exist.

  • Michael BG,

    the figures you quote for a graduate tax do not at first glance appear to stack-up. Only 5% of workers earn over £70k per year. The great majority of graduates (based on the numbers you cite) would pay 1% on income between £26,000 and £45,000. The earnings premium for graduates over non-graduates is estimated to be 10% to 20% of lifetime earnings.i.e. £2700 to £5400 per year based on average UK earnings of £27K.

    Vince Cable has criticised Corbyn’s pledge to abolish fees and write off student debt as fantasy economics http://news.sky.com/story/scrapping-tuition-fees-would-be-stupid-sir-vince-cable-10934161 but blames the Tories for ending maintenance grants and allowing interest rates on loans to spiral. “I defend what we did,” he says, “but it’s clear the current system is difficult to justify in its present form.”

    He has floated the idea of “learning accounts” – grants for everyone over the age of 18, regardless of whether or not they go to university, to cash in as part payment on a degree or some other form of training, or to be reserved for study in later life. Cable thinks it would be democratic, economically manageable, and would both protect the income of universities and keep down student debt. “…(the country) needs something bold like that,” he says.

    At least this has the merit of being broad based, not focused exclusively on funding of university education and providing universal funding for learning to all school leavers.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Aug '17 - 3:05pm

    How do we convert our Party from one in the electorate’s eye of fighting for its existence to one that has courage, momentum and catches the public mood? I don’t know though that is not my task. Unless we do the former story will continue to be dominant in the media’s view with all that entails.

  • The metro reports that the Democrats will be led by the former chief of staff at the Brexit department http://metro.co.uk/2017/08/16/former-chief-of-staff-at-brexit-department-to-launch-anti-brexit-party-6855949/

    James Chapman will formally announce his intention to lead the new party, the Democrats, during the People’s March for Europe, which will take place on September 9
    Chapman says the Democrats, will seek to “reverse Brexit with no second referendum.”

    He said: ‘I did my best to make Brexit work for a year – and it won’t. There is no upside and it is clear that every sector of our economy will suffer for decades to come. Project Fear is Project Fact.

  • @ Joe Bourke

    If we fail to address the student tuition fee / graduate debt situation we are saying goodbye as voters to the majority of those people who will attend university after 2012 and members of their families. It is generally accepted that we poll better among people with degrees than those who stopped their education before that. It is unlikely that a graduate who will have a debt of over £30,000 which will increase at inflation + 3% for 30 years is likely to forgive us and vote for us.

    One of my assumptions was that wages would increase faster than inflation for a graduate and they would gain real income over time. A teacher started on £22,467 in September 2016 and will start on £22,917 in September 2017. The top of the range is currently £108,283.

    Of course if we had the information about what the graduates mean averages are for all age groups we could see if higher rates would be needed. Possibly starting at 2% and ending at 10%.

  • @Michael BG
    It is not two thirds I am proposing to put on the general tax payer.
    The student loan book is a combination of Fees and Maintenance Loans. I can’t remember the exact rations but it’s probably about 60-40. The pledge only covered the fees. I am therefore proposing that we put the two thirds of the 60% on the tax payer. About 40%. We are probably going to have to write that amount off against the general tax payer in the long run. It will actually cost us nothing except a whole lot of votes.

  • Michael BG,

    the point I made earlier of that the Libdem vote collapsed shortly after entering coalition, several months prior to the decisions around funding of higher education. I don’t disagree that the issue of escalating graduate debt needs to be resolved, but that cannot be achieved by putting the costs on the 70% of the working population that have not attended University,
    The Browne report recommended a cap of £6,000 with amounts charged above this level being recouped to fund grants for disadvantaged students and a cap on the number of places offered – to maintain both standards and benefits. These provisions were not implemented, and since then maintenance grants have been changed to loans, nursing bursaries withdrawn, interest rates hiked, starting band for repayments frozen and the tuition fee cap increased to £9,250.
    If the Browne report was implemented as originally proposed, I think we would have far less of a problem in this area.
    The priority for funding should be schools,which are stretched to the limits. and adult education and training especially real apprenticeships.

    Trying to win votes by appealing to a section of graduates is not much of a strategy. Policies need to have universal appeal and be equitable in terms of costs and benefits.
    A return to the original recommendations of the Browne report possibly coupled with Vince Cable’s ‘Learning accounts’ idea may well have just the right balance to put higher education funding on a sustainable basis.

  • Seems to me that the loss of votes came in three main stages:
    1 Those objecting to ANY coalition with the Tories
    2 The gradual realisation that despite some knowledge of what many voted for, our party in Parliament allowed many unfair, austerity related, anti public service (and heavily biased against our local government base!) policies through.
    3 The final straw of the vote on tuition fees etc.

    I believe the second to be the most important, and still cannot understand how we / they allowed this to pass.

  • “We seem to make a virtue of being led by committees that meet in secret to which our leader is accountable, and which have the power to manipulate conference to achieve almost any result they wish.”

    It is indeed a bizarre approach to party governance and moreovever one that’s proven not to work. Such Parliamentary success there has been over nearly 30 years was primarily attributable to strength built up in local government culminating in an MP. It never yielded a coherent policy stance and never any meaningful melding of economic and social liberal positions. In government, as we have seen, it imploded.

    I agree with Joe; the assumption that committees are the answer to every problem is simply wrong. They have their place but it’s not making policy.

  • @ Joe Bourke
    “Trying to win votes by appealing to a section of graduates is not much of a strategy.”

    Scrapping the current student tuition fee / graduate debt scheme is the only way to right a huge wrong we carried out when in the Coalition government, rolling back the current system to what Browne recommended will not do the job. We both accept that the current system will involve a large amount of debt scrapping which will be borne by the general tax payer. Scrapping the debt element is a social justice issue. The current level of debt and the future levels restrict the freedom of graduates. Reducing the rate of payment from 9% and extending the period to one’s whole life also increases the freedom of graduates. I suppose I would like more of the cost borne by the general tax payer than you.

    I don’t believe we will recover our vote share until we have a policy of replacing student tuition fee / graduate debt with a real progressive graduate tax. I don’t believe we will ever recover our 1997 number of MPs until we have done this.

    There are other things we need to do. One of which is recognising that austerity was the wrong policy, especially in the way we carried it out. Another is to convince those working in the public services that we are on their side and do not want their jobs privatised (an impression they may have gained during the coalition years).

  • Michael BG,

    there are a number of different issues here. Our decline in the opinion polls occurred in stages as Tim13 comments above. The tuition fee issue for Libdems was not about whether a graduate tax or deferred loan systems was the most equitable or.progressive means of addressing the problem – it was an issue of breaking a pledge and the subsequent loss of trust that entailed. That won’t be regained by campaigning for a technical alteration to the amount graduates pay from their earnings. it has to be earned back by demonstrable competence and development of policies that credibly address societal problems.

    The argument about austerity as advocated by George Osborne is a valid one and it may have been self-defeating in the early years of the coalition. However, the fiscal contraction that was delivered was almost exactly that advocated by Alistair Darling in his 2010 budget and not so different from the program outlined in our own manifesto at that time. By 2014 economic growth in the UK was the highest of the advanced economies and unemployment today at 4.4% is at the lowest level since 1975.

    That doesn’t mean all is rosy. Wage growth has stalled since the financial crisis and is currently below inflation, while company profits have recovered to pre-crisis levels. The distribution of the benefits of economic growth is as important as the level of GDP growth and there is a growing problem with wealth and inter-generation inequality. As regards public service workers, I would agree that the wage freeze should now be loosened, but in doing so we need to decide how the funding is to be raised and who is going to pay while dealing with the economic uncertainties of Brexit.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Aug '17 - 12:31am

    I think this article a very good one and Joe constructive.

    Is nobody picking up on the potential illegality and outrageousness of this Chapman nonsense calling itself by half of this party’s name ?

    We cannot let it go as lightly , it’s a spoiler tactic .

    He must join us or call his party something else entirely.

  • @ Joe Bourke

    You are correct the tuition fee issue was the breaking of personal pledges and so we were and are seen as not trustful. However those who broke their personal promise must have believed that the new system was better than the old or a graduate tax (which the NUS were advocating). It is not. Therefore to advocate a graduate tax would restore our position to something that could have kept our MP’s personal pledges and might restore trust in that we can accept we made a huge mistake and want to put it right. (The simplest way to know if I am right or wrong is to advocate a graduate tax to replace student tuition fees / graduate debt and see if we improve our vote share in future general elections.)

    The cuts made early in the Coalition were wrong and we failed to protect the poorest during the Coalition. I don’t accept that the cuts made 2010-15 were advocated by Alistair Darling even if the deficit was reduced by the same level in 2015 as planned in the 2010 budget. Also the mantra of no plan B destroyed any hope we ever had of convincing the public that we influenced the Conservative economic policy for the better.

    There is still spare capacity in the UK economy with under employment which lessens the achievement of 4.4% unemployment. Also the number of people in the UK has expanded so the numbers affected are still too high. I would like to see 1974 levels of unemployment rather than 1975 ones. You are correct there is a problem with economic inequality which goes back to the late 1970’s and is not just an effect of the 2008 crash. I wonder if regional differences have been made worse by the restrictions of EU membership and the single market and its rules.

  • Michael,

    you note the NUS were advocating a graduate tax . The NUS have now abandoned that position and now advocate the abolition of fees funded by progressive taxation i.e. higher rate taxpayers. I don’t doubt campaigning on the current NUS position has boosted the Labour party in the recent election but is it a responsible position to take?

    Alistair Darling made good fist of tackling the financial crisis, but he was quite clear about the need for spending cuts in 2010 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/mar/25/alistair-darling-cut-deeper-margaret-thatcher warning at the time that Labour’s planned cuts in public spending will be “deeper and tougher” than Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s. I think there is general agreement (outside of Tory circles) that the cuts made early in the coalition to capital spending were premature, although I believe Darling was planning a similar approach. I think Libdem ministers did make a difference in holding back some of the more egregious welfare cuts and we have seen the difference in the last couple of years of a majority Conservative government.

    Personally, I feel regional differences have a lot to do with the skewing of economic infrastructure investment towards London and the Southeast.

  • Neil Sandison 17th Aug '17 - 9:13am

    Move on from the tuition fee debate its stifling progress in policy development .We will like the brexit referendum always appear to be the party that looks backward not forward whole sections of our society need enlightened social liberal policy for example social care ,housing ,mental health viable infrastructure to match housing growth and breaking up the cozy housing cartel of the big ten national housing builders and enpowering councils to rebuild on its own public land affordable housing to reduce what are now massively long waiting lists with all the health and environmental spin offs from gross overcrowding with more properties identified as unfit for human habitation.

  • @ Neil Sandison ” Move on from the tuition fee debate its stifling progress in policy development ”

    I agree with the other priorities you raise, Neil, BUT….. I’m afraid they are all linked to the issue you want us to drop. Consider today’s BBC News :

    BBC NEWS today : “The number of people applying for UK university places has fallen by more than 25,000 (4%) on last year, data from the admissions service Ucas shows.
    The figures show a sharp decline in those applying to study nursing courses – down 19% – and a continued fall in the number of mature students, notably in England and Northern Ireland. The number of EU students planning to study in the UK has fallen by 5%. It is the first decline since fees were last increased in England, in 2012. Fees in England will increase to £9,250 this year, and student loans are subject to an increase in interest rates – rising from 4.6% to 6.1% from this autumn”.

    The long term consequences – especially the drop in the number of nurses – inevitably undermines the priorities you (rightly) wish to pursue.

  • Neil Sandison 17th Aug '17 - 11:30am

    Fair point David but draft a motion for conference on a suitable replacement rather than keep on revisiting the entrails of the past .

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 11:42am

    Michael BG

    You are correct the tuition fee issue was the breaking of personal pledges and so we were and are seen as not trustful. However those who broke their personal promise must have believed that the new system was better than the old or a graduate tax (which the NUS were advocating).

    No, it ought to be obvious that this is not the case. Why do I have keep making this point again and again?

    The government of 2010-2015 was not a Liberal Democrat government. It was a coalition in which five-sixths of the MPs were Conservatives and just one-sixth Liberal Democrats. As such, its policies were bound to be more Conservative than Liberal Democrat. The reality is that the Liberal Democrats could only sway things if there was a fairly even divide in the Conservative Party, or by accepting concessions elsewhere.

    So the policies put forward by that government would not necessarily be those which those who accepted them regarded as ideal. It would have been whatever they were able to get the rest of the government to accept.

    There was simply no way the Conservatives would have agreed to the tax rises that would have been necessary to keep tuition fees down or abolish them. By agreeing to the fees and loan system, and putting emphasis on making the loans available to everyone and only having to be paid back if you had sufficient earnings, the Liberal Democrats who supported that saved the English university system. Had they insisted on keeping tuition fees down, the Conservatives would have balanced that by big cuts in universities and other government services to pay for it.

    This is how democratic politics works. An agreement has to be made that gets majority support, which does not mean everyone in that majority regards it as their ideal.

