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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Lib Dems made a mistake signing the pledge, but voting against the fees increase will just make it worse

The Lib Dems are bearing the blunt of public anger as voters feel betrayed by a manifesto pledge to cut fees, and a separate NUS pledge signed by many candidates to oppose any increase in fees.

In my view the party made a massive mistake making such promises without first considering both the prospect of being in a coalition, and the likely content of the then-unreleased Browne review into higher education funding.

And I worry that opposing the fees increase in today's vote will make a bad situation worse.  There's over four years left to run in this coalition, and unfortunately coalition government is built around the currency of political capital.

I'm sure there are one or two Lib Dem policies that Conservative MPs feel they can't support.  If the Lib Dems waste all their capital now fighting this one battle, they put their entire influence in the coalition at risk.

For me the battle over university funding boils down to two questions: 1. are the proposals really that bad, given the circumstances? And 2. how difficult or complex would it be to undo them in any future government.

I hope the Lib Dem MPs will reluctantly support the vote today, and live to make a positive difference in the remaining 4 1/2 years of the coalition.  Some voters will have a long memory, and votes will be lost.  But the mistake has already been made.  Voting this bill down won't fix anything.  Supporting the bill will give the party chance to regain public support and confidence in the remainder of the parliament, as liberal policies are put into practice.

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