Tuition fees: will Lib Dem MPs split three ways?

How to avoid a three-way car crash with most ministers voting for the Browne Report, some ministers and many backbench MPs abstaining and yet a further group of Lib Dem MPs voting against is now the main debate within the Parliamentary Party over tuition fees.

Some changes to the original Browne report proposals have already been promised, but the debate has now moved on from the question of whether or not there could or should be more modifications to how people will vote on that modified package, which is unlikely to change any further at this point.

Until fairly recently, the party’s whipping operation was fairly relaxed about MPs abstaining or even voting against whilst most ministers voted for. But as the prospect of a three-way split has become closer, it has concentrated minds and there is now a serious attempt to unify on abstaining with Simon Hughes one of the strongest proponents.

This faces two major obstacles. First, the mood music up till now has been very firmly that Clegg and Cable would vote for the package. However, news such as the letter from over 100 Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates is not being ignored. Nor are the expressions of frustration from several MPs and candidates who were not sure about signing the NUS pledge pre-election (either because of the policy in it or because of its specific wording) and were firmly told that the party’s policy was that they should sign it.

The second obstacle is that a significant number of Lib Dem MPs have already said that they will vote against, and if all the rest abstain and there are a few Conservative rebels… the numbers being to look rather tight.

Given that a defeat of the Browne report would cause the issue to come back again and also make it very hard to persuade the Conservatives to continue to whip their Lords so strongly on Liberal Democrat measures in the coalition agreement, my money is on sufficient ministers voting for the Browne report if that is what is required to get it through. But it may yet be possible to avoid a three-way split – and with the vote set to be before Christmas, we will soon know.

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  • LibDems who abstain will effectively allow the policy to pass while attempting to avoid the public backlash and in so doing undermine the case for the progressive amendments which have been made to the policy – this might save them in the eyes of the average tabloid reader but it is in fact a more cowardly stance to take than voting in favour of the motion and is behaviour you’d expect more from a Labour MP than a LibDem.

  • Why do Liberal Democrat MPs who will either be abstaining or voting for a rise in tuition fees want to increase the national debt by £13 billion? According to the OBR’s report today, that’s the amount by which the national debt will increase by 2015-16 if the Coalition implements its policy of trebling the cap on tuition fees.[1]

    It seems very disingenuous to me for our leadership to be claiming that tuition fees must be increased because of the economic circumstances, and yet their policy will add £13 billion to the national debt.

    Looking more closely at the figures, in 2014-15 the the new policy is expected to cost £4.3 billion more than if current fees levels
    continued, which is more than the £2.9 billion real terms cut in overall funding for higher education in 2014-15. So the new policy of hiking tuition fees will cost significantly more than the money the Government is saving by cutting funding for higher education.

    One more interesting fact on tuition fees that the OBR tells us is that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ “central estimate of the average fees charged by English universities as a result of the proposals is £7,500.” However, we were told when the policy was announced that universities would only be allowed to charge fees over £6,000 in “exceptional circumstances”. Something clearly doesn’t add up here.

    [1] Pages 123-124 of the OBR’s ‘Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2010’

  • Mike(The Labour one) 29th Nov '10 - 10:59pm

    ‘The second obstacle is that a significant number of Lib Dem MPs have already said that they will vote against, and if all the rest abstain and there are a few Conservative rebels… the numbers being to look rather tight.’

    That’s an obstacle? So the Simon Hughes-ite plan is what, abstain as long as it doesn’t endanger the passing of the bill?

    The other day Simon Hughes said he was ‘undecided’. Here’s an idea for you Hughes, make your decision before you sign a pledge either way.

  • @AndrewM – I’m not expert but it looks like the effect on the CGNCR assumes that the loan book isn’t going to be held by an external agency which will trade the debt – I don’t know if that’s been decided yet. Even if not I’d imagine the government could borrow against the debt at more favourable rates (it being low risk) than general debt intended to be repaid through taxation. Servicing debts at more favourable rates cuts the deficit, needless to say. So while it’s true that it does increase the CGNCR in the short term it doesn’t necessarily mean it has a negative effect on the budget.

  • “were firmly told that the party’s policy was that they should sign it.”

    Then the party should be firmly told back that promises to the voters will be kept..

    Abstention is the cowards way out. Either they should stick to their word and vote against, or they should vote for the measures. Only those who vote against the measure will have any chance of having any effect. Simon hughes, like everyone else who signed the pledge has a choice, stay true to his word or lie. He should look at how Clegg and co are viewed by those outside of the party who voted Lib Dem and ask himself whether all those years of principled service should be sullied by a lie.

