Thursday News Review

Government tries to shore up support for fees vote

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne will miss the vote as he will remain at the climate summit in Mexico. Lib Dem officials confirmed he would remain at the climate change conference in Cancun – it had been thought he had been called back for Thursday’s vote. Another Lib Dem MP, Martin Horwood, who was expected to vote against the fees package, will also remain in Mexico but Conservative climate minister Greg Barker will return to Westminster. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes told BBC Newsnight he would at least abstain on the vote – but said he had been asked by his local party to consider voting against the plans and he would “reflect” on that request overnight. More than a dozen Lib Dems are expected to rebel, by voting against the plans to raise the tuition fees ceiling from £3,290 to £9,000 a year. They say they have no choice as they signed a National Union of Students (NUS) pledge to oppose any increase. – BBC

TODAY I and my Lib Dem colleagues are being asked to support a big hike in tuition fees. I am a Government backbencher and I support the Government. I also accept that both parties in the coalition have to compromise. But £9,000 fees isn’t a compromise. Nor is it in the spirit of the coalition agreement. If you had asked any of the 57 Lib Dem MPs back in May, when we agreed the coalition, that later in the year we’d be asked to back £9,000 university fees, we’d have laughed at you. We knew that we would have to give up our previous policy on fees, but we were sure that whatever came forward would not involve trebling them. We should never have been put in this position by the party’s leadership. If the Government loses the vote today, it only has itself to blame. Rushing through legislation is never a recipe for good legislation, but to do so when there is so much anxiety and anger would be a huge mistake. – Greg MulHolland MP, The Mirror

Ministers have offered a series of concessions to critics of the Government’s higher education reforms as the coalition sought to head off a major backbench rebellion. Ahead of Thursday’s crunch Commons vote, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced further measures designed to ease the financial burden on students from poorer backgrounds. They included increasing the number of part-time students who would no longer face upfront tuition fees and increasing the threshold at which existing graduates have to start repaying their loans. The move comes as Dr Cable and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg face a revolt among Lib Dem backbenchers intent on honouring a pre-election pledge to oppose an increase in tuition fees. – Press Association

Lib Dems at 8%

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 41%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%. It’s the lowest Lib Dem score YouGov have ever shown, and as far as I can tell the lowest Liberal Democrat score any pollster has shown since September 1990, over 20 years ago. I’ll add my normal caveats about not getting too excited about a single poll, new extreme highs and lows for parties do tend to be the outliers, but nevertheless, the fact that we’ve got our first 8% for the Lib Dems suggests that their support is still on a downwards trend. It is probably no co-incidence that this comes after several days of the Liberal Democrats internal ructions over tuition fees have been all over the political headlines. – UK Polling Report

Ed bounces back

Many Labour politicians have come a cropper trying to make something of Cameron’s background. They usually over do it. In contrast, Miliband’s intervention was deftly done. Miliband said that, yes, he had been a student politician. The Tories thought he had gaffed, but he paused for the punchline. But whilst he had been in student politics the PM had chosen to hang around with people throwing bread rolls and smashing up restaurants. This really got to Cameron, which threw him further off his game. His closing soundbite was a mangled mess about Labour never being a party of government. Cameron is going to have to develop a better, more relaxed response to his background being brought up. His hero Harold Macmillan would have smiled and shrugged it off with self-deprecating charm and a joke. – Wall Street Journal

This week Miliband was able to go for a less inhibited attack on the coalition after an article this morning in the Times by Alan Johnson, the shadow chancellor, backing his leader’s alternative to tuition fees – a graduate tax – after his previous contradiction of Miliband in this area had raised questions about the new leader’s authority. With newfound unity around his own preferred policy, Miliband dismissed Cameron’s attempts to explain the benefits of the “progressive” new system, saying: “Only you could treble tuition fees and then claim it’s a better deal for students. No one is convinced. Isn’t it absolutely clear this policy is in chaos? Go away, think again and come up with a better proposal.” Miliband said the government was slashing public funding – by 80% – for universities and “loading the cost on to students and their families”. – The Guardian

Leave a Reply