    If we had proportional representation in 2010, there would have been far more Liberal Democrat MPs and fewer Conservative MPs, which would have enabled the Liberal Democrats to push things further their way. Also, a Labour-LibDem coalition would have been viable, which would have put the LibDems in a far stronger negotiating position. The distortion of the FPTP electoral system mean that a Labour-LibDem coalition would not have had a majority, and so was not viable.

    Talk about coalitions always seemed to be based on the idea that the LibDems could choose between a coalition with either party and get whatever they wanted out of it. The reality is that it doesn’t work like that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 12:03pm

    Joebourke

    you note the NUS were advocating a graduate tax . The NUS have now abandoned that position and now advocate the abolition of fees funded by progressive taxation i.e. higher rate taxpayers.

    How realistic would a graduate tax be? Is it really possible to investigate the whole population to see who has a degree? Not everyone who has a degree has a prestigious one that they wouldn’t want to hide. What about people who just scraped a degree, should they be taxed and those who just failed not? What about qualifications that resemble degrees but aren’t actually degrees? What about degrees from other countries, where in some cases they are more like UK A-levels? Etc – I think it would be a nightmare to implement.

    As for whether the whole of university funding can be paid for just by taxes on higher rate taxpayers, really? How can it be the case that the cost of funding universities is so high that it is crippling most people throughout their lives to pay for them in the current system, and yet so low that it can all be paid for by taxes on a small number of people in a way that is hardly noticeable? I’m sceptical of the claim made by right-wingers that putting up higher rate taxes will never really raise more money, even so I think the idea that the big tax rises that would be needed at that level to pay for it all can be done without problems is very simplistic.

    Even I was astonished when Corbyn admitted he didn’t know how much funding university tuition by direct taxes would cost. He comes close to winning an election with this the main issue that boosts him, and then he says he doesn’t have a clue about how it could really be dealt with. Oh, come on, how can one take seriously a politician with such severe innumeracy as that?

    This has been the issue throughout. The LibDems were hammered for accepting tuition fees, and yet in none that hammering was there a serious discussion about how else it could be paid for. Personally, I think it would make sense to pay for university tuition through higher inheritance tax – but try suggesting that to others and see how it goes down.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 12:13pm

    Neil Sandison

    Move on from the tuition fee debate its stifling progress in policy development .

    It is always going to be thrown at us, which is why I think we need to stand up and face it, rather than suppose it will just be forgotten. We need to talk realistically about what ought to be the central aspect of politics – if you want it provided by government then you have to accept some way of paying for it.

    Labour did well in the 2017 general election because that didn’t happen – so they could go on and on about the government providing more things without any proper discussion of how it would all be paid for. The thing that really brought the Conservatives down was when they did make a realistic proposal about how to pay for the growing costs of social care. And what did the LibDems do? Join in the condemnation of the Conservatives over being realistic, while not doing anything to challenge Labour about being unrealistic.

    Putting out the idea that the only reason for voting Liberal Democrat in 2017 was to show your opposition to Brexit was a complete disaster. There was a very clear need to explain realistically about what coalitions really mean – to make it clear that the 2010-15 coalition was formed because it was the only viable government, not because we thought it was wonderful, and that the balance of MPs in it meant it was very far from our ideal. Why was this not done?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I’ve used your argument to deflect criticism but I new It didn’t hold water.
    LibDems could have entered into a C&S agreement instead of full coalition. If as you say the cap on student fees was as a result of Tory pressure then why was this cap policy dropped in the 2015 election. The fact that it was meant that we owned and supported the increase in fees and therefore we broke our pledge. Think we need to be honest with ourselves.

  • Matthew,

    I think you are right about the complications of a graduate tax. The Browne review rejected the option of a graduate tax, because there would have been a large funding gap. It estimated that if all new students from 2012 paid 3% graduate tax after graduation, the tax would not provide sufficient revenue to fund higher education until 2041–42. This would weaken the independence of universities, which would become entirely dependent on the government for funding.

    The aim of the review was to develop a system that provided for a “balance of contributions to universities by taxpayers, students, graduates and employers” to University finances.

    I think the initial system with grants for maintenance (and student fee contributions for eligible households) was the right approach. If the loan cap had been kept at £1 to £3k below tuition fees with students paying the balance up front and the interest rate on loans set at the same level as tax debts. i.e. 2.75% we would have a reasonable balance between students and taxpayers.

    We can make improvements with a strong focus on degree apprenticeships and two year degrees delivered over four terms. It is also important to ensure that vocational courses are readily available for students who will not benefit from the type of academic education offered by Universities.

    I will be working in clearing over the bank holiday weekend and as I understand it applications are expected to be at similar levels to last year i.e. there is no indication at present that the fee system is discouraging applications.

  • Neil Sandison 17th Aug '17 - 4:27pm

    MATHEW HUNCHBACH
    Labour did well not on a single issue but because they didnt let Teresa May make it a Brexit only election ,We unfortunately played to the PMs narrative and didnt do as well as we could have hence Tim Farrons departure .Mrs May had a terrible semi detached election where she threw away her majority and is now trapped in a zombie government and parliament politically dead but still going through the motions of governance .We should not throw away the oppertunity to lead the debate on a range of issues and regain the general publics confidence rather than small sections of it by just trying to appeal to a narrow band .We are right on the NHS ,Social Care and Enabling Councils to build more affordable homes and understand emerging economies but we keep dragging back to the past rather than developing new policy to fight the next election which could potentially happen as early as 2019.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 6:41pm

    P.J.

    I’ve used your argument to deflect criticism but I new It didn’t hold water.
    LibDems could have entered into a C&S agreement instead of full coalition.

    Er, yes, and then what? Do you know what “C&S” means? The “C” bit means vote for anything the Tories or Labour say is a matter of confidence, and the “S” bit means vote for anything that is a matter of supply i.e. any budgetary issue. Essentially it means being like the Coalition but having less say on the policies.

    The issue would remain the same – having a C&S agreement would not enable the LibDems to force the Conservatives to raise taxes. The Conservatives would be able to blame the LibDems for anything that went wrong, saying “It’s their fault, because thanks to them we don’t have a stable majority government”. And Labour would have enthusiastically agreed to that, as they went into the general election that would have been called in 2011 on the theme “Get rid of the LibDems to enable Britain to be governed properly”.

    And if you say, no they wouldn’t risk that, well didn’t they do similar in 2017 even when they actually did have a majority?

    If as you say the cap on student fees was as a result of Tory pressure then why was this cap policy dropped in the 2015 election.

    Sure. I very much do think the 2015 general election should have made it much more clear what I have said anyway. And if Clegg couldn’t do it then, Farron should certainly have done it in 2017. That they didn’t is why the party has continued to be pushed down, rather than revived.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 6:48pm

    Neil Sandison

    MATHEW HUNCHBACH
    Labour did well not on a single issue but because they didnt let Teresa May make it a Brexit only election ,We unfortunately played to the PMs narrative and didnt do as well as we could have hence Tim Farrons departure

    Yes, and I myself said just that in the last paragraph of the comment you are replying to.

    By the way, the usual spelling of “Matthew” is with two t’s, and the name “Huntbach” is spelt H-U-N-T followed by B-A-C-H. It derives from a village in the West Midlands, where “-bach” occasionally occurs as a place name ending, the only big place with such a name being Sandbach. The Huntbach family is fairly famous in Staffordshire where the name originates, that is why there is a “Huntbach Street” in Stoke-on-Trent. The name does not derive from “Hunchback” as your misspelling is probably meant to suggest. It has never been spelt with the initial letters as “Hunch”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Aug '17 - 6:52pm

    Joebourke

    I think the initial system with grants for maintenance (and student fee contributions for eligible households) was the right approach. If the loan cap had been kept at £1 to £3k below tuition fees with students paying the balance up front and the interest rate on loans set at the same level as tax debts. i.e. 2.75% we would have a reasonable balance between students and taxpayers

    Sure. While I’d have preferred the full LibDem policy to have been implemented, I can just about see that if it couldn’t, the case for the loans system if the Tories wouldn’t accept anything involving raising taxes was there. But the introduction of quite high interest rates on it as well – NO!!! We should be standing out and shouting that – we made that nasty compromise as we had to, but that was our limit, and definitely we could not and would not support high interest rates on top of it.

  • @ Neil Sandison and David Raw

    Our policy of restoring maintenance grants and ending the freeze on public sector workers pay should help encourage more people to go to university as would replacing the tuition fee graduate debt scheme with a graduate tax. I am particularly concerned about the drop in numbers applying for nursing courses. Perhaps we need to go further than a graduate tax and for the government to pay half the tuition fees for nurses. I assume we already have a policy of scraping the plus 3% to inflation as the interest rate.

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    I am aware of your position regarding why Liberal Democrat MPs broke their personal pledges. I don’t agree that our MPs had no choice. I understand they might have been opportunity costs for not doing it. For me I would have had to accept the costs of not doing it so I could keep a personal promise, this is because I give my word a very value (this might have something to do with my previously held religious beliefs [Mt 5:33-37] or that verbal agreements are enforceable in law).

    I am not aware of Vince Cable ever supporting a graduate tax; I am aware of him saying tuition fees graduate debt is a better solution than a graduate tax.

    With regard to past graduates you raise interesting questions. I am in favour of past graduates paying the graduate tax. I don’t think those who graduated in other countries should pay the graduate tax. It would only be possible if degree awarding authorities have records of who were awarded degrees back to 1971 (my arbitrary cut off year). There would be a cost for identifying who have these degrees (I assume that most employers know if their employees have a degree) and I would need to know how much this would be against how much revenue would be raised from these graduates before making a final decision on taxing these graduates. Special conditions would have to apply for all those who paid tuition fees under the older schemes starting in 1998. I accept it might be difficult to gather a graduate tax from previous graduates who live abroad and I would hope any UK assets would be used to pay the back graduate tax on their deaths.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Aug '17 - 7:32pm

    @Michael BG

    “It would only be possible if degree awarding authorities have records of who were awarded degrees back to 1971 (my arbitrary cut off year). There would be a cost for identifying who have these degrees (I assume that most employers know if their employees have a degree) and I would need to know how much this would be against how much revenue would be raised from these graduates before making a final decision on taxing these graduates.”

    On what do you base your choice of arbitrary cut-off year?

    The chart at http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/3190/education/number-of-students-at-university-in-uk/ suggests that in 1971 there were only 400,000 to 450,000 students – a much smaller annual pool to tax than the current number – some will be dead, many if not most will have retired etc.

  • @ Michael BG “Our policy of restoring maintenance grants and ending the freeze on public sector workers pay should help encourage more people to go to university as would replacing the tuition fee graduate debt scheme with a graduate tax”.

    I’ve probably missed something – but when were those policies accepted ?

    Most folk – and that’s the Lib Dems continuing problem – don’t know anything about that being the case and still think the Lib Dems are responsible for the opposite.

  • Michael BG,

    retrospective taxation has many complications. Students graduating in the 70’s and 80’s would have been entering an environment with basic rates of tax between 30% and 35% and higher rates ranging from 60% to 83%. High and medium level earners were heavily taxed in those periods. The higher rate was only reduced to 40% in 1988-89 and the basic rate to 20% in 2008. There is a good argument that the much smaller numbers of earlier graduates have already paid their fair share. of contributions to the exchequer during their working lives.

  • David Evans 17th Aug '17 - 8:25pm

    It is so disappointing to read what is in many parts an excellent article which then falls down on certain key facts which it prefers to ignore rather than confront and overcome.

    Sure we are/should be a radical liberal party of the centre to centre left (It’s difficult being right wing with a commitment to equality). And we definitely need a steely edge to our decision making. Being virtuous and having wonderful policies in theory is totally useless. Unless we actually get ourselves elected in serious numbers once again, we can’t implement anything, and we will just be a very nice talking shop.

    However, if we are to get ourselves elected we have to face up to several rather unpalatable facts.

    Firstly, up to 2010 to most of the people of Britain, we were that moderate centre left party, standing up for internationalist, tolerant liberal values. However, people do not see us like that now because quite simply Nick marched us out of that area between 2010 and 2015 in his attempts to outdo David Cameron in making tough decisions in government. So many Lib Dems are still pretending this just never happened. Well it did and the voters know it.

    Secondly, it wasn’t just a one off mistake but a continuous series of events over the entire period in coalition where, being blunt, we supported a series of totally indefensible actions that simply didn’t line up with our values of equality – whether it be cutting benefits for under 25s, the Bedroom tax, Tuition Fees (intergenerational equality); community – e.g. allowing Eric Pickles to slash local government budgets much more than central government budgets; liberty – where Nick ignored two democratic votes in Conference and forced through the Conservative secret courts legislation; and finally competence where we voted through a ridiculous top down restructuring of the NHS despite conference making it clear it was a disaster.

    Thirdly, it was Nick, ably supported by others around him at the time who instigated and forced through the Bones Commission, designed to improve the working of the party, and make it more leader centric. Well that just made it so easy for those at the top to ignore the clear arguments for change. Instead we had a party that generated ever more spurious data to justify doing nothing, when doing nothing was the worst option of all.

    We need to face up to our problems and clearly change back to what we were, not charge ever onwards in an attempt to run away from our past.