    The pledge was clear, there was no wriggle room and frankly the hints coming out that Clegg may abstain are ridiculous. After all he claimed just a couple of weeks ago that the two parties had one policy, not the words of someone who didn’t believe in it fully.

    Nobody was forced to sign the pledge. Nobody was forced to campaign to students and parents, nobody will be forced into a lobby. It’s a mater of integrity and honesty.

    No more broken promises.

  • @Mark
    matbe i misunderstood but this article seems to be about the best way of asaving face and letting these horredous proposals go through….rather than the right way of bringing down these proposals ? Surely lib Dems pledges to the electorate come before a hastly written coalition agreement?

  • All Lib Dem MPs (including those in the Government) should honour the pledge they made to the public – they should ALL vote against the increase in tuition fees. Abstention is not an acceptable alternative – any MP who abstains is, in essence, supporting the increase and, therefore, breaking his or her pledge to the electorate. The Browne report is an appallingly bad document – fundamentally flawed from beginning to end, and it should be soundly rejected.

    On this issue I have been deeply disappointed by the lame response of Lib Dems MPs, especially Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, and my respect for them has plummeted since the election. Their explicit and specific pledge to the public should take precedence over any subsequent agreement they made with the Conservatives.

  • @Duncan: I’m certainly no expert either, but my impression is that CGNCR (Central Government Net Cash Requirement) is a central “pot” so to speak; i.e. if the loan book is not sold off then the funding for student loans will be mixed in with everything else. If that is the case, then Table 4.20 on page 117 of the same OBR document seems to indicate that increasing CGNCR does increase debt interest.

    If debt interest payments are increased, that obviously costs the taxpayer and has an effect on the budget.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Nov '10 - 12:18am

    “If that is the case, then Table 4.20 on page 117 of the same OBR document seems to indicate that increasing CGNCR does increase debt interest.”

    I think citing “Table 4.20 on page 117” in support of a _semblance_ is a pretty good indication that we are talking about an accounting technicality here. Remember that the Higher Education Policy Institute is doubtful whether this will reduce public spending at all in the long run. As well as indicating the whole thing is a half-baked dog’s breakfast (at the risk of mixing metaphors).

    And that indication that candidates had been instructed by the party to sign to pledge was new to me. It’s a wonder I have any naivete left, but I suppose that proves there’s still some there. But – for God’s sake- if the party really was instructing its candidates to sign a written pledge to vote against any increase in fees, no wonder they are resisting being whipped to vote in favour of an increase in fees!

    It’s really difficult to resist the conclusion that the party deserves everything it gets on this issue.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Nov '10 - 12:22am

    “MPs in university seats should be able to do as their consciences dictate. Ministers should be able to honour their collective responsibility to government policy.”

    But members who don’t represent university seats can safely ignore their consciences? And those who are in no danger of losing a ministerial job should feel free to defy government policy?

    Laughable, but in its way perhaps the most succinct summation yet of what this coalition means in practice.

  • If the HE bill passes, the Lib Dems will be squarely blamed for it. 80% of the public thinks that the public funding of HE should increase or stay the same.. It will be a political suicide for the Lib Dems to let the bill pass.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St: Maybe I’ve misunderstood you, but I really don’t understand why you think it is an accounting technicality. The overall impact seems fairly straightforward, it’s the exact details that I am not quite sure about (not being an expert in the public finances):

    (1) Central government needs more cash to loan to students to pay significantly higher tuition fees to universities
    (2) This is only partially offset by the 80% cut in the teaching grant, meaning that compared to the current situation more cash has to be found
    (3) Given the budget deficit, over the next few years that cash will have to be borrowed
    (4) Increasing borrowing leads to higher debt interest payments

    As I understand it, technically the student loans don’t count towards the budget deficit because they are (partially) expected to be paid back eventually. But they do count towards the national debt figure (Public Sector Net Debt) and the government very much does need to find the cash to loan to the students, which comes under the Central Government Net Cash Requirement.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Nov '10 - 1:14am


    Sorry, that was clumsily phrased and made it look as though I was disagreeing with you. I think the distinction between different kinds of debt is an accounting technicality. Not worth destroying what remains of the party’s credibility over.

  • I voted LibDem,(NEVER, EVER AGAIN) I very much regret it as I got Clegg and the Tories. It is WONDERFUL to see the LibDems tear themselves apart. I intend to see the the fees vote live on TV. I will be voting against AV in order to damage Clegg and his boys. Childish? yes, but I was lied to big time and that is something I will not countenance.

