Saturday, 13 November 2010

Clegg planned before election to ditch fees pledge

We've become accustomed to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems ditching pledges, but that doesn't make it any less outrageous that Clegg was already, prior to the general election, intending to drop his party's opposition to higher tuition fees at the first scent of a place in government.

Anger at Lib Dem betrayal was apparently a powerful component of Wednesday's demonstration against education cuts and increased fees. The party has committed electoral suicide, through this particular betrayal more than anything else. Its abandonment of one of the key policies in its general election platform highlights both the Lib Dems' hypocrisy and the broader democratic deficit in this country. It's no surprise there was such frustration and militancy on Wednesday.

Incidentally, I was in the balcony observing NUS Annual Conference, in Gateshead shortly before the general election, when the three Leaders' video messages were broadcast to delegates in the conference hall. Despite the presence of many Labour Students, Clegg got a better response (or less worse response) than Gordon Brown from delegates, precisely because he expressed his party's emphatic opposition to any increase in fees. A distant memory, but only seven months ago.

The Guardian reports:

'The Liberal Democrats were drawing up plans to abandon Nick Clegg's flagship policy to scrap university tuition fees two months before the general election, secret party documents reveal.

As the Lib Dem leader faces a growing revolt after this week's violent protest against fee rises, internal documents show the party was drawing up proposals for coalition negotiations which contrasted sharply with Clegg's public pronouncements.

A month before Clegg pledged in April to scrap the "dead weight of debt", a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years.

In a document marked "confidential" and dated 16 March, the head of the secret pre-election coalition negotiating team, Danny Alexander, wrote: "On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches."'


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