  • David Evans 17th Aug '17 - 8:33pm

    Joe,

    Yes there is a good argument that the much smaller numbers of earlier graduates have already paid their fair share. of contributions to the exchequer during their working lives. However, there is also a much stronger argument that the people of this country have for several decades not paid enough in tax to fund the public services they demanded.

    Being blunt the last couple of generations, encouraged by Labour and the Conservatives, have lived off their credit card, which they are now wanting to hand on to the next generation to pay off. Putting this right is one of the reasons I became a Liberal Democrat. The fact that we did nothing about in when we got our chance in government, but just piled yet more on the younger generation through tuition fees etc, is a source of deep shame to us all.

  • David,

    I think the issue of inter-generational equity is a crucial one, particularly housing affordability. For too many, buying a house has become out of reach and they have no option but to rent.

    Since the mid 1990s, house prices have increased substantially more than inflation. It now requires a very high deposit and this is a big barrier to buying a house. Mortgage payments are just about manageable in an era of zero interest rates, but this will not last forever.

    A startling statistic is the projection of 250,000 extra households a year until 2033. Yet, the UK is only building 100,000 to 150,000 homes per year. In short, things are going to get worse, much worse unless their is decisive action to right the situation.

    Without a program of house building to meet pent-up demand more and more of disposable incomes will be absorbed by rents and mortgage payments leaving less and less scope for tax rises to fund public services.

    The only way I see around this is the Land Value Tax solution that recovers economic rents for funding of public services.

    As Churchill said in a 1909 speech “No matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see every form of enterprise, every step in material progress, is only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream for himself, and everywhere today the man or the public body that wishes to put land to its highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an inferior one, and in some cases to no use at all. All comes back to land value, and its owner is able to levy toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry. A portion, in some cases the whole, of every benefit which is laboriously acquired by the community increases the land value and finds its way automatically into the landlord’s pocket. If there is a rise in wages, rents are able to move forward, because the workers can afford to pay a little more. If the opening of a new railway or new tramway, or the institution of improved services of a lowering of fares, or of a new invention, or any other public convenience affords a benefit to workers in any particular district, it be-comes easier for them to live, and therefore the ground landlord is able to charge them more for the privilege of living there.”

  • @ Nonconformistradical
    “On what do you base your choice of arbitrary cut-off year?”

    If I can justify 1971 is it arbitrary?
    2017-67+21 = 1971
    You are probably correct most will have retired and are not paying income tax, but some might still be in employment or have pension good enough to pay tax on.

    Perhaps 1965 would be a better year when following the Education Act all UK students would have their fees paid and the possibility of a means tested maintenance grant for the whole three years. The majority of those graduating in 1965 would be about 73 now (Vince Cable would just escape paying it).

    @ David Raw
    “‘Our policy of restoring maintenance grants and ending the freeze on public sector workers pay’
    I’ve probably missed something – but when were those policies accepted ?”

    From memory they were both in our recent manifesto so I just assumed Conference had passed them.

    @ Joe Bourke
    “retrospective taxation has many complications”

    I am sorry if I wasn’t clear. I am not advocating making the graduate tax generally retrospective and demanding tax on earnings back to 1971 (or 1965). I am only thinking about collecting it on income received once a graduate tax has been introduced at some future date.

    The only retrospective element I would consider would be counting payments made to student tuition loans since 1998 against the person’s tax liability of the new tax in some way. (Retrospective starting salaries would need to be set after 2005/06 to increase it from £15,000 to £26,000 i.e. possibly £15,917 for 2006/07 and £25,065 for 2016/17). This is likely to be very expensive and the nominal over payments might have to be deducted over the course of their life time. If the nominal over payment was £6500 perhaps only 50% of the new graduate tax would be paid until the outstanding nominal over payment divided by years to retirement age is smaller than 50% of the graduate tax due, then more than 50% would be paid. (Fairer than doing nothing but probably those earning the least will not get all of their nominal over payment back.)

    @ David Evans

    I do remember the Bones Commission but I don’t recall any constitutional changes coming out of it.

  • @ Joe Bouke
    “A startling statistic is the projection of 250,000 extra households a year until 2033.”

    I have not seen this forecast. I had assumed it was much lower and 300,000 new homes a year would make a dent in the housing shortage. In 2013 there were nearly 1.9 million families on Council waiting lists (http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/housing-waiting-list). Therefore to get rid of the housing shortage in ten years we would need to build about 450,000 new homes a year. Perhaps we should try to make this party policy.

  • David Evans 18th Aug '17 - 7:53am

    Joe,

    Thank you for your response which I largely agree with. However, we all have to accept that Land Value Taxation is far too radical for the other two parties to ever adopt. Too many rich Conservative backers would lose substantial amounts of money if it were adopted, and Labour (just like the Conservatives) are not a “tax and spend” party but quite simply a “Don’t tax and spend” party.

    Putting it simply, whatever its merits and there are many, Land Value Tax is simply too radical for most people in current circumstances. The only way it would get adopted is if the Lib Dems get into government, which I think we can all agree will not happen in the short or even the medium term, and the UK (and the Lib Dems) needs solutions now.

    Hence we need a policy that works now to resolve at least in part the intergenerational unfairness issue, and that means income tax. For decades, income tax was the means by which graduates paid society back for the benefits they received from their degrees. The more they earned, the more tax they paid, and at a higher rate than those who earned less. It wasn’t a graduate tax, but it was a tax which meant high earning graduates quite properly paid more towards the next generation’s education. Also it means that those who earned more but hadn’t gone to university (e.g. a Richard Branson or Alan Sugar if they were UK domiciled, or equally someone who just inherited large wealth) would also pay more.

    It doesn’t need a massive separate bureaucracy to administer, and it doesn’t need loans to be hanging around people’s necks for the next thirty five years perpetually reminding them that the Lib Dems broke their promise. Also it is fair and it is easy to explain on the doorstep in less than 30 seconds (which is all you get in most cases).

    It won’t be liked by the mega rich and will be attacked by senior Conservative politicians, but since when (except for 2010 – 2015) have we been wedded to the Conservative Party? What’s not to like about it?

  • David Evans 18th Aug '17 - 8:09am

    Michael BG,

    You are right that the Bones Commission produced little if any any constitutional changes, but it did something far more insidious and permanent.

    It changed the entire paid party administration structure into a more leader centred model rather than the previous more party centred model. Hence when things went wrong from 2010 to 2015, it was virtually impossible to get a straight answer out of the bureaucracy about the problems we faced, but there was a never ending tide of ‘good news’ and later on ‘bogus statistics’ to shore up our failing leadership.

    It contributed to the total lack of real debate in forums that might have been able to change things, and created the “Rabbits frozen in the headlights” approach at the centre that led to our near annihilation in 2015.

  • Michael BG, Joe Burke – the promise to building 450k houses a year can be feasible if we talk about prefabrication technology (a kind of mass production tech), which is common in Europe.

    Michael BG, Glenn, Joe Burke – in Europe, the general population agrees to pay for universities in general taxation. Graduate tax can be extremely complicated. We can do so, just 2-3% hike in overall average tax rate (in the past, over 50% tax rates were common), while still charging £10k-12k per annum fees on international students.

    Here are the main differences (I agree with all of them) between a German uni and an Anglo-Saxon uni that make the former cheaper: Basically, German unis only give things that are adequately necessary to graduate and get a job.
    – No college/university sports clubs (maybe private organized groups, but nothing from the university), no social programs, no scholarships, no fund raising, no social life, no dormitories (although there might be cheap apartment blocks owned by the student union, which is not part of the university). Nothing that could cost money that is not directly related to teaching, research or administration. (I believe college sports and social programs are totally dumb and irrelevant).
    – Furthermore, the number of students per professor is much higher than in other countries. But it makes teaching many students cheaper. No one cares about you as a student. There is no hand-holding, you are thrown into cold water. Usually, you have a big lecture hall and someone who holds a lecture. If it is a technical subject, you usually have exercise groups which are held by more advanced students. Those are the ones, who handle the tutoring (usually, 2–3 semesters more advanced than you). You will not come in closer contact with a professor or the professor’s assistants until you write your Bachelor’s thesis.
    – Unlike British unis, German universities do not take picked students up to their capacity but they take practically everyone with the right school diploma even if it exceeds their capacity; then they will make the first two years intentionally extremely difficult so that at least 50% if not more of the students quits. Those who make it through the courses of the first three or four semesters will usually succeed.

  • Agreed the Tuition Fees blunder requires a fresh, unambiguous policy statement on the subject and a frank admission that Clegg and co. got it so catastrophically wrong. (Perhaps the LibDems should also be advocating lowering the voting age to 16. ) The far more important task for the party IMHO, however, is to try and eradicate the stain of collusion with a very right-wing Tory government for a full 5 year term instead of replacing the coalition with a C&S agreement after the economic situation had stabilised – say, after 2 years. The desperately low levels of support at the GE and the rise of Corbynism has rather more to do with a perception that the LibDems have become a quasi Tory party than the cave-in over tuition fees.

  • David Evans,

    I certainly agree that progressive taxation is prefarable to a graduate tax for the reasons you outline. However, one of the problems with income tax is reflected in this article by Toby Lloyd https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/28/britain-housing-crisis-land-ownership-white-paper in which he wtites “Today, the dark side of the land ownership paradox has reasserted itself with a vengeance. Homes routinely “earn” more than people do, and the banking sector is hopelessly addicted to mortgages rather than lending to productive enterprises.”

    Fred Harrison makes the point about the deadweight of high taxes on earned income and business profits http://www.sharetherents.org/articles/targeting-rich-self-defeating/ writing:
    “By damaging the nation’s productive capacity, governments intensify the levels of poverty and inequality. This creates a vicious circle. One consequence is a financial crisis for government. The rate at which the nation’s income increases falls behind the rate at which people on low incomes need welfare subsidies. So, because government budgets are insufficient to honour their financial obligations, the public sector falls deeper into debt, and becomes increasingly inefficient. The human cost assumes the form of an accelerating rate of deprivation. This economic chaos then transmits itself into the political arena.”

    I am working with the Coalition for Economic Justice http://www.c4ej.com/ to garner interest in an All Party Parliamentary Group for Land Value Taxation. Our main challenge will be in enlisting support from Conservative members for the initiative.

    Nick Boles (former conservative minister for planning) in the 2012 Macmillan Lecture proposed a land tax, using the New South Wales’ Land Tax as a successful example, suggesting that a UK Land Tax on similar terms could raise over £5 billion a year – and encourage productive use of under-utilised development land. The conservative 2017 manifesto included a commitment to registering all UK land and reforming land value capture as a means of funding local infrastructure.

    The new Mayor of Cambridge and Peterborough has put forward some interesting ideas in this area https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2017/07/james-palmer-the-land-value-cap-offers-the-chance-of-more-affordable-infrastructure.html

    The penny seems to have dropped with some Tories, that declining home ownership also means a declining number of Tory Voters.

  • Thomas,

    the prefabrication technology you mention could be a good improvement for the UK and I believe a Chinese firm has recently set-up in the UK to manufacture modular housing http://www.constructionenquirer.com/2016/12/19/chinese-giant-to-build-six-uk-pre-fab-homes-factories/. However, it is Urban Land (and its cost) that is the real bottleneck, and where corrective action needs to be focused.to release more sites for housing developments.

    Your description of the continental University system highlights the big differences from the UK, particularly in educational standards. It is not uncommon to have 600 students attending a lecture on the continent and much of the face to face seminars and tutorials conducted by Masters and Doctoral students. There is also, as you note, a high drop-out rate. In the UK, there is much more attention to progress and retention with personal as well as subject tutors assigned to small groups. This is becoming increasingly time consuming with the much higher numbers of students being accepted for enrolment in UK Universities.

    I feel there are too many students being pushed towards University education when many would find vocational/FE training much better suited to their aims and ambitions The academic focus of university curriculum’s is not always well suited to vocational courses. Do nurses really need to be able to produce a comprehensive research dissertation to display their enthusiasm and competence for their chosen vocation?

  • David Evans 18th Aug '17 - 3:13pm

    Joe,

    As I said I agree with a lot of what you say, but as you, yourself have demonstrated by your post, the explanations for LVT and against income tax are not simple and definitely not easy to explain on the doorstep (or on TV in the 20 seconds you may get before you are interrupted). What we urgently need is policies that are easy to explain and broadly liberal, so people see we have a potential answer that is equitable but not based on Jeremy Corbyn’s magic money tree.

    Income tax fits that bill, I’m afraid LVT etc simply do not, and we need to start getting noticed again (other than over Brexit) and quickly.

  • @ David Evans

    The Labour costing document states that abolishing university tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants will cost £11.2bn a year. They suggested that reducing the 45% threshold to £80,000 and having a 50% rate over £123,000 would raise at least £6.4bn. In our costing document we state that increasing the Basic Tax rate by 1% will raise £6.345bn.