  • Grammar Police 30th Nov '10 - 8:01am

    Is that a real comment DaveN, or a wind up?

    You would vote against AV and therefore make it much more likely that we’ll get Conservative majoirty Government’s again in the future (of either variety, red or blue) as some weird form of “punishment”?

    Electorally it doesn’t even make sense, as there is no guarantee that AV will be to the Lib Dems’ benefit from AV.

    If that’s so, you’re more stupid than you look

  • @Granmar Police

    Well yes I’m sure DaveN knows its not thought through as a ‘policy’ but if you let the electorate down having claimed that you were going to be different, stick to your principles, etc etc ya ya ya I’m afraid the electorate might well give the Lib Dems a good kicking and to hell with the consequences.

    They might think for example well I might get a Conservative government but at least they didn’t lie to me before I went into the polling booth……welcome to the rough and tumble of real politics.

  • @DaveN – “I voted LibDem,(NEVER, EVER AGAIN)”

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I reckon that if the proportion of LDV readers who have said this since May reflected in any way the proportion of the votes obtained at the GE, then we wouldn’t be having this argument because the Lib Dems would be in power on their own and able to introduce the tuition fees policy in full!

  • Mark – a split would be the best thing for the Lib Dems right now. really, it would.

    It would begin to highlight that they are distinct to the Tories and that Clegg’s will to impose the Coalition root and branch on the Party isn’t the only game in Town.

    The Party should make a purely political decision – and one that protects their interests – not the Coalition’s.

    It is becoming apparent that the Ministers in the Coalition are on a different plane to the rest of the Party. They need to stop whipping and begin listening.

  • Cheltenham Robin 30th Nov '10 - 11:11am

    Here’s a tip for the future.

    Don’t sign pledges that you know you won’t be able to keep.

    My own personal view is that this country can’t afford to subsidise further education. Education is and should always be free until 18 years of age. What adults then choose to do with their lives is a matter for them. It could be that they get a mortgage, it could be that they decide to travel the world, it could be that they go on to further education but whatever they choose, they shouldn’t expect the taxpayer to subsidise it.

    And yes I am a Lib Dem and I have never believed in subsidised education beyond 18 years old, it was a stupid pledge/policy in the first place, easy to say in opposition but I’m afraid the chickens are home to roost now that we are in government.

  • To me it is quite clear Libdem MPs should vote against the Graduate Contribution, unless the Graduate Contribution is. the same as the present Tuition Fee. THere are two parts to the pledge the Lib Dems signed, not to vote for a rise in fees and a fairer system of repayment. I sincerely believe that Vince believed he had negotiated a fairer system of repayment, equally I believe the Tories will never agree to increases in taxation to allow for higher subsidies to HE. The Libdems are really in an impossible position I don’t see a truly honourable way out of it.

  • Abstention is stupid. Let’s recap – Step 1, you make a firm promise to vote against something. Step 2, you run a party political broadcast with the clear message “no more broken promises”. Step 3, you keep your promise. Simples.

    The promise we made to students is worth just as much as the promise Cameron made to pensioners IMHO.

  • Chris Riley 30th Nov '10 - 1:07pm

    How on earth can Cable abstain on a policy he’s helped to draw up, and he’s been arguing in favour of?

  • John Fraser 30th Nov '10 - 1:50pm

    @ Stephen W

    Doesn’t a govenment that has proposed so many stupid and nasty policies (many of them not in the coalition agreement ) not need a touch of stabalization now and again. Or is it just about survival over principal now ?

  • John Fraser 30th Nov '10 - 1:51pm

    That was desatabilization in my comment above 🙂

  • Cable is threatening to abstain on a policy he helped frame..Words fail me…..

  • From Chris (not Riley)
    What a fiasco! If candidates had not signed that pledge, which proved the old criticism that third parties can avoid hard choices, the current proposals – though still hugely wrong in my view – would not have caused Lib Dems to break a personal pledge. Having signed it, the least that Clegg and Co should have done was to negotiate an abstention in the coalition agreement.

    But we are where we are. I THINK Vince is now admitting he never really supported the pledge he signed. Having strongly defended the Government’s proposals on TV the Sunday before last he now publicly ponders abstaining. More twists, turns and treachery than a Cold War spy novel.

    Anyone who thinks a 3 way split won’t result in derision and disaster for the Party should look at what happened to the Liberal Party led by Lloyd George, or was it Herbert Samuel, or perhaps John Simon, during the Tory dominated coalitions of the 1930s.

