“We will: Scrap unfair tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each” – Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010
“You can’t always get what you want...” – Mick Jagger
I suppose it is a testament to how much can be done over such a short space of time. Five days, and the country and its political landscape was changed, for good or worse. Since then the Liberal Democrats have come under fire for pretty much every move the government has made. David Cameron could sneeze and Nick Clegg would get accused of being covered with disease. Nothing though quite compares to the hurricane of abuse from the media and the public over the proposed rise in tuition fees. Instead of hurricane, shit storm would probably be a more apt phrase. The only thing is though, this time we deserve it.
I know people are going to say to me that I should look at the Browne report more carefully and I have done so, and there is no doubt that in many ways it is progressive. Part timers will find life a little easier and people from poorer backgrounds could find they don’t have to pay anything at all once they graduate. The only problem is, for most people the fees are set to rise and that’s not our policy. Our policy is to abolish tuition fees. When we knocked on people’s doors during canvassing at election time, we didn’t say “we have a progressive plan for tuition fees”, we said “You know those tuition fees, consider them gone”.
I’m fully aware we are in a coalition and that we have to compromise, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon party policy just so we don’t upset our partners. If we turned the tables hypothetically for a moment – if the proposal was to abolish tuition fees and we were in this coalition, would the Tories be considering voting yes or abstaining? I think not, I think they would vote no – because that is not what their party believes in. Take AV as another example. The Tories are set to launch their NO campaign while we have our YES campaign. The Tories aren’t joining us on AV, so why should we join them on tuition fees? I really hope it’s not because we are easily convinced.
I’ll say again that there are a few upsides to these proposals, but the bottom line is that this is not what we stand for or is even close to our policy. If this was a Labour government I have no doubt they would be doing the exact same thing, which is why whenever they complain about us selling out I get closer to anger induced arrhythmia. Listening to them complain about the VAT rise makes me want to hit them in head with Alistair Darling. If this was an outright Conservative government I think things would be a hell of a lot worse – it wouldn’t have surprised me if the cap on tuition fees would have been removed altogether.
No doubt some of these proposals are good, but I agree with our MP for Withington John Leech, our Party President Tim Farron and many other MPs that the Lib Dems should stand by their campaign promise and vote NO. Vote YES and the riots will get worse, ABSTAIN and it will look like we’re running away, but vote NO and watch those student voters come back. I promise you.
“...But if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”