    Therefore doing both together would pay for the abolishing of tuition fees. The argument that everyone earning over £11,500 shouldn’t pay for the education of 50% of young people who go to university is strong. We have stated that the cost of restoring maintenance grants and nursing bursaries is £2.96bn, making the pure tuition fee cost £8.24bn. If we assume that 50% of graduate debt will never be paid back then we are talking about finding £4.12bn extra. It is possible that my graduate tax would raise that amount or more depending on how much can be raised from those who graduated before 2015. Graduates benefit from their education and so it seems fair that they pay something towards that education (my scheme would only apply to those earning over £26,000).

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '17 - 3:42pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “Graduates benefit from their education and so it seems fair that they pay something towards …..”

    OK but so does anyone who’s attended primary school. Should they have to pay too? And what about anyone who’s had expensive surgery? What about the benefit of that? Should ex-patients have to cough up too?

    We could be on a slippery slope with this line of argument!

  • David Evans 18th Aug '17 - 3:44pm

    Michael, everyone can point to a “strong” argument that some aspect of taxation is unfair on them. However, putting it simply, those that earn the same amount should pay the same amount of income tax irrespective of whether they went to university or school or whatever – that is equality in action. A key liberal principle. Also it makes for a very simple system compared to a graduate tax or whatever else people propose which will require a new bureaucracy.

    Overall Income tax works and it can easily be made to work to pay for universities. Anything else fails the 20 second test.

  • David Evans, yes it is so simple but is it sellable to the electorate? The eternal conundrum.

  • David Evans 18th Aug '17 - 4:23pm

    Theakes, the first thing we all know is that complicated is never sellable to the electorate.

    The second is that unless we come up with something significant, we will continue to decline.

    We have a choice – do something or do nothing.

  • Joe Burke – Some German argue that unis actually do so to limit the number of university students, by intentionally making it too hard so that around 50% of junior students have to drop out. Thus, they ensure that the number of graduates is not too high.

    Of course the land issue is important. But prefab will help us to boost the supply side of housing. I actually prefer the state to build and provide houses for people like in Singapore, rather than via taking on mortgages, which will certainly add to private debts.

    David Evans, Michael BG – Agree with David. By choosing to raise overall income tax, we will make the issue much simpler. Other European countries never think in a such complicated way, because they treat education of all levels as an investment for the society as a whole. Reading some forums and you will see that the German never talk about separating graduates and non-graduates when it comes to who should pay.

    But I also support LVT. Having an additional way to raise extra tax revenue will help us.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Aug '17 - 6:27pm

    theakes

    David Evans, yes it is so simple but is it sellable to the electorate? The eternal conundrum.

    That is why instead of remaining silent about tuition fees, hoping that somehow people would forget about it, was just about the worst thing we could have done in the last two general elections.

    Instead we should have held them up as an awful warning – this is what happens if you aren’t prepared to pay the taxes needed to provide the government services you want. That is why I am stating we should have made it clear – the acceptance of tuition fees by some Liberal Democrat MPs was not because we thought it a wonderful scheme and better than what we originally wanted. No, it was because the Conservatives would not have agreed to raise the taxes necessary, and so we were forced into accepting that instead, and concentrated on at least providing a generous loan scheme, as the alternative would have had to be massive cuts in the number of university places.

    And something similar is going to have to happen if people aren’t willing to pay the taxes that are necessary to keep other things going where costs are inevitably rising. People are living longer, meaning health and care and state pension costs are going up. If proposing the taxes needed to pay for that means you lose elections, well, then what?

    Well, we have already seen what it means for state pensions – another year before you get them.

    The way that money is being absorbed into property, so that whether you are rich or poor depends more on whether you have the right parents to inherit property from than on how hard you work is a huge issue. Taxing income and not taxing property makes this worse.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Aug '17 - 6:39pm

    Thomas

    Some German argue that unis actually do so to limit the number of university students, by intentionally making it too hard so that around 50% of junior students have to drop out. Thus, they ensure that the number of graduates is not too high.

    It also ensures that degrees really do mean graduates have high quality skills.

    Compare with the situation in Britain, where having a high failure rate is considered a mark of poor quality. So what happens? In reality it means there is enormous pressure on university lecturers to dumb down, or do things like turn a blind eye to cheating, in order to keep the pass rates up.

  • @ Peter Martin and David Evans

    There is a difference between the state paying for everyone’s education before university and the half of a year group which goes to university. We need to increase taxation to finance the NHS, social care, education, non-university adult education and training and a citizens’ income. Therefore to keep tax rises lower for those who didn’t attend university those who graduated should pay more if they earn enough (there is an expectation that graduates will earn more because of their degree).

    Our current policy is to abolish tuition fees at some future date when we think we can afford it. It wasn’t in the 2017 manifesto. We don’t normally link spending policies to how we would fund them. Perhaps we need to include such linkage in our policy making. (I recall that the Social Security Policy Group was told not to include any new spending in its proposals. A clear failure of the Federal Policy Committee.) I don’t think we will get abolishing tuition fees and funding university education from general taxation into our next manifesto especially with Vince as party leader. Therefore I have concluded that the only way we can get abolishing tuition fees into our next manifesto is to replace the current system with a graduate tax.

  • @ Michael BG “I recall that the Social Security Policy Group was told not to include any new spending in its proposals. A clear failure of the Federal Policy Committee.”

    And when – and who – did that directive come from ? It would be most interesting to know who is really pulling the levers in this ‘democratic’ party.

  • @ David Raw

    One should assume it was the majority decision of the Federal Policy Committee who set the terms of reference for the Social Security Policy Working Group. The Mending the Safety Net introduction states, “The remit of the working group was … The group was advised that the policies proposed should be covered by the current budget for social security, aside from the £12bn of cuts to working age benefits that Liberal Democrats have already committed to reversing” (p 6 https://www.libdemnewswire.com/files/2016/08/124.-Mending-the-Safety-Net-Working-Age-Social-Security.pdf). The paper was discussed at the autumn 2016 conference and would have been setup before the spring conference.

  • Matthew Huntback – Then raise tax rates both on property (with a bigger focus on land rather than on development like in Pennsylvania) and income, as well as capital gain tax (to 38% maybe for short-term CGT).

    Michael BG – then we can double (short-term) capital gain tax to around 36-38% (like both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the US), while keeping long-term rate unchanged. And, actually graduate tax can still be imposed, but we should have a clause to convert it into student debt if the graduate moves abroad, even though splitting graduates and non-graduates will only make things more complicated and less efficient than taxing the general population. Finally, we can save some money by stopping the stupid ME bombings and Snooper Charter.

    Michael BG – we can still do the same things as the German to keep the number of students from being too high. Some German argue that unis actually do so to limit the number of university students, by intentionally making it too hard so that around 50% of junior students have to drop out. Thus, they ensure that the number of graduates is not too high. It also ensures that degrees really do mean graduates have high quality skills. Besides, lots of savings can be made by scrapping schemes like college/university sports clubs (maybe private organized groups, but nothing from the university), no social programs, no scholarships (why scholarships when tuition fees are free), no fund raising, no social life, no dormitories (although there might be cheap apartment blocks owned by the student union, which is not part of the university). Nothing that could cost money that is not directly related to teaching, research or administration. (I believe college sports and social programs are totally dumb and irrelevant).

    You know what, when looking at some real personal tax rate statistics, I realize that only UK and Ireland have below 40% real tax rates. In some countries like Austria and Belgium, real tax rates even exceed 50% of real gross salaries. British politicians and people must think that tax is a contribution rather than a burden.

  • The complexity of the so-called graduate tax compared to general tax will make it harder for the party to explain it to the electorate. Sometimes, keeping things simple is better. There are more than enough complex things for us that deserve more attention, such as industrial strategy and banking reforms.

    Regarding banking, I prefer regulations on shadow banking (e.g. taxing non-core liabilities), which Basel III magically neglected and some mandatory caps on real estate and consumer lending in banks’ portfolio.

    Oh, finally, church (and mosque maybe?) tax

  • Neil Sandison 19th Aug '17 - 2:15pm

    Matthew Huntbach my appologies for earlier typo no slur intended my concern is that we are self harming on a single issue and not as Vince is doing looking for a review of that policy .This article was originally about a new party of the moderate liberal centre but we appear to have become self obsessed on a very narrow past performance issue whilst being the smaller part of a coalition government .We must begin to look forward learn from our mistakes and develop fresh ideas if we are too win that all important centre ground in British politics. We do not need to be a centrist party but we do need to have policy which resonates as fair and reasonable to the electorate .The scary thing was Corbyn attracted moderate voters despite his agenda because the tories were so awful.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Aug '17 - 5:27pm

    Thomas

    Then raise tax rates both on property (with a bigger focus on land rather than on development like in Pennsylvania) and income, as well as capital gain tax (to 38% maybe for short-term CGT).

    Yes, and that’s the point I’m making. If you just come out and say you want to increase taxes, there will be a massive resistance to it. That is precisely why I am saying tuition fees should be brought out and held up as an example of what happens when you don’t raise taxes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Aug '17 - 5:37pm

    Neil Sandison

    This article was originally about a new party of the moderate liberal centre but we appear to have become self obsessed on a very narrow past performance issue whilst being the smaller part of a coalition government .

    Yes, but that is the problem. It seems that most of the electorate suppose that everything the Coalition did was what the Liberal Democrats would have done had they formed a majority government. The point that a Coalition inevitably means compromise, seems not to have got across. Instead it seems to be supposed that the Liberal Democrats could have got whatever they wanted out of the Coalition, that the Conservatives would just have dropped all their policies and picked up Liberal Democrat ones instead. Hence comments such as that from Michael BG about the LibDems “those who broke their personal promise must have believed that the new system was better than the old or a graduate tax”, which make no acknowledgement of the way that coalitions mean parties may have to drop their ideals in order to reach a compromise with the other coalition parties.

  • I was late catching this subject but I have greatly enjoyed the above Comments. I agree that restoring trust in the Lib Dems is still centred on the broken 2010 ‘personal’ pledges on tuition fees and that addressing this issue is the fastest route back to a significant centre ground party in British politics. I like the idea of having second or even third thoughts on the tuition fee topic and concluding that we will honour those 2010 pledges going forward and henceforth vote against any rises in tuition fees above £3000 pa, plus CPI inflation rises.

    I like the idea of optional two year degree courses without any further dilution in the quality of UK honours degrees, whereby the number of study hours and weeks in three years courses is maintained. Mind you annual tuition fees at 2010 prices might need to be £4500 for the two year courses.

    Thereafter I have significant difficulties with many of the Comments above. The UK needs the brightest school pupils to go to university to feed our economy both regarding growth and sustainability. So why should graduates pay a special graduate tax? If graduates earn more than non-graduates they should and will pay more tax, and rightly so, but the converse logic clearly also applies. Justifying the extra government expenditure is down to political priorities, including methods of taxation.

    If the UK economy needs particular graduate skills why shouldn’t it pay for the brightest pupils to study and then deliver those skills for us all to benefit from? Hence why shouldn’t UK society pay students to study subjects like maths, pure sciences, engineering, medicine, modern languages, etc.?

    The independence of UK universities need not be adversely affected by government incentivising students to study courses in which the country needs high calibrate graduates. Universities can continue to offer degree courses in any subject they want.

  • @ Thomas

    I don’t like Capital Gains Tax because if you don’t use your yearly tax allowance you lose it; it is a disincentive for long term investment. I don’t know what you mean by short term. Do you want a higher rate (say 36%) on capital gains if a person has only held the item of capital for one year or less?

    I think it would be difficult to convert a graduate’s graduate tax liability into a debt when they leave the country to work abroad. It would be better for under-graduates to sign a legally binding agreement setting out their graduate tax liabilities so the graduate tax liabilities could be enforced in a foreign country and against the assets of the graduate on their death if they haven’t paid the correct graduate taxes during their lifetime.

    It should not be the business of governments to dictate to universities to change to the German model, nor to force them to sell of their assets (such as student accommodation). I thought it was normal for the Student Union to provide bars and social activities (it was so at my university in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s). The sports clubs at my university were also run by the students and funded by the students and the student union. I think the university owned the sports pitches and hall. I would expect universities to run their student accommodation to cover all their costs (including maintenance, updating and building).

    You are correct there are complex taxes such as business rates and council tax.

    As I stated in another thread I don’t like Pennsylvania’s resident’s property tax. A Land Value Tax would be better especially if there were generous reliefs on first homes like the old national Council Tax Benefit scheme.

  • Peter Watson 20th Aug '17 - 2:53pm

    @Joe Bourke “the Libdem vote collapsed shortly after entering coalition, several months prior to the decisions around funding of higher education.”
    It’s not quite so straightforward as that. Obviously those who voted for the Lib Dems to stop the Tories were disappointed straight away (the apparent Clegg-Cameron “love-in” guaranteed that!!), but breaking the pledge on tuition fees was signalled in the Coalition Agreement before even entering coalition.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    “Michael BG … make(s) no acknowledgement of the way that coalitions mean parties may have to drop their ideals in order to reach a compromise with the other coalition parties.”