  • Cable may abstain! – how low can the libdem ministers go?

  • Leekliberal 30th Nov '10 - 2:38pm

    Daven says
    ‘I voted LibDem,(NEVER, EVER AGAIN) I will be voting against AV in order to damage Clegg and his boys. Childish? yes’
    YES! – So is he planning to vote Labour the party that intoduced tuition fees having promised faithfully in it’s manifesto that they would not do? And they were a elected in a majority and could do as they chose not like the LibDems who were a fifth of the coalition and could only seek to restrain the Tories. So why are we so wicked and Labour not so? I’m sick of this hypocrisy!

  • @Leekliberal

    The problem is that there is a fundamental difference between a manifesto pledge and a personal pledge by members of more than one party not to vote for a tuition fee rise – go back over the many posts about this issue if you are unclear. Be careful also of crying hypocritical at those who might be angry over this – it was after all the Liberal who promised that they wouldnt go back on electoral promises, who would have a new brand of politics, who would break the mould of British politics etc etc etc ya ya ya……and now we have a minister responsible for introducing the tuition fee changes actually having the bare faced cheek to say he might abstain on the vote……

  • I voted LibDem. That party has now shown itself to have many MPs who are totally dishonourable. The party itself was very happy to collect votes for policies it was not serious about, only to dump the very same policies when the right-wingers at the top saw a glimpse of power. This is a catastrophe for the Liberal Democrat Party – it has totally lost it’s reputation for honesty and decency, and held the people who voted LibDem (like me) in utter contempt. Clegg and Cable were once political stars, now they are full of inane, meaningless waffle. The party itself should find the guts to jettison Clegg, Cable, Alexander and Laws, they are the ones who are responsible for this farce, in any case three of these clowns will end up in the Tory Party.

  • Perhaps semi-lefty Lib Dems like myself should consider what effect this mess will have on the Conservatives. There are many Tories who are unhappy at being constrained, to some extent, by the coalition – especially those who consider their Prime Minister to be a bit of a pinko.

    AV, if adopted (and I agree that, however illogically, this Lib Dem mess is likely to hamper its chances in the referendum) may not save the country from a return to idealogical ding-dong with the Lib Dems relegated back to being an irrelevance. Presumably a UK AV system won’t actually force voters to use their second preference vote? In a traditional Tory constituency all those natural Labour voters who have tactically voted Lib Dem in recent years may now feel “what’s the point?” As for traditional Labour voters in cities like Sheffield………

  • @Chris
    Presumably a UK AV system won’t actually force voters to use their second preference vote?

    And you have correctly identified why Liberals should not be supporting AV.

  • @Grammar Police. Yes I will definitely vote against AV simply because Clegg wants otherwise – and, yes, sod the consequences. I voted for Clegg and his boys and they promptly took the pee out of me by putting the Tory party in power, so “vote LibDem, get Tory”. Let me repeat, at the last election I voted LibDem (not Tory). The next thing I knew was that my local Tory candidate, Landsley, was running the Health Service, courtesy of the LibDems and my vote! That for me was ‘go ballistic’ time. So, If Clegg wants to play Silly B*ggers, then I am up for it. Yep, like peebee noticed, I am a very, very, p*ssed-off voter. And the LibDems are not even beginning to ‘get it’, namely that there are many thousands like me.

  • @David Pollard
    Yes I suppose that’s now the least worst option, and would leave the Party with some semblance of credibility.

    Sadly, I think Vince would have to resign his ministerial position as his strongly-put argument backing the Tuition Fees policy would make his abstention look dishonest and silly, and he clearly did not believe in party policy when, as Deputy Leader, he was partly responsible for pressurising candidates into signing “that” petition.

    The Party must be fervently hoping it will have 4 and-a-half years before the next General Election.

  • Again Daven

    I am also voting against AV like millions will, if thats lost – well the party will know whats coming in a general election. Its the only way to learn those taht have betrayed out trust. The Guily men and women of the Lib dem party must be punished.

  • Sorry, Vince, but I’ve heard you argue very persuasively in favour of the Browne proposals as modified and improved by yourself. For you now to be considering abstaining in the vote on those proposals is ridiculous. Simon’s attempt to salvage a shred of credibility from this fiasco by getting an agreement that all the LibDem MPs should abstain just will not achieve its objective: you all made that individual promise to your electors, that is the only factor that is of any relevance and it is only by sticking to that pledge that you can avoid the LibDems being vilified for the next twenty years.

