Thursday, 14 October 2010

A pledge is a pledge. End of

I agree with some elements of Lord Brownes report into the future cost of tuition fees and university funding. For example I am pleased with the recommendations like scrapping upfront fees for part time students, protecting fees from certain medical and science and other important courses. I also agree with 30% of the poorest graduates paying less and could even go so far to say I like the idea that some of those Mickey Mouse degrees would not be taken up.

I can even understand the reasons why the coalition will increase fees but what I don't understand is going back on a pledge. Why sign a pledge if you know its not possible to act on it. I just can't reconcile this point. I can defend most things on the doorstep, but I don't think I can defend this one, it just wont wash will it? Will the voter still understand that it is still Liberal Democrat policy to scrap tuition fees? Even if our leaflets confirm this they simply won't believe it.

It's common for parties to go back on manifestos like when Tony Blair reversed the Labour Party's 2001 manifesto promise not to introduce "top-up fees" in the first place. Manifestos of course do not allow for changing circumstances and lack the flexibly required in government. I understand that being in government means making hard decisions and choices. But I think this is different. This is a pledge. A pledge to me is something you have to stick to.

Student voters and their parents won't understand that Liberal Democrats abstained from the vote, this does not make everything alright. Even if your local Liberal Democrat MP voted against and increase in fees many will view the Liberal Democrats as a whole as going back on their pledge. Therefore I think voting against an increase is still not enough. Liberal Democrats should not agree to an increase and Cable should no be putting forward an increase. Perhaps it would of been better for a Conservative minister who didn't pledge to not increase tuition fees or scrap them (and some did) to be given this task, politically that would of made more sense.

Needless to say, I am not very happy with the endorsement of Lord Brownes report by Vince Cable and Nick Clegg. I will wait to see what the coalition government decides to do and I will assess then what action if any I may take.

In the meantime I recommend you right to your MP on this issue and others may want to join Lib Dems against scrapping the cap.

Today's link is to Jennie Rigg has written a letter on this point to Nick Clegg see here


  1. Did you see Simon Hughes on Newsnight last night? He made the best of a bad job. Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror, viciously anti-LD as their editorials have been since the election, got it spot on when they pointed out that Cable has been the fall guy here. He's probably choking on half his words.

    I think the general feeling - that although LD ministers will have to hold true to the agreement but that backbenchers can do what they want - is pretty much spot on. I'm sure the whips will make a great show of putting pressure on, but their hearts won't be in it.

    Like you, I'm in two minds over the actual issues at stake - there are many solutions to this, none without merit - but the fact that those pledges were made in such uncertain terms means that they must be honoured.

  2. But isn't Willetts the Universities minister, not Cable?

  3. The problem is though that the Lib Dems agreed to abstain on this as part of the coalition agreement. I am sure there are loads of things in that agreement that the Conservatives did not want to agree to either. If we start to unpick it then there is a real risk that the whole thing will unravel. Tory MPs for example would then have no problem voting down the AV referendum. Where would it stop?

    At the same time I agree with you that it is going to be very difficult to explain what the party has done on the doorstep. Coalition politics is something that is very unusual in this country and the idea that politicians could campaign hard for something like this in the run up to an election and then abandon the pledge once in government just looks dreadful irrespective of what the political realities were that have led to that situation.

    If anything the mistake was in not being firmer on this issue as part of the coalition agreement. Clegg and the other negotiators knew how important this issue was to our activists and all of them as candidates had signed the pledge. They must have known this risked being a crunch issue.

    I don't really know what the answer is now but I think it is unrealistic to expect that our MPs can vote against this and for there not to be serious consequences. I expect what this will boil down to is whether the parliamentary party feels strongly enough about this issue to take action that could being a process that could ultimately bring the government down.

    Not an easy situation to be in but then no-one ever said politics was easy :)

  4. As I have said on my blog this morning (, I can understand that there is the clause in the coalition agreement. What I can't understand is Clegg SUPPORTING this measure.

  5. Jennie I guess I'm basically saying the same thing. I think marks point is valid on breaking apart and agreement. I think that if more time was spend the the agreement maybe they would of changed the details on tuition fees like I have explained.

    I also wonder when this will happen.

    Noeticat I know David is the minister but Vince is making the anouncements.

    Eoghan yep but most voters will see lib dem ministers and back benchers as the same thing. People just don't get coalition politics.