    When in a coalition of course there have to be compromises, i.e. find a compromise position which both parties can support as the second best option. However one of the biggest failures of the Liberal Democrats was to accept Conservative policies they should have opposed in the belief (wrongly) that the Conservatives were accepting Liberal Democrat policies they opposed. In coalition you should only accept the policies of the other party which you can support, which is mostly what the Conservatives did. The big exceptions being the AV referendum, where the Conservatives campaigned against changing the voting system and House of Lords reform where they would not support the bill as proposed. Therefore our MPs did not have to support increasing student tuition fees and if they had not the fees would not have been increased and the new scheme introduced. As I have already written I do understand there would have been consequences to this decision. I think it was William Hague who couldn’t believe it when we didn’t even request that none of our MPs would support any increase of tuition fees.

  • Peter Watson 20th Aug '17 - 7:16pm

    @Michael BG “one of the biggest failures of the Liberal Democrats was to accept Conservative policies they should have opposed”
    I sort of agree. I think that all too often, Lib Dems in parliament presented the policies of a coalition that was 85% Tory as if they were what Lib Dems wanted rather than what they had settled for. This was exacerbated by Danny Alexander becoming the face of George Osborne’s economic policies and exaggerated claims about the proportion of Lib Dem policies being implemented.
    In the case of tuition fees the situation is even worse, and something of a mess. As well as the immense damage to trust in Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, the party is now closely associated with tuition fees despite Labour introducing them and commissioning Lord Browne’s review. Yet the party still has no clear position on tuition fees! Even in Coalition MP’s split between supporting, opposing and abstaining on the issue, conference stated that scrapping fees is still an aspiration, a replacement leader who had voted against increasing fees suggested it was because of the importance of keeping his word rather than because of opposition to the measure, and even in the election campaign it was implied that scrapping fees was simply not a priority rather than something that was right or wrong. The issue of tuition fees looks like a symptom of confusion at the heart of the Lib Dems.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '17 - 12:20am

    Michael BG

    Therefore our MPs did not have to support increasing student tuition fees and if they had not the fees would not have been increased and the new scheme introduced. As I have already written I do understand there would have been consequences to this decision.

    Yes – massive cuts to universities. What if the Liberal Democrat pledge had been kept, at the expense of closing down all universities but two? It might not have been that extreme, but – well, what would have happened in the increase in tuition fees was voted down but no increase in taxation voted through to pay what the Conservatives planned to pay through tuition fees?

    This is the problem I’m getting at – people on the whole don’t seem to link government spending with taxation. So people supposed a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would involve Conservative policies on taxation combined with Liberal Democrat policies on government spending, as if these were two entirely separate things.

    I quite agree with what Peter Watson writes about how the Lib Dems “presented the policies of a coalition that was 85% Tory as if they were what Lib Dems wanted rather than what they had settled for”. I said that doing this was wrong throughout the period of the coalition. It was an utter disaster, for example (as I said at the time) to push the line “75% of Liberal Democrat policies implemented” when in reality we had a nasty right-wing Conservative-dominated government only slightly tempered by the LibDems.

    However, I do find it hard to see how the LibDems could have persuaded the Conservatives to drop their pledges and adopt LibDem policies. If a Labour-LibDems coalition was viable, maybe, but it wasn’t, so that took away the LibDem’s negotiating strength. If the LibDems had done unexpectedly well in the 2010 general election, they’d have had more strength as the Conservatives would have feared another general election would have resulted in a LibDem increase. But the LibDems did unexpectedly badly.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    The Browne report does not suggest there would have to be massive cuts to universities. It talks of funding per student being reduced and the number of unsuccessful applications increasing. It also talks of the future pressures of government spending cuts. It then becomes a political decision should Liberal Democrat MPs once they have decided not to increase tuition fees at all for the duration of the 2010 Parliament cut the amount governments give to universities, my answer is no is monetary terms and maybe yes in real terms (I think this would have meant a 15% cut in real term financing over the five years, which the universities would have had to try to find from elsewhere). However this also comes with the belief that cutting government spending was not a good policy in the first place and was not necessary in the second.

    However there was another alternative. We could have stated that not increasing student tuition fees for the whole Parliament was one of our red lines. I think the Conservatives would have accepted it. We could have suggested that instead of cutting the funding to universities in real terms we could increase them by £1.92bn by 2015 funded by increasing the Capital Gains Tax rates which we had forecast would raise £1.92bn a year (our manifesto stated we wanted to increase the rates to agree with those paid for Income Tax, so someone paying 40% Income Tax would pay 40% Capital Gains Tax and so on), which is less than our estimate for the costs of abolishing the £3,000 per year student tuition fees (2014-15 £1.765bn). Therefore £1.92bn could have been used to give universities a further £3,000 per year per student.

    It should always be remembered that the Conservatives only had 306 MPs and us and Labour combined had 315, and the Unionists had 9 against 14 Scottish Nats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Greens and Alliance. It would have been possible for there to have been a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition if both parties’ MPs had wanted it, but I don’t think they did.

  • Michael BG – https://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/24/hillary-clinton-proposes-sharp-increase-in-short-term-capital-gains-taxes.html
    We can tax capital gains like Hillary Clinton. Yes, 40% for those who hold capital for 1 year or less, but only 18-20% for long-term holders (6 years and longer).
    And for Pennsylvania, I actually want to say that we can use it as a trial test before implementing a real LVT, because it is used in real-life and it has proved to be very effective to mitigate bubbles (compared to other states in the US).

    Next, an extremely big advantage of state funding for universities is that you can tie them to the state and dictate many things You can sell off student accommodation, stop all funding for the so-called social activities (or from now on Student Unions will have to pay for all of them), and re-orienting the purpose of unis to just providing essential knowledge to compete in job market, like in Germany. I mean, all funding irrelevant to research and teaching MUST BE CUT, it’s how to cut spending wisely. You can also save other forms of student funding by make it incredibly hard for first- and second-year students so that 50% of them will have to drop out and find an alternative route, like joining a vocational training program (so we must also improve our vocational training system). Finally, you can still charge the current fees on international students and on those who study useless junks like Religious Studies or History.

    Carl Gardner, Michael BG, Matthew Huntback – You want a tough decision, then an all-around tax hike IS A TOUGH DECISION that all parties never attempt to do. The Tories want to pursuit voodoo economics, while Labour only wants to raise tax on the top brackets only. British tax rate is lower than that of other European countries, such as Germany, Austria, Belgium and France, but most people want the same public service and infrastructure quality. It’s just a dreamland. Don’t compare a big nation with a city-state like Singapore.

  • Carl Gardner – will the surveillance project be effective, or become a white elephant that costs billions of pounds of taxpayer money (of course it will be very costly)? I oppose it from a financial point of view. This is especially the case with the Tories’ voodoo economics of no tax hike.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '17 - 10:09am

    @ Michael BG

    Please don’t respond to me as if I like what happened in the 2010-2015 government, and that’s why I’m writing what I have written. If any of what you said was possible, I would much prefer that it had happened.

    The line that you are putting here is destroying our party and handing the remnants to the political right. I want to defend our party and see it move back to the party it used to be that I was so happy to be a member of. Pushing the line that you are doing – that secretly underneath the party was much more right-wing than it made out, and could have achieved much more in the Coalition and just decided not to because it didn’t really want to, is what has smashed it to pieces. Why do you want to do that?

    Most of our party’s MPs were elected from constituencies where they were the main opposition to the Conservatives, and I think to suggest, as you do, that they formed a coalition with the Conservatives because that is what they preferred is wrong and HUGELY damaging to our party. Sorry, but it does seem to me that since a Conservative-LibDem coalition had a clear majority, and a Labour-LibDem coalition would have been a minority government, the former was the only realistic option. We should have made that clear from the start and pointed out that it is the distortional representation system that meant the alternative was ruled out.

    Since Vince Cable was in the middle of this, he more than anyone else is in a position to explain how negotiating with the Conservatives worked. I can only repeat my point that I don’t myself feel that the Conservatives could have been persuaded to have dropped their pledges to keep taxes down, and that therefore the costs of keeping funding of universities in terms of cuts to universities and other government services would have been very big. Under those circumstances I can see why concentrating on negotiating a generous loans system might have been seen as the better thing to do. However, as I said, the line should have been drawn on the imposition of high interest rates on the loans. And actually Vince Cable himself has made that point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '17 - 10:27am

    Thomas

    Carl Gardner, Michael BG, Matthew Huntback – You want a tough decision, then an all-around tax hike IS A TOUGH DECISION that all parties never attempt to do.

    As I have already said, in the West Midlands there are a few placenames ending in “-bach”, the only one of any size is Sandbach, but my surname derives from another place that used to exist with the same ending. It is not, and never has been since the name came into existence in the 12th century, been spelt with the last letter ‘k’. The last letter is ‘h’, and the “ach” ending is pronounced as the “ach” ending is pronounced in “attach” for example.

    Now, to repeat: yes, all-round tax hike is a tough decision, and the point I’m making is that we should use the tuition fees issue to be clear and honest about it. Tuition fees came about because without tax rises something on government spending had to give, and that was it. That is why we should push the line we did not accept tuition fees because we liked the idea. We accepted them because we had no choice due to the Conservatives not being willing to make the necessary tax increases, and therefore something was needed to save the university system without making big cuts elsewhere.

    We need honest talk about such things and we don’t get it. The disaster for our party was the way ad-men run the way is gets presented, and ad-men aren’t into honest talk, ad-men only think in terms of selling things by making out they are super-duper wonderful. Hence instead of honest talk about the compromises forced on us in the Coalition, it was sold as super-duper wonderful, and our party was destroyed because of that.

  • @ Thomas……..5.57am “Finally, you can still charge the current fees on international students and on those who study useless junks like Religious Studies or History.”

    I don’t know whether you’re trying to be provocative or have just come in after a heavy night….. whatever….. what you say involves discrimination against any kind of liberal education. Wisdom is needed in life and it doesn’t come from a mechanistic view of education.

    I also think that all politicians ought to be compelled to study history and to have a hinterland (as people like Denis Healey and Harold Wilson certainly had). For one thing, we would never have entered the Iraq War or Afghanistan if Blair had studied history…… it was also a revelation when Andrea Leadsom called Jane Austen one of our greatest living authors.

  • Neil Sandison 21st Aug '17 - 5:03pm

    Matthew Huntbach ” and our party was destroyed because of that ” Our party was damaged but not destroyed that is why some of us want to get these what if recriminations out of the way and fully engage in the fight back parish by parish ,ward by ward ,division by division seat by seat .That means a fresh agenda and new thinking and above all else lets stop self harming and obsessing about what happened 2 governments ago and take on the challenges of the future .

  • @ Neil Sandison What you say makes sense – but I’m still waiting for the radical policies the country (and the party) needs. Two brief thoughts –

    1. Vince has the ability to do this if he chooses. Whether he ought to say ‘The Coalition got it wrong sometimes’ is a moot point. I think he should. It could be his clause four moment with the electorate as well as the party.

    2.Taking up your theme of fighting ward by ward – this means fighting and campaigning and not putting up paper candidates then going home to watch the telly. Paper candidates are a self indulgence. To praise someone for “flying the flag” when they don’t even get the flag out of the bag is not serious politics and damages the brand.

    In no human activity does a lack of effort work – or deserve to work. If there is no substance in policies or the candidates’ efforts to get elected then the party is an empty vessel without echo or purpose – or any right to be regarded seriously.

  • @ Thomas

    Thank you for explaining what you meant by “short term” with regard to Capital Gains Tax. I think it would be a good idea. Student accommodation (especially if it is en suite) can generate general income for the university if they hire them out as part of using the venue for conferences and business training during holiday periods. I don’t accept that dropping out of university is a good thing. However I do think we need to invest in non-university training for business and industry. I expect many people feel that only certain subjects studied at university should be free, but I disagree. This is most likely because I went to university to study history and ended up with a degree in religious studies and then attempted to train as a teacher.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    I am sorry that you have the impression that I think you liked what happened 2010-15, it was not my intention (as I have read lots of your posts over the years), which is why I wrote, “if both parties’ MPs had wanted it, but I don’t think they did”.

    I believe that we could have got a better coalition deal and could have been more successful in the coalition government. I am surprised you disagree. At the time I had hoped that we would have made Britain a more liberal country being in government for 4 or 5 years.

    History will show that there were many Labour MPs who didn’t want to form a coalition government with us in 2010. There were many Liberal Democrat MPs who were not keen on being in coalition with Labour, Gordon Brown was a problem. Those Liberal Democrats who ditched our economic policy and wanted the Labour Party to agree to the Conservative economic policy were not living in the world of the possible and this was a factor in the failure of negotiations with Labour, of which there were many.

    I think you have stated that there were many MPs within the leadership group in 2010 who were more right-wing than the majority of the party.

    Yes there was a majority among the Parliamentary Party who felt more could be achieved with a coalition with the Conservatives than with the Labour Party; who felt it would be easier to deal long-term with the Conservatives than a Labour Party deeply wounded after its election defeat; who felt that it would be better to have a majority coalition government rather than a minority one.

    The coalition government didn’t keep taxes down, it increased VAT by 2.5% to 20%.