  • There’s a bit too much heat and too little light in this discussion.

    The coalition agreement said that the party’s MPs could abstain if the fees recommendations weren’t acceptable. That is a compromise of the coalition. Some I recognise feel that that is a compromise that shouldn’t have been made, but it was. Backbenchers may rebel – they do from time to time in any administration – but it should not be done lightly.

    It is embarassing for an MP to sign a public pledge to oppose something and then vote for it or abstain on it, but that pledge is no more set in stone than would be a letter or EDM they had signed saying the same thing. Sometimes in politics compromise is necessary. There isn’t a Liberal Democrat government and we don’t therefore have the resources to do what we proposed on tuition fees. Regrettable but true. (Though the party should have agreed its position before now to avoid the current mess.)

  • James keyes 30th Nov '10 - 7:32pm

    Voting for : an act of betrayal
    Voting against : an act of rebellion

    Abstaining ? An act of cowardice.

    Utter cowardice. I am more likely to vote for a candidate who betrayed his pledge and took the abuse on the chin than one who runs and hides.

  • Although this article seems largely directed to the political aspects of this vote, this is just a plea to anyone that has any influence with the Lib Dem MPs: PLEASE just THINK about the long-term consequences of tripling tuition fees.

    Long after the 2008 crisis has receded and the smart offices and ministerial cars are no longer on offer for LD ministers, will the UK be better with a privatised universities system? Can we, as an industrial nation, really afford to put off able people from poor-average backgrounds from going to university by the cost? And is it right that the graduate bear 100% of the cost, implying that their training has 0% value to society as a whole? Why should young people in the UK pay more than – I understand – pretty much anywhere else in the World?

    Simple q’s I know. But seeing LD ministers on TV, they simply don’t seem to see the consequencies of their actions, that fact that they’ve a lot of power & responsibility. They just seem concerned with ‘holding the party/coalition together’. And no, abstaining won’t cut it: it will just make you look completely untrustworthy AND like weak-willed fencesitters; all those Spitting Image jibes will come back to haunt you again.

  • PS apologies for the spelling errors and clunky grammar in the above – it’s been a long day…

  • Thanks Matt for mentioning the withdrawal of EMA. Some families won’t seriously think about whether Higher Education is an option till it’s mentioned at post-16. And some Schools struggle to maintain a viable 6th form (small classes put a big strain on a School’s budget). This can impact on the whole School in terms of encouraging students to be ambitious – also the best teachers may want to teach at a School with a 6th

    On the subject of a joined-up education policy, shouldn’t Higher Education and Training be within the remit of the Dept of Education?

    Regarding AV, although I agree this sorry mess is likely to impact on the referendum, it really shouldn’t. I haven’t yet made up my mind about whether AV is any better / less skewed than FPTP. The Australian experience suggests that AV may not be more likely to deliver a Hung Parliament than FPTP (2010 was unusual in both countries) and if the referendum is combined with reducing the number of MPs (hooray!) and equalising constituencies we will need to consider the whole picture.

    Regardless of one’s opinion of the Lib Dems, we should remember that the result of the referendum is likely to endure for many elections to come.

  • Is Cable really fit to run this brief? This evening my attention has been drawn to this interview on Radio 5 Live

    Listen from about 17 mins in – this is Cable getting confused about which dates apply when looking at the threshold – this isn’t just a petty mistake – the raising of the threshold has been a key argument about why these proposals are ‘fair’ – yet Cable is completely muddled about the position even though his own civil servants are now at least consistent about this, having been asked to clarify it several times.

    Perhaps I now understand why he wants to abstain on the vote – its not that he disagrees with his own proposals – he just doesn’t understand them!

  • @ExLD (you and me both!)
    Excellent post! Thinking purely about the future of our country, if we’re not to be a knowledge-based economy, what will we be? Manufacturing based? City of London based? Don’t make me laugh. And aren’t we supposed to be discouraging personal debt?

    Another thing occurs to me. Are universities exempt from the efficiency revolution everyone else is experiencing? They seem happy to cry wolf and hold out the begging bowl to students and taxpayers. Take a look at the un-subsidised Buckingham Uni’s website – a good honours degree in 2 years! Perhaps students would have to be compensated for giving up those rubbish jobs they attend in the long gaps between lectures and tutorials. Might help the poor unqualified folk who have to compete for low-paid jobs in university towns.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St & AndrewM, the proposals will not affect Government debt adversely at all as all the proposals do is take away from the direct teaching grants currently given to Universities and give it back with the other hand via higher tuition fees which in the long term graduates are supposed to pay back at least some of ( a fair bit more than currently).

