Friday News Review

Fees vote forced through – protesters and police clash

Yesterday was a most difficult day for the LibDems. They LibDems hit 8% in a poll – their lowest for 20 years – on the eve of the university fees vote. With 11 backbenchers and 17 frontbenchers voting for the policy, with 21 against and 8 abstentions, it looks as though almost three-quarters of Nick Clegg’s backbench MPs did not vote for his policy. It was the biggest Liberal rebellion since 1918 and beyond. Is Clegg to end up like Lloyd George, ultimately the victim of a Tory cohabitation? In the time-honoured fashion of governments who have lost a public argument, Ministers put it all down to difficulties of “communication”. But whatever errors they made since May pale into insignificance compared with the hole they dug beforehand. Like control orders, nuclear power, marriage tax breaks and VAT, tuition fees were always going to be a hot policy potato for LibDems in a Coalition government. – Next Left

MINISTERS forced through a huge rise in university tuition fees last night, despite violent protests in Westminster and a rebellion from Lib Dem MPs. In the first big Commons test for the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, MPs backed moves to allow English universities to charge as much as £9,000 a year by a majority of 21 – with 323 MPs in favour and 302 against the plan. After weeks of agonising, only 27 of the 57 Lib Dem MPs voted for the rise, many having signed pledges before the election promising to oppose any increases. As violence raged outside, all three Welsh Lib Dem MPs defied the leadership. One of the three, Cardiff Central’s Jenny Willott, resigned as a parliamentary aide to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. – Western Mail

After the Commons vote, a group of protesters breached police defences intent on ­vandalising the Treasury on Whitehall. Reinforcements had to be rushed in to bolster the ring of steel, with officers donning riot helmets and shields. Two men carrying a rock and a steel bar smashed a window on the side of the Treasury building. As they shattered one pane, the blinds were lifted to reveal riot police inside. Outside, officers surged forward using batons and shields. At Trafalgar Square protesters tried to set the Christmas tree alight and pull it down, before police moved in to repel them. As the violence spread through central London, tourists and workers on their way home were caught up in it. – The Mirror

WHO can blame students who can envisage little else but years and years of burdensome debt stretching ahead in front of them for wanting to stage a noisy protest on the night that MPs voted on tuition fees? That is their right, and we would condemn anyone who tried to deny them that right. What they cannot do, though, is take their protest to the disgraceful level seen by millions around the country on TV news last night. Police were injured, students were hurt, and even the limousine taking Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to the Royal Variety Performance was splattered with paint and had a rear side window cracked. As we have said here before, there will be a great many people around the country who will sympathise with the students’ point of view, knowing that they themselves might never have got their own degree, if they had been forced to hand over up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. But that support will simply vanish away into thin air if legitimate demonstrations turn violent and descend into the kind of chaos we witnessed last night, with many perhaps wondering if they want the public purse to fund further education for the unruly minority of students who ignore the rule of law. – Liverpool Daily Post

Coulson in court

Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s chief media adviser, has denied in court that he ordered reporters to “practise the dark arts” by illegally hacking phones and “blagging” confidential information when he was editor of the News of the World. Coulson was giving evidence for the first time at the trial of Tommy Sheridan, the former Scottish Socialist party leader, who is accused of lying on oath when he won a £200,000 defamation action against the News of the World in 2006, following a three-year police inquiry. Coming face-to-face with Sheridan – who is conducting his own defence – Coulson told the high court in Glasgow that he had no idea his newspaper had used private detectives to illegally “hack” phone messages from members of the royal family and other targets. He repeatedly denied promoting a “culture” of hacking and “blagging”, where people’s confidential data such as tax details, criminal records or phone bills were illegally accessed, in the NoW’s newsroom. – The Guardian

The Prime Minister’s key aide was asked to explain his relationship with proprietor Rupert Murdoch and then deny allegations that he was a bully who oversaw a culture of criminality and phone-tapping whilst editor of the News of the World. In a series of exchanges which required repeated intervention from the trial judge, Lord Bracadale, Mr Coulson was quizzed over his decision to stand down from the newspaper after the conviction of royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007 for phone hacking members of the royal household and other celebrities. Mr Coulson said he only became aware of Mulcaire after he was arrested. “I didn’t know him as an individual, never dealt with him, never emailed him, didn’t know his name,” he said. But Mr Coulson said Mulcaire’s company, Nine Consultancy, was retained by the newspaper as a “legitimate contractor” and agreed that it had been receiving “around £105,000” in payments while he was editor. In the first of two days of evidence, he described his current job at Downing Street as “overseeing all communication functions – press, broadcast and events” confirming that he was accountable to the Prime Minister. He added: “I’m not sure I would describe it as powerful but it is important.” – The Independent

But the future of Andy Coulson is less certain. He was obliged to give evidence in Glasgow’s High Court yesterday in a legal case which has been connected with the phone hacking scandal. Outings such as these do not amuse News International executives. They say that Coulson’s high profile as Downing Street director of communications gives unwarranted publicity to a dismal episode in News International history which they would much rather forget. I am told that Rupert Murdoch himself, though an admirer of Coulson, believes that it is high time that his one-time protégé quit Downing Street. For the time being, however, David Cameron remains determined to keep his embattled communications chief. – The Telegraph

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