    You give the impression that the student tuition fee / graduate debt scheme of 2011 was a good decision. I disagree and I don’t think you can convince me to change my mind. The changes made by the Conservatives since the 2015 general election are further proof that the scheme was always going to be a problem. If you can’t convince me, a party member, then I don’t think you or the party can convince the general public or even those who voted for us in 2010.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '17 - 8:05am

    Michael BG

    You give the impression that the student tuition fee / graduate debt scheme of 2011 was a good decision.

    No, No, NO!!!, NO!!!!!!!

    You have COMPLETELY MISSED the point I was making.

    Please try reading what I wrote rather than jumping to this false and offensive conclusion about me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '17 - 8:45am

    Michael BG

    I believe that we could have got a better coalition deal and could have been more successful in the coalition government. I am surprised you disagree.

    So how do you think the Liberal Democrats could have forced the Conservatives to drop their own policies and pledges and support Liberal Democrat ones?

    History will show that there were many Labour MPs who didn’t want to form a coalition government with us in 2010.

    Yes, this why the Liberal Democrats had very little power in the coalition. A Labour-LibDem coalition was not viable, so the LibDems did not have the negotiating power of being able to say “If you don’t agree to change your policies to ours, we’ll form a coalition with Labour”. Labour could see it was better for them to be in opposition, and to blame us for what happened in the coalition so that we were destroyed and the two-party system restored. Labour gave us no support or acknowledgement when we did try and challenge the Conservatives, and this was an additional feature in weakening our ability to get anything out of the Coalition.

    The coalition government didn’t keep taxes down, it increased VAT by 2.5% to 20%.

    Yes, that’s the sort of tax the Conservatives most like. How do you suppose the Liberal Democrats could have forced the Conservatives on top of this to accept massive increases in other taxes in order to carry on funding universities? I really, really wish that would have been possible, because that is what I really would have wanted to see – completely the opposite to the nasty and untrue claim you have made about me – but I don’t think it was possible.

    The point I am trying to make is that the supposition that is often made that a small third party can get whatever it wants out of a coalition with a much large party (in terms of number of MPs) is completely false. If you look at how coalition work elsewhere, they never work like that.

    The small parties that can get the most out of coalitions are those where what they want can easily be given without much of a bigger effect on everything else. So, a party which is based in just a small part of the country and just wants benefits for that part can do much better than a party which is spread out across the whole country, for example. A one-issue party whose supporters don’t care about anything else an do much better than a multi-issue party. The Liberal Democrats aren’t either of those. The DUP is.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '17 - 9:07am

    Michael BG

    If you can’t convince me, a party member, then I don’t think you or the party can convince the general public or even those who voted for us in 2010.

    It was always going to be difficult, thanks to the false expectations people have about what a small party can achieve in a coalition. However, it did not help that from the “Rose Garden” onwards, the leadership of the party did everything it could to make things worse.

    It should have been stated clearly right at the start and onwards that this was a “miserable little compromise” forced on us by the way people voted and the distortions of the electoral system. Putting out messages like “75% of our policies achieved” that exaggerated our influence was just about the worst thing that could have been done, and it has led to you making these false conclusions and assumptions. The message that should have been put out should have made it clear that this was a government whose MPs were 85% Conservative, and therefore its policies would reflect that.

    It should also have been very clearly stated that if a Labour-LibDem coalition was viable, then Labour needed to put forward what policies it would have put in place in such a coalition, rather than just lazily attacking us without giving any real clear alternative. E.g. just how WOULD Labour have paid to keep universities going?

  • David Raw – Well, basic history should be taught properly at high school. But for running government, we need technocrats who know exactly what to do than professional politicians. British taxpayers mat have no problem with free STEM courses at unis, but many will have problem with those who studying Bibles for free.

    Michael BG – And for unis, as I said, keeping early years incredibly difficult like in Germany is also a way to prevent the proportion of graduates from reaching 40-50% or more, which is very likely with free universities. We only need 30% of young people at most to go to unis, and the others should go to vocational training schemes. Meanwhile, the vast majority of those who survive will be the best and brightest ones. Another way is to make the application round harder, maybe by increasing admission requirements or by adding standardized entrance exams.

    Here are some explanations from the German themselves. Basically, no sideshow spending in German universities. Nothing that could cost money that is not directly related to teaching, research or administration.
    https://www.quora.com/Why-does-Germany-offer-free-university-education-to-international-students-From-what-I-know-Germany-offers-free-university-education-to-international-even-non-EU-students-How-does-it-benefit-Germany-How-does-Germany-fund-such-a-huge-program

    David Raw – there are plenty of radical policies, many of which are neglected by other parties.
    The first one is a pro-growth economic policy rather than balancing the book: we can drop the pledge to balance the book within one term and instead promise higher growth. Nationalization of certain public services, especially railway, is also a radical one. Next is tougher foreign takeover laws and the creation of a public body equivalent to Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States with power to block foreign takeovers outright when necessary. Another policy is one to cut down trade deficits, which seem to have been accepted as default by major parties. The last one is abolishing NHS internal market.

  • There doesn’t seem much point to reply to someone who wishes to abolish the study of history – and religious studies – at University level, to have a wastage rate of students dropping out by up to 50% – and wants technocrats rather than democratically elected politicians to run the country.

    Not sure what sort of ‘ism it is, probably confusedism, but it sure ain’t democratic liberalism. End of.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Aug '17 - 11:52am

    @David Raw “There doesn’t seem much point to reply to someone who wishes to abolish the study of history – and religious studies …”
    There is definitely an important debate to be had about the relative importance to the country of different academic and vocational subjects for study in further and higher education (as well as at earlier stages) and how that should influence decisions about promoting, providing and funding the study of those subjects.
    This might lead to some uncomfortable discussions and decisions, particularly for Lib Dems, and STEM vs. arts & humanities is an important feature of that.

  • @ Peter Watson “There is definitely an important debate to be had about the relative importance to the country of different academic and vocational subjects”. Yes, indeed. and I’m happy to plead guilty to believing in a liberal education which I would hope this party would also believe in.

    I was influenced by my old Prof, R.S. Peters, at the London Institute of Education. His work ‘Ethics & Education’ is, I believe the seminal work. He rejects a mechanistic and utilitarian system of education – as I do. Peters never explicitly talked about wisdom as being an aim of education. He does, however, in numerous places, emphasize that education is of the whole person and that, whatever else it might be about, it involves the development of knowledge and understanding. Being educated is incompatible with being narrowly specialized. Moreover, he argues, education enables a person to have a different perspective on things, ‘to travel with a different view’.

    A philosophical view of the aims of education is serious stuff and not to be kicked around with snap judgements and cliches. Here’s a link for consideration about what amounts to a liberal education :

    Philosophy of Education in the Perspective of Professor R. S. Peters
    R. S. Peters and J. H. Newman on the Aims of Education
    Jānis (John) T. Ozoliņš
    Pages 153-170 | Published online: 21 Jan 2013

  • Peter Watson 22nd Aug '17 - 1:23pm

    @David Raw “Being educated is incompatible with being narrowly specialized.”
    One of my biggest concerns about the current education system, particularly at 16 but also at 14, is that it forces narrow specialisation. The recent changes to A-levels, sadly supported by Lib Dems in Coalition, seem to worsen this and move in completely the wrong direction by making it less likely that students will even choose a 4th subject to study at 16. i would like to see academically-inclined students follow a broader curriculum to 18 (followed by a pre-university foundation year to support specialisation when children are better able to make such important choices).

  • Peter Watson 22nd Aug '17 - 1:28pm

    @David Raw “He rejects a mechanistic and utilitarian system of education – as I do.”
    I would argue strongly against any suggestion that prioritising STEM over arts & humanities requires a “mechanistic and utilitarian system of education”.
    So many of the technological advances that have revolutionised our lives, whether in IT, medicine, engineering, etc. are the result of creativity and imagination which rivals that of any author or painter.

  • David Raw – so it should be like 50% of all young people going to unis uncontrolled, which will rise with free tuition fee. There must be solutions. The first one is to raise admission standards. The second one, the German approach, is to make the first years incredibly hard to make 50% of students drop out, but a strong vocational system is needed to absorbed them.

    https://www.quora.com/Why-does-Germany-offer-free-university-education-to-international-students-From-what-I-know-Germany-offers-free-university-education-to-international-even-non-EU-students-How-does-it-benefit-Germany-How-does-Germany-fund-such-a-huge-program

    I am not saying historical and religious studies must be abolished, but if we cannot provide free uni for all, then those who study things like Bibles must be sacrificed (I mean, must pay fee) for those who study STEM and business and even arts, since religious students contribute nothing to economic development. But I believe eventually, we should find a way to offer free tuition fee for all university students including history students.

    All I want to say is that something must be done to make free university sustainable and totally credible. If we cannot find a solution to make it free right away for all, those who study religions and history may have to be sacrificed until a long-term measure can be found. International students, of course, must still have to pay in full.
    Another way that I strongly advocate is slashing all things that could cost money which are not directly related to teaching, research or administration to make free unis sustainable. This means: No college/university sports clubs (maybe private organized groups, but nothing from the university), no social programs, no scholarships, no fund raising, no social life, no dormitories (although there might be cheap apartment blocks owned by the student union, which is not part of the university).

    I mean, to make free unis sustainable, we should make universities true universities, not extended high schools, which means all spending must go to research and teaching only.

  • Peter Watson – “many of the technological advances that have revolutionised our lives, whether in IT, medicine, engineering, etc. are the result of creativity and imagination which rivals that of any author or painter” – But very likely not from those who study stuff like Bibles or Classics. I actually never disagree with arts being important. I am well aware of what you say as well as a fact that creative industry is a major sector.

    Anyway, if more students study Arts and Humanities than STEM and Business, there would be workforce imbalances and a potential waste of human capital.

  • With no disrespect to any of the commentators, this thread reminds me of the old Indian fable of the blind men describing the elephant. Trouble is that the general electorate just see the elephant. Do you think anybody with any influence in this party read threads like this? At the end of the day it’s about politics and the general public is pretty simplistic about these things. Even the Tories are talking about the Student Loan Scheme being unacceptable. Can you imagine how we would feel if the next Tory manifesto proposed a cap of £3K on fees. So if this thread just fades into history and we are plunged into another G.E. with no resolution or agreed song sheet, I’m not optimistic.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Aug '17 - 4:44pm

    @P.J. “plunged into another G.E. with no resolution or agreed song sheet”
    I agree that this is a real danger for Lib Dems. Other than a clear position of opposing Brexit (well, “clear” when the party avoids muddying the water by talking about “respecting the outcome of the referendum, departure not destination, yadda yadda” and simply acknowledges it still backs Bremain), the party still looks directionless on tuition fees and much else. Worse still, a combination of incompetence and hypocrisy (amongst other things) means that Lib Dems have allowed tuition fees in particular to become a ridiculously heavy albatross around the neck of the party given the relative unimportance of the issue per se compared to many others.
    I think the public discussions on this site are important, even if only to present the Lib Dem case to a small but engaged audience, but it is the less public discussions of “anybody with any influence” that are vital to the survival of the party and I would hope that some of those people do visit this site!

  • Peter Watson 22nd Aug '17 - 5:17pm

    Ooops. HTML fail: only per se should be italicised.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '17 - 5:51pm

    Thomas

    then those who study things like Bibles must be sacrificed

    If you follow this link:

    http://www.newman.ac.uk/single-and-joint-honours/3661/theology-ba-hons?#tab-struc

    you will see the curriculum for a Theology degree. You will see that your supposition that a Theology degree means nothing but study of Bibles is somewhat incorrect.

  • Peter Watson – They could have vastly simplified the tuition fee issue by abolishing it via raising general taxation. Keep it simple, man. I have never seen the German or other European folks trying to separate graduates and non-graduates regarding university funding.

    For Brexit, I prefer the party either to fully back Remain or to fully commit to Norwegian EEA model.

    I have read an article on the Guardian which reported that in 2015 a group of Libdems pressured Clegg to abolish NHS internal market as a desperate measure. Now it’s the time to do so, as even Labour has not yet to propose a similar measure. Also, don’t forget to repeal the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, it’s a must-do thing. Finally, introducing a health care tax (maybe 2% on all income bands) now instead of “in the long run”. Doing all will make Libdems become the most radical party in healthcare.

    But I will be very happy if Libdems drop the “balancing the book after 1 term” like commitment like every other party, and shift their focus on economic and productivity growth (e.g. raising growth to over 2.5% or over 3% by the end of the term), with several policies like turning British Business Bank into a big and powerful body, £250bn borrowing for investments instead of £150bn only like in the previous manifesto with £50bn investments in automation technology, making trade deficit reduction a core pillar, developing domestic manufacturing supply chain (or IMPORT SUBSTITUTION under another term), investing in energy efficiency tech while scrapping Hinkey and aggressively pushing for wind and tidal energy (going back to pre-2010 stance) and so on.

    P.J. – as I said, it will be simple if we just, well, raise general taxation to fund free universities and ignore the graduates vs non-graduates argument. Separating graduates and non-graduates makes things complicated, not to mention that non-graduate parents with children going to unis will be happy to pay. I am actually shocked to see someone trying to do so. This is unthinkable in Germany.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40496778
    Well, Saudi Arabia is found to be the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a new report has claimed.
    Tackling this therefore is consistent with our platform of banning/reviewing arms exports to Saudi Arabia, you know. This means, Saudi Arabia can be used as a scapegoat in the next election, and the party should do so as enthusiastically as it did with ”dementia tax”. So, there should be a “Saudi Arabia bashing” stance in foreign policy.