    What it doesn’t do is help lower the structural deficit one iota

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Nov '10 - 9:30pm

    “@Anthony Aloysius St & AndrewM, the proposals will not affect Government debt adversely at all as all the proposals do is take away from the direct teaching grants currently given to Universities and give it back with the other hand via higher tuition fees which in the long term graduates are supposed to pay back at least some of ( a fair bit more than currently).
    What it doesn’t do is help lower the structural deficit one iota”

    There are several aspects to this.

    Browne reckoned there would be a net saving of £1.8bn a year in the long term. But of course that depends on assumptions about how much of the debt will be repaid by graduates, which in turn depends on projections of future graduate earnings. Browne’s assumptions have been called into question by the Higher Education Policy Institute, who reckon they are over-optimistic, and that there may not be any net saving at all in the long run.

    The other aspect of it is that the upfront payments provided by the government still need to come from somewhere. Also this borrowing will be accounted for differently from the rest of the government’s borrowing, it’s still borrowing, and I can’t really understand why people who think Debt Is Evil are happy about it.

  • @Peter1919: Have you actually read pages 123-124 of the OBR report I linked to? I have, and here is part of what it says:

    For the November forecast the OBR has scrutinised and certified estimates of the additional loans that have been produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for England. As the table shows, the impact on the CGNCR is estimated to reach £5.6 billion by 2015-16, cumulatively adding £13 billion to PSND over the forecast period.

    As you might know, PSND stands for Public Sector Net Debt, or in simpler language, our total national debt. To which the additional costs of raising tuition fees will add £13 billion.

  • Gary Henderson 30th Nov '10 - 10:11pm

    I have a 16 year old daughter who is now talking about not going to university because of the the fees. I have voted lib dem since 1984. I will vote lib dem again when she pays of her fees or after 30 years

    I have joined the party so I can vote against those people who have sold out the party that I have trusted.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Nov '10 - 11:50pm

    “Listen from about 17 mins in – this is Cable getting confused about which dates apply when looking at the threshold – this isn’t just a petty mistake – the raising of the threshold has been a key argument about why these proposals are ‘fair’ – yet Cable is completely muddled about the position even though his own civil servants are now at least consistent about this, having been asked to clarify it several times.”

    Indeed, he’s not just “muddled,” he gets it completely wrong. The original expectation based on Browne was that the threshold would be £21,000 in 2012 money. Then those recommendations were modified so that it would be £21,000 in 2016 money – and would continue at that level until 2021. But apparently Cable thinks it’s going to be £21,000 in today’s money.

    This is despite the fact that there has been quite a furore over this, with Cable’s department apparently having failed to clarify the situation when the IFS tried to check with it, with the consequence that the IFS figures were wrong, and with Cable having subsequently quoting those incorrect figures in parliament.

    Obviously Cable’s grasp of detail is seriously wanting, even on contentious issues where it’s already been suggested that the government’s presentation of information has been misleading.

  • It’s been a strange day…. out of interest are there other historical examples of where a minister introducing changes such as this have gone on to abstain on a vote on their own proposals?

  • David Allen 1st Dec '10 - 12:15am

    John Fraser,

    “Surely Lib Dems pledges to the electorate come before a hastily written coalition agreement?”

    Yes of course – and I wonder if your remark points a way forward. Since nobody else seems to be drafting this letter, let me have a go (only half in jest):

    “Dear Dave,

    We’re in a bit of a sticky spot. It was a bit of a pity that we had to hurry that agreement last May. Wretched Gordon, bellowing around like a wounded bull, you know, didn’t give us time to stop and think! Well, awfully sorry and all that, but I’m afraid it won’t wash. We’ve still got all those lefties, centre-lefties, social liberals, down-the-middle liberals, local activists, and plain straight-talking folk in our party, y’see. Can’t get rid of them, though by God I’ve tried, you know I’ve tried. They just won’t fall in line over tuition fees.

    Now, you know that I would never be disloyal to The Project (which reminds me, someone tells me Paddy used that name once to mean something different, must read up on my past history some day and find out what that was all about). Sincerely, I must prostrate myself in front of you, and beg your help. What can we give you in compensation that will placate your righteous anger, if we cannot keep our promise to you about tuition fees?