    Finally, an anti-foreign takeover platform seems to be necessary and popular these days. Perhaps a pledge to create a public body similar to Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (which has blocked countless Chinese takeover bids until now) with power to block foreign takeovers outright when necessary is a right move. The Conservatives can and should be absolutely crushed in debates for promising to toughen takeover laws and then letting Arms Holdings to be acquired by Softbank. In France, Softbank would have already crossed the red line if they tried to buy a similar firm.

  • @ Thomas “religious students contribute nothing to economic development.”

    If that’s not utilitarian and illiberal I don’t know what is. It i knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing….. which is odd given that I agree with the more general policies you outlined at the end of your post at 9.56 am.

    A last question. Would you apply your view on university finances to the NHS and give treatment only to those who can make “a future contribution to economic development” ?

    @ Matthew Huntbach. As usual, makes a valid point from a traditional Liberal viewpoint..

  • nvelope2003 22nd Aug '17 - 9:05pm

    Thomas: How would nationalisation, especially of the railways, improve matters ? We had it for 40 years and according to the senior Labour politician Herbert Morrison, who was a firm believer in it before he entered Government, it was the main source of complaints from the public and he advised the party not to proceed with any more. I seem to recall that when the nationalised industries were privatised most of the opposition came from unions who were worried about more efficient methods being introduced.

    It is interesting that the part of the National Rail system that is subject to most problems and complaints is the Southern which is the part which is subject to most Government control. It is run by the Government under a management contract and is not a free standing franchise. The much praised London Overground is actually operated by a private company unlike the not so popular Underground.

    If History is not to be studied at University who would teach the subject at high schools as teachers are supposed to have a university degree, preferably in the subject that they teach ?

  • nvelope2003 22nd Aug '17 - 9:14pm

    There are many problems facing the Liberal Democrats and things like the broken promise on tuition fees have not helped but the main reason that two thirds of their supporters have deserted them is that they did not know what the party stood for and many of them were protest voters or tactical voters, When they found out the party was a committed supporter of the EU and mass immigration they abandoned the party and are unlikely to return unless policies more relevant to their needs are proposed. I think we can be sure that this is unlikely to happen. Where are the new supporters going to come from ? I have been a supporter since I was a teenager but I have given up hope now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '17 - 9:16pm

    P.J.

    Can you imagine how we would feel if the next Tory manifesto proposed a cap of £3K on fees.

    But here we go – you talk about this as if it is an entirely separate isolated policy with no connection to anything else.

    Politics doesn’t work like that.

    If that was in the Tory manifesto, they’d also have to have how they’d pay for it. What big increases in tax should there be? Or would they pay for it just by closing down all universities but two?

    Well? Would it make no difference which of these were the way done? You seem to think not, or to be so innumerate as not to realise it is rather an issue

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    If your position is that university tuition should be paid for from general taxation you don’t make this clear. You emphasise that if our MPs had kept their pledge there would have been dire consequences. This is why people often are given the impression that if you had been one of our MPs you would have broken your pledge and voted to increase student tuition fees. I think I have made it clear that if I had been an MP I would not have broken my person pledge and would have lived with the consequences.

    I believed that the Conservatives would have given more than they gave during the coalition negotiations. They would have accepted that our MPs would not vote to increase student tuition fees. A more difficult question is how far they would have accepted delaying deficit reduction until the year 2011-12 and not doing it for 2010-11 and if they would have compromised on a lower figure than £17bn of cuts closer to our highest figure of £11bn and not cut the capital investment budget by £11bn in 2010-11.

    There was a desire on the part of our MPs to do things rather than just keeping to the coalition agreement. As the Conservatives did not have a majority we had to agree to everything the government did; we had a veto and we should have used it more. The Conservatives understood this and they stopped House of Lords reform.

    It is the coalition negotiations that I am considering and not deals attempted during the coalition. Therefore the position of the Labour Party during the Parliament is not really relevant. If the coalition agreement had stated Liberal Democrat MPs can vote against any increase in tuition fees, then the section about Lord Browne’s final report might well have needed changing to include protecting university sector funding as the state of the economy allows and within our deficit reduction targets. When Browne’s report came out I don’t know if it could have been rejected and a graduate tax considered for increasing the funding of universities in a more gradual way and within a ring–fence that wouldn’t affect the deficit. I don’t know what objections Conservatives would have made to such a scheme. All I know is Vince has not told us he even tried to go down this route. Did we suggest at the time of the Browne report increasing the university grant linked to annual increases in Capital Gains Tax? I don’t think we even suggested it.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    To be clear I am not saying we could get whatever we wanted from the Conservatives. I am saying we could have got a better coalition agreement and we could have tried to fund increased university finance by other means rather than by increasing tuition fees or the rates of income tax.

    @ Thomas

    I don’t understand why it is a good thing for anyone to go to university to fail and therefore for the system to be based on the idea that two-thirds of students will fail. If we wish to discourage people from going to university we should offer better alternatives. If we wish to limit the numbers going to university then we should do so. The answer is not for people to study for a year or two or three and then end up with nothing because they were unsuitable.

    As I stated many share your view that certain subjects should be free and others should be paid for. I just happen not to agree. (Religious Studies is not just about studying the Bible, it includes other religions and for me the history of religions and their development. One of my courses included the Epic of Gilgamesh [one of my friends wrote an essay on it]. Understanding other religions is useful, not everything is about economic production.)

    @ PJ

    I can’t imagine the Conservatives having a policy of cutting tuition fees to £3,000 and funding the rest out of general taxation.

    @ nvelope2003

    It is believed that in the past we had more supporters among those with degrees; those working in the public sector; and those who were in middle management. If we had as our number one issue reducing economic inequalities I would hope we could again appeal to these sections of the population. However I am concerned that until we address the tuition fee /graduate debt issue many within these groups will not consider us for a long time to come. There seem to be three groups – those who want to fund university tuition fees from general taxation; those who think it is not feasible to do so because the public will not support it and those who suggest a graduate tax as a compromise. We need to have a conference debate on these options and have the opportunity to vote for them using STV to settle this issue and have a clear position in our next manifesto. We can’t wait until after the next general election which might not be until 2022.

  • Michael BG – I also talked about tightening admission requirements. But when seeing German and Austrian students calling Anglo-Saxon unis “not true unis but extended high schools” and calling their curriculum and exams “a joke”, then there is definitely a problem in teaching and assessment standards.

    You also ignore half of my point. When I talked about the German approach, which is to make the first years incredibly hard to make 50% of students drop out, I also said that we need a strong vocational training system to pick up these students.

    I never said that Religious and History studies must be abolished (but they must be abolished if some new universities convert themselves back to their former polytechnic status). But if we can only manage to have a partially free system, then these students must pay, not STEM students. Of course history and religious students are needed but not in large number.

    There are rooms for general tax hikes, as you know, all European countries with free unis have higher tax rates than than the UK.

    David Raw – the main difference is that in education, most of the time students have alternative choices, but in healthcare, well, not really.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug ’17 – 9:16pm
    ‘Well? Would it make no difference which of these were the way done? You seem to think not, or to be so innumerate as not to realise it is rather an issue’

    I could be quite offended by that but I don’t go in for that sort of pretentious nonsense. Whilst I hold you in high esteem, your obvious intelligence does make you vulnerable to arrogance at times.

    I understand the point you are making about policies having to be paid for. I just don’t agree with you. It is just so LibDem for you to rationalise, and justify what happened on Student Fees. But it was POLITICAL SUICIDE. Until this party starts getting more savvy we have no chance. Compare this with the way the Tories handles Phil Hammond’s increase in NI for self employed. Perfectly rational to find a extra £2.0 billion through this route without technically breaking their pledge not to raise taxes but they were not prepared to upset white van man because they vote Tory. They found the money somewhere else. The Tories are the ruthless when it comes to politics first. They have a way of finding money when it is politically prudent. Ask the DUP. Do you really think they are going to present the youth and student vote to Corbyn, on a plate and gift wrapped. Not a chance. They will make an offer in that department and when they do we will just look stupid.
    When it comes to ‘numeracy’, anybody who knew anything about me would find that laughable.
    When It comes to finding money I would start by looking at capital Gains tax allowances (unjustifiable). Then lets have a look at the way we assess multinational tax liabilities. Land Value Capture (not LVT). HS2 and Hinkley Point. Bottom line is that we could increase corporation tax without damaging the economy. British industry is sat on a cash mountain at the moment. But at the end of the day that is all redistribution. We need to look at stimulating growth in high value added industries (might need graduates for that).

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '17 - 11:48am

    Michael BG

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    If your position is that university tuition should be paid for from general taxation you don’t make this clear.

    Yes, that is my position and I have made it very clear. Again and again I have stated that my personal preference would be for university tuition to be paid by increasing inheritance tax or some other way in which income for government services obtained by taking out some of the money sucked into inflating property into ridiculously high prices, such as Land Value Tax.

    However, it is noticeable that when one suggests such things, others go silent or attack you using lines like “you only support that because of envy”, “that’s unfair, it’s taxing twice and so on”. I notice that when the protests about tuition fees took place none of those people protesting actually put on the other side of their banners “Pay for it by inheritance tax” or “Pay for it by LVT”, and I wonder why not? Just perhaps because they mostly had wealthy middle class parents with property to inherit from them and as such weren’t really prepared to put their money where their mouths were?

    I can say for sure the Tories would never have accepted anything like this – though note that when they suggested paying for social care from property prices, which was denounced as “dementia tax”, that was the key factor in their suddenly losing out and Corbyn’s Labour shooting up in support.

    If it couldn’t be paid this way, I’d support payment for university tuition by general income tax, but the reality is that the Conservatives in 2010 would never have agreed to that, because that was against all their pledges.

    So this is the issue. Politics works by having to come to agreements. If one cannot get enough support for what is one’s ideal, one may have to end up agreeing to support something which is not one’s ideal because the alternative that is proposed by the others is even worse.

    Why is this such a difficult point for people like you to grasp?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '17 - 12:06pm

    P.J.

    When It comes to finding money I would start by looking at capital Gains tax allowances (unjustifiable). Then lets have a look at the way we assess multinational tax liabilities. Land Value Capture (not LVT). HS2 and Hinkley Point. Bottom line is that we could increase corporation tax without damaging the economy.

    Sure, yes, but this is missing my point. There are two separate issues:

    i) What we think is the best way of dealing with something.

    ii) What the Conservatives would accept as the way to deal with something.

    The Conservatives were all in favour of cutting Corporation Tax, and I very much doubt in 2010 they would have agreed to having big increases in it in order to satisfy the Liberal Democrats on university tuition.

    My understanding is that the original agreement was for all LibDem MPs to abstain on tuition fees, but that some insisted on keeping to their pledge, and as a result others (mainly those with government posts) felt they had to go the other way. If I were a LibDem MP back then, and had made the pledge, I feel I would have had to keep to that pledge. However, I can also understand then the dilemma of those LibDems with government posts as the Tories turned round to them and said “Well, how ARE you going to pay for it?”.

    The underlying problem here is this failure to grasp the concept of politics being about coming to an agreement. So the agreement one comes to at the end may not be one’s ideal, it may be quite a severe compromise agreed only because the alternatives would have been even worse.

    As a university lecturer, I have to be grateful for the Liberal Democrats for what happened, as it did save the university system. The alternative would have been big cuts in order to pay for it, and I may well have lost my job. Points like this need to be made, but they haven’t been.

    I do quite agree that the coalition dilemma was made much, much worse by the way the LibDem leadership handled it, pushing it as something wonderful, rather than making it clear that it was a miserable little compromise forced on us.

  • P.J – I want to increase all kinds of taxes that can be increased: income tax (by 1.5-3% on all income bands), corporate tax (to 22-25% – still below OECD average), capital gain tax (short-term CGT to 40%, but keep long-term CGT unchanged), inheritance tax, followed by introducing land value capture, while cutting VAT by 1-2%. If land value capture is effective, then income tax (lower bands) can be reduced. Don’t worry, such tax hikes will not make our tax rate higher than that of France or Belgium.

    I think it’s possible to abolish tuition fees via general taxation and assume that the graduate vs non-graduate argument never exists. Corbyn has proven that such argument is never as strong as we believe.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '17 - 12:29pm

    P.J.

    They have a way of finding money when it is politically prudent. Ask the DUP. Do you really think they are going to present the youth and student vote to Corbyn, on a plate and gift wrapped. Not a chance. They will make an offer in that department and when they do we will just look stupid.

    Sure, which is why we should have said in the first place, and made it very clear in the 2015 and 2017 general elections, that the tuition fees and loans system was NOT our ideal, but rather a compromise forced on us because the Conservatives refused the tax increases that would have been necessary to give us what was our ideal and what remains our ideal.