    Would it be enough to let you scrap the AV referendum? Would you like to sack a few Lib Dem ministers? Or do you have some favourite policies – like abolishing inheritance tax for example – which you would really like to implement? I’ve already drafted a speech to explain to my minions that inheritance tax is socially unfair, and that we new progressives would prefer to pay state-funded “wealth creator’s prizes” to millionaires, if you’re interested. Just say the word and we’ll do whatever you want.

    Yours eternally,

  • Mmmm.. bit of a pickle. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it does seem daft to have had a Liberal Democrat drafting this legislation in the first place after all those pledges.

    The problem is that an awful lot of coalition policies involving cuts have been front loaded onto young people examples include: tuition fees, abolition of EMA, abolition of work programmes and the raising of Housing Benefit single room age. In addition many of them have spent years being pillorised by the press. There is now a natural backlash which seems to have suprised the politicians and Clegg in particular. It is as if, in his wildest dreams, he never could have imagined young people could have got so upset. Did he assume they and their families would not notice? It seems he made a grave miscalculation on this issue and truly believed that he garnered support among the young due to his personal style rather than his policies.

    I only mention this because the very concerned MP’s questioning their conscience now did actually agree to a coalition document that included words to the effect that arrangements would be made for Liberal Democrats to abstain on Tutiion fees..The word abstain did not bother the majority of them at the time it seems. However now they have been brought face to face with the reality of the outrage felt by people who actually had the nerve to believe that the Liberal Democrats were different and would keep their word . Ah, the naivety of youth.

    I have been horrified by Nick Clegg’s handling of the whole affair.

    There is no best case scenario in this one. What can or should be salvaged? The coaltion agreement? The party? Reputation? Clegg has now tied the future of the party to the Conservatives. He is their hostage. He cannot walk away. He must see it through. In the meantime Cameron’s own postion in his party is looking more shaky as the Conservative Right start to sharpen those knives. As for AV I beleive it is now dead in the water.

    Personally if I were a Liberal Democrat MP I would be voting ‘No’ and making a noise about it too. I would be considering that my only chance now to be re-elected and thus continue to represent Liberal Democrat values at national level is as an excellent constinuency MP with a reputation for keeping my word and election pledges.

  • Emsworthian 1st Dec '10 - 9:09am

    It’s getting such that Clegg really ought to consider his position.
    We’ve been taken for patsies right from the start. While
    Clegg is being crucified by Harperson’s wit in the Commons
    posh Dave is hoofing it up with football Dave and HRH in Zurich
    We know who will be picking up the credit if the bid wins
    while Clegg picks up his P45.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 1st Dec '10 - 10:46am

    Here is the latest claim about the proposed repayment scheme, from Nick Clegg, in an open letter to Aaron Porter yesterday:
    For example, a care worker with a starting salary of £21,000 increasing to £27,000 in real terms over 20 years would pay an average of £7 a month over 30 years. Under the current system, they would be paying back at least £45 a month immediately.”

    Can anyone hazard a guess as to how on earth these figures may have been calculated? I would guess for a start that the starting salary is in 2016 terms, not in today’s money. I presume also that it’s assumed the threshold will be rising faster than inflation – otherwise the real increase in salary of 28% would imply a _much_ larger repayment rate. Is that really true?

    And incidentally, assuming the comparison isn’t completely spurious, is it really intended for the threshold to stay at £15,000 for another 6 years until the new system is introduced? It has been at that level for 4 years already. If it remains where it is, it will be down to something like £13,000 in real terms in 6 years’ time, which should be a major cause for concern in itself. Of course, if the threshold in the current system is going to be adjusted, that makes Clegg’s comparison even more duplicitous.

    One has the impression of civil servants producing misleading statistics for politicians to present, while – judging by Cable’s dismal performance – the politicians are either too stupid or too lazy to acquaint themselves with even the most basic details of what is being proposed.

  • In view of the claims and counter claims about tuition fee payment schedules has anyone come across a financial model where assumptions can be thrown at the model ? If not I think I will have a go myself if I’m still snowed in later…

  • We already have a 3 way split on student fees.

    If your English you will be in debt forever.
    If your Welsh you will be the same as now.
    And if your Scottish you don’t pay anything.

    All with the same fiscal contraints.

    You could not write it! (Oh I just have )

  • Anthony Aloysius St 1st Dec '10 - 12:46pm


    Well, I haven’t, and I’m still not clear on exactly what is being proposed. In fact even the civil servants still don’t seem clear on some quite important aspects.

    William Cullerne Bown quotes Cable’s department as “clarifying” his on-air cock-up as follows:
    “We anticipate reviewing the threshold around every 5 years to reflect earnings.”