    Regarding the DUP, they are in a somewhat different position to us. It is far easier for a junior coalition partner to get its requirements met if it is a regional party, so those requirements can be met just by doing things in their region. The costs of dumping money in Northern Ireland to satisfy the DUP is quite small compared to the costs of spending more money across the rest of the UK to meet LibDem requirements. Also, had another general election been held in 2011 on the grounds that no satisfactory government could be formed in 2010, it is likely the LibDems would have been the big losers – Labour and the Conservatives would have combined to ensure that, as they did in the AV referendum. The DUP have no fear of anything like that – I rather doubt that their voters are going to swing to voting for Sinn Fein in disgust at them backing the Tory minority government. Thus the Tories cannot use the threat that they were able to use with us: “If you ask for more, we’ll just call another general election and blame you for it”.

  • Matthew Huntbach – big loser, but would not become a party of 8% with 8 seats. At least the students were on our side at that time.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Aug '17 - 1:50pm

    @Thomas
    ” I am not saying historical and religious studies must be abolished, but if we cannot provide free uni for all, then those who study things like Bibles must be sacrificed (I mean, must pay fee) for those who study STEM and business and even arts, since religious students contribute nothing to economic development.”

    Clearly written by someone who is self-evidently clueless about the subjects which he so casually suggests should be sacrificed on the altar of STEM, and subjects which he deems ‘useful.’

    It’s not an either-or situation unless one is perfectly comfortable with an entire cohort of young people purposely being denied access to a liberal education.

    The utilitarian utopia you advocate is undesirable and downright dangerous unless one hopes to emulate Singapore or other East Asian states, which probably explains why access to liberal education comes in the form of their students coming to the West to benefit from our model of a well-rounded education.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle “Clearly written by someone who is self-evidently clueless about the subjects which he so casually suggests should be sacrificed on the altar of STEM, and subjects which he deems ‘useful.’”

    Well said, Helen. He probably thinks J.H. Newman starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Aug '17 - 2:14pm

    David Raw

    LOL. Quite.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Aug '17 - 3:59pm

    @Helen Tedcastle & @David Raw
    In Thomas’ defence (though I feel that he has made his point rather bluntly), in the context of funding tertiary education, it is valid to raise the issue of whether or not all academic subjects should be treated equally. And if they should not, then how should decisions be made? A current example of this is the provision of bursaries to encourage graduates to train as teachers: they are primarily targeted at STEM subjects where there are insufficient candidates. But I do not believe that even a “utilitarian” basis for choosing “useful” subjects would necessarily lead to a binary STEM / non-STEM split.

    I’m not aware that we are suffering from a shortage of historians, theologians, art historians and literary critics, unless the Remain campaign kept quiet about that risk after Brexit! 😉 So what is wrong with providing encouragement and incentives throughout the education system for more young people to become scientists, medics, engineers, programmers, etc., but ideally very well-rounded ones, even if this means disincentives to study certain other subjects.

    So many issues collide here though, including philosophical debates on the purpose of education and political arguments about its provision, that I feel I’m tip-toeing into a bit of a minefield …

  • @ Thomas

    I never said you said that Religious and History studies must be abolished. I did mention offering better alternatives to university which would include your example – “strong vocational training system”.

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    I am sorry you make the debate so personal. I am glad you made it clear you want to pay for student tuition out of general taxation. I think you should always makes this clear so people do not misinterpret what you are writing.

    I would not disagree with there being a national LVT on non-residential land. I am not in favour of increasing inheritance tax, but would be persuaded to reform it to apply the non-taxed part to individuals rather than as on the whole inheritance no matter how it is broken up. The use of Capital Gains Tax as my suggestion was because we had the policy of increasing it in our manifesto, unlike your two suggestions. You might be correct that the Conservatives would not have agreed, but it seems that we didn’t even try alternatives to increasing tuitions fees and student debt.

    Your reply to P J is a much more nuanced comment than I have seen you post. I am glad to see that you think you would have kept your pledge if you were an MP. What I don’t understand is how anyone could live with themselves if they made an election pledge and could have kept it (like about a third of our MPs did) but decided not to. For me breaking one’s personal election pledge is beyond the pale and the fact that some people didn’t lose their jobs because of it does not make it the right thing to do. I imagine there are lots of voters who agree with me. If this is the case, we need to have a party position that abolishes tuition fees and the resulting student debt. I think the leadership of the party will not include funding university from general taxation in our next manifesto (even if we passed another motion at conference restating our position) therefore I am pushing a graduate tax as a compromise we could get into our next manifesto and move our public position on tuition fees in the right direction.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '17 - 2:56pm

    Michael BG

    You might be correct that the Conservatives would not have agreed, but it seems that we didn’t even try alternatives to increasing tuitions fees and student debt.

    The alternative would have been to reduce costs by making massive cuts to universities.

    In theory, if raising tuition fees were stopped, but the Conservatives did not agree to anything else to replace them, universities would suddenly find themselves with a third of the income that they need.

    If that were done, it would keep the pledge. Would that have been good?

    The point I am making is that somehow the idea is getting across that what a Coalition that is five-sixth Conservative and one-sixth Liberal Democrat puts out as policies is the same as what a government that is 100% Liberal Democrat would put out. Hence the claims like yours that the Liberal Democrats could somehow have got anything they wanted out of the Coalition, and whatever they voted for as a Coalition compromise is what the Liberal Democrats now think is better than their previous policies.

    We need to break that sort of false assumption. Not to carry on damaging our party by pushing it ourselves, along with our opponents also pushing it.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    For the good of this party, let me try one last time:
    Please see my post 17th Aug ’17 – 12:47pm.
    I do understand the point you are making.
    Please understand that I am not sat day dreaming on this issue.
    I had it thrown in my face door step, after door step, after door step.
    If we go into another election without this being resolved the same will happen. Once you have lost one element of the sell it is very difficult to turn people around no matter how much you try to deflect and move the agenda on.

  • Matthew Huntbach – There is one thing that I must agree with you. The worst thing is that Liberal Democrats adopted previous Coalition compromises as their main stance in various issues, such as Hinkey Point/nuclear power or, well, tuition fees, especially when the party opposed both of them pre-Coalition.

    Helen Tedcastle – Chinese, Vietnamese…many of course, but Singaporeans, Japanese…not sure. Not to mention that these people mainly flock to STEM or Business courses in Western countries.

    Helen Tedcastle, Peter Watson, David Raw – It is a fact that there are some mickey-mouse degrees that are created to suck up money from hard-working parents and taxpayers and to hide the true unemployment figures: Dance, Happiness Degree (no joke), Ancient History, Photography, Drama, Hairdressing, Child Studies, Media Studies, Sport Studies, Holocaust Studies, Stand Up Comedy bla bla bla. Students who are intellectually inferior and cannot apply for better courses tend to go for them. The vast majority of these students would normally end up in KFC or McDonalds without any hope to repay their debts in their lifetime. Government should not fund these scams if universities are publicly-funded. Those who study such useless degrees should go to trade schools instead.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    As we both would not have voted to increase tuition fees, if we assume our position had been taken by all our MPs, then we along-side them would have had to fight to defend universities budgets within the government. I accept we would have needed Nick Clegg to have taken the same position, then we / he could have vetoed particular spending cuts. A huge problem for us in coalition was accepting the Conservative faster deficit reduction measures rather than holding out for a compromise between both parties’ election manifesto positions. The tuition fee issue is part of this huge failure on our part. We should never have said the UK is like Greece.

    I think keeping ones’ personal pledge is good. I think accepting students will come out of university with £27,000 of debt is bad. Reducing the number of lecturers working in universities is likely to be a bad thing. Reducing the number of students who can go to university is a bad thing. Being an elected representative is about making difficult choices. I cannot argue that accepting students can come out of university with £27,000 of debt is a price worth paying to keep the number of lecturers working in universities the same and keeping the number of university places the same. You seem to be able to do so.

    @ P J

    Do you have any comment to make on – “I think the leadership of the party will not include funding university from general taxation in our next manifesto (even if we passed another motion at conference restating our position)”?

    @ Thomas

    When I went to university (late 1970’s early 1980’s) my university offered a degree in Media Studies, as I expect others did, and many people would have found that degree useful in furthering their career. I think Drama was also offered. Ancient History degrees have been available for far longer. Can you name the universities that offer a degree in Happiness? I could only find a MA in Philosophy of Health and Happiness at Birmingham. Do you have any evidence regarding what degrees people took who are working at KFC or McDonalds?

  • @Michael BG
    ‘students can come out of university with £27,000 of debt’
    That is just the tuition fees. With maintenance loans this figure is more likely to be in the region of £45,000. With 6% interest compounded that would mean them owing approx £80,500 after ten years if they did not pass the repayment threshold (bit of numeracy Matthew).

    ‘I think the leadership of the party will not include funding university from general taxation in our next manifesto’

    Then unless there is a dominating issue of the day on which we have a distinctive position (I don’t think there will be despite Brexit), I fear we will have a very hard sell. Candidates will have to start running highly individualised campaigns a bit like Norman Lamb did.

    ‘(even if we passed another motion at conference restating our position)’

    Then the leadership would have to resign. We are already under fire on our democratic credentials. To be internally undemocratic would destroy the party.
    For a party with such a noble constitution we do seem to make life difficult for ourselves.
    I keep my fingers crossed.

  • @ P J

    My £27,000 figures comes from what our MPs knew they were agreeing to; it doesn’t include the Conservative changes which give you your £45,000 figure, which make a bad thing even worse.

    In the 2017 manifesto we had, “Establish a review of higher education finance in the next parliament to consider any necessary reforms, in the light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation and quality”.

    You have more confidence in the leadership than I do. As a first step perhaps you should write a motion for one of next years’ conferences setting out your preferred policy for conference to discuss. Then if it was passed it might end up in the draft manifesto, but if it didn’t you could try to amend the motion supporting the draft manifesto to get it included (I am not sure how easy that is).

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '17 - 5:34am

    Michael BG

    I cannot argue that accepting students can come out of university with £27,000 of debt is a price worth paying to keep the number of lecturers working in universities the same and keeping the number of university places the same. You seem to be able to do so.

    No, the point I am actually making is that if you vote for a party that puts the emphasis on keeping taxes down without considering what is needed to pay for services we have expect to be provided by government, this is the sort of thing that is likely to happen.

    It happened because more people voted Conservative in 2010 than any other party, and the distortional electoral system then ruled out any government except a Conservative-dominated one. It weakened the Liberal Democrats, to the point where all they really could do was swing things a little if the Conservatives themselves were fairly evenly divided.

    As I have said, there is loads of money going around that could be taxed to pay for things like this – and I mean money going through inflater property prices through inheritance. Why should someone get £200,000 tax free just because they have the right parents, while someone who earns it through work has to pay a lot of tax on it? Wouldn’t it be better if that £200,000 were taxed to pay for someone’s university tuition?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '17 - 5:38am

    P.J.

    That is just the tuition fees. With maintenance loans this figure is more likely to be in the region of £45,000. With 6% interest compounded that would mean them owing approx £80,500 after ten years if they did not pass the repayment threshold (bit of numeracy Matthew).

    Oh sure. I have already said that I could just about accept the tuition fees and loans system if there really was no better alternative the Conservatives were willing to accept – but with the interest added to it, and the ending of maintenance grants as well, no.

    The original argument was that in practice the loans system wouldn’t really cost any more than would have to be paid in tax anyway. With the 6% interest, that falls apart.

  • Peter Watson 26th Aug '17 - 9:22am

    @Michael BG “My £27,000 figures comes from what our MPs knew they were agreeing to; it doesn’t include the Conservative changes which give you your £45,000 figure”
    Isn’t the extra £18k the maintenance loan which was always part of the system? Lib Dem MPs voted for the changes to the repayment terms for that loan which included an interest rate which increases the size of the unpaid loan in real terms and an extension of the repayment period (as well as raising the repayment threshold).

  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    “I have already said that I could just about accept the tuition fees and loans system if there really was no better alternative the Conservatives were willing to accept”

    And I couldn’t. And you have already stated you wouldn’t have voted for it because you would have kept your tuition fee pledge.

    There was an alternative to increasing tuition fees and that was making no change and seeing university funding reduced with possibly some lecturer redundancies and reduction in student places. Our MPs could have chosen that alternative while keeping their personal pledge, just because there were more Conservative MPs than Liberal Democrat MPs didn’t make it inevitable. It was a choice. We vetoed other policies e.g. £12bn cuts to welfare. This is why your argument that because there were more Conservative MPs than Liberal Democrat ones we had no choice is not correct and will never convince those who voted for us in 2010 to vote for us again in a future general election.

    @ Peter Watson

    The interest rate set in 2012 was the rate of inflation so there was no increase in real terms; it is my understanding that maintenance grants were made available for everyone under the new system, but they were linked to a student’s parent’s income.

  • Peter Watson 26th Aug '17 - 11:02pm

    @Michael B G “The interest rate set in 2012 was the rate of inflation so there was no increase in real terms”
    Really?
    I thought that before 2012 the interest rate was the lower of base rate + 1% or RPI (so is currently 1.25%), and after 2012 it was RPI + 3% (currently 4.6% rising to 6.1%).

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