    Bown emphasises the “around.” But also “to reflect earnings” does indeed suggest that the threshold will be raised in line with earnings rather than prices. Certainly I can’t make any sense whatsoever of Clegg’s claim about the care worker if that’s not the case.

    The trouble is that if the criterion for “real terms” is earnings, then the new threshold is actually going to be lower in real terms than the current threshold. Plugging in the figures for expected earnings growth from the OBR’s June 2010 report ( indicates that the new threshold should be around £21,300 to equate to today’s £15,000 adjusted for earnings growth.

    (This is taking account of the fact that the new threshold is to be introduced in 2016 and not adjusted for another 5 years, so that it’s effectively a 2018/2019 figure. The OBR report only goes up to 2015, so for the following years I used the average figure for 2011-5 – that is 4.2%. Probably it should be significantly more than that, because the OBR expects the rate of earnings growth to rise throughout the period, ending up at 5.4% in 2015.)

  • Grammar Police 1st Dec '10 - 1:07pm

    @ DaveN – if you don’t see that by voting against electoral reform you lose the opportunity to reduce the chance of future majority Tory governments, then help us all. This goes beyond party politics. If you hate the Tories that much you are a fool to vote “no”.

  • @Grammar Police: Your assertion that “by voting against electoral reform you lose the opportunity to reduce the chance of future majority Tory governments” is based on the assumptions that a sizeable proportion of Labour voters will want to give Lib Dems their second preferences under AV and that the Lib Dems will remain a significant force in Westminster Politics. Given the way things are going at the moment, whether both of those will be true at the next election is very much an open question.

    As we must remember, the way our outdated electoral system works (which I would dearly love to see replaced with STV), once the Lib Dems drop below a certain level of support from voters, we go from being a significant force in British politics that cannot be ignored and can hold the balance of power (as at the last general election), to a party that can fit all our MPs in a minibus.

  • Those who believe that AV would help the Liberal Democrats are mistaken. AV would strengthen the Labour Party in constituencies where the Liberal Democrats stand a better chance of winning, thus delivering victory to the Tories. If Cameron didn’t believe that AV would benefit the Conservative Party (which it would), why is he allowing a referendum on it?

  • I would like to see some Lib dems defecting to the greens.

  • Matt mentioned the witdrawal of EMA in his post on 30th November. We do need to look at the total picture of the harm this partly Lib Dem govenment is prepared to dish out to young people.

    If you go to and then search Connexions you will find a piece dated 2nd December about the killing off of this service, and an editorial of the same date which expresses my own thoughts exactly. It’s from a local newspaper owned by the Daily Mail.

  • Just to present another aspect of these arguments. EMA for 16-18 year olds whose families are on low incomes is being abolished and replaced with a fund a mere fraction of the amount currently available. In my local area the council is also planning to abolish the subsidaries for travel for students aged 16-18.We are a rural area set up without many sixth forms in the schools. The students travel to large and excellent colleges instead. We are also a low wage, low unemployment area. Two thirds of the students at my local college will now have no way of meeting their travel costs as EMA coupled with council subsidaries are the means by which most of them are able to get to college in the first place.

    Never mind the tuition fees there are hundreds of young people in my area who may not even be able to study beyond GCSE.

    I have no idea what the Liberal Democrat party is doing even contemplating such a policy. If they do my local Lib.Dem MP is looking at certain defeat in the next election.

  • charliechops1 4th Dec '10 - 12:38pm

    Whatever is said the issue boils down to to the decision to be taken by the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party. As commentators to this post have pointed out the only decison that is likely is to be reached is that MPs should vote according to their consciences, their loyalties to local parties and the likely reactions of their voters. There will be a threeway split. Arguably this split will mark out the demarcations of a later party split with Lib Dem Government ministers alligning their loyalties to the Tories, some going it alone and a soft centre hesitating between the two

  • @Grammar Police

    I can’t speak for DaveN, but the LibDem’s behaviour to date has certainly put me off a change to the voting system that will almost certainly guarantee coalition governments from now on. Better to have a majority government tempered by a strong opposition and a third party that can become the beneficiary of protest votes, then this sort of coalition where the Tories can actually get away with much more than they would have otherwise because they don’t need to be afraid of losing votes to the LibDems. In the same way, it was better to have a Tory government that was afraid to do certain Thatcherite things because it faced an Old Labour Opposition, than the New Labour government which never hesistated to do Thatcherite things because it faced no real opposition at all.

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