Dear Lib Dems: Yes, we understand how coalitions work. You’re still hypocrites.

This post was written by Owen on December 8, 2010
Posted Under: Education,Liberal Democrats

If you watch senior Lib Dems being interviewed about the education reforms – and in particular about the now-notorious pledge pretty much all of them made to vote against tuition fee increases – there’s a particularly irritating rebuttal which they all keep coming out with: basically, they’re suggesting that people attacking them for their hypocrisy just don’t understand how coalitions work. In the past week or two I’ve seen both Danny Alexander and Vince Cable come out with some variant of this, and I’m sure if I made more of a habit of watching the news I’d have heard it a lot more. This line of argument is facile, misleading and frankly pretty fucking patronising, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to try and lay it to rest.

The argument they’re trying to make is very simple: During the election the Lib Dems promised a lot of things, but because they’re in a coalition it’s naive and unreasonable to expect them to be able to follow all of them through. Entering into a partnership with the Tories inevitably meant that certain compromises had to be made, and it so happened that the tuition fee pledge was one of them. So (implicitly) we should all stop whining, understand that that’s just how grown-ups do politics, go home and behave ourselves.

This is – and I really can’t emphasise this enough – a total and utter pile of crap. It’s deliberately conflating the plans which a party sets out in an election manifesto – which are indeed conditional for their implementation on a party forming a majority government – and promises made by individual MPs. The tuition fee pledge was the latter. Before the May general election, every sitting Lib Dem MP signed the NUS pledge stating that they would vote against any rise in tuition fees. This was categorical. There were no caveats about being in government, about the state of the economy or anything else. Every Lib Dem MP who votes for the higher education reforms – or even abstains – will be breaking that pledge. It really is as simple as that.

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Reader Comments

Your right and the MPs should keep their pledge. Many Lib Dem MPs including two past leaders and the party president are voying no. Please don’t tar all Lib Dems with the same brush.

Written By bex on December 8th, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

Fair point – I’ve edited the penultimate sentence so it doesn’t sound like I’m talking about the entire party (it wasn’t my intention to do so in any case). It does seem to be a majority of senior party figures who are committed to the policy though.

Written By Owen on December 8th, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

I quite agree Owen. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.

On a seperate but unrelated point, Martin Lewis has some great points about student fees and finance on his blog, including this post:
And this one:

You may not agree with his conclusions, but it’s great to see some proper quantitative analysis from someone who knows about finances, rather than the shrill hysteria of so many journalists and politicians from both sides of the argument.

Written By Owain on December 8th, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

I agree Owain that there has been a lot of spin and misinformation. I don’t doubt Nick Clegg or Vince Cable, when they say the deal on tuition fees is fairer than would have been the case post-Browne under either a majority Tory or Labour government; indeed the deal is better than the scheme being proposed by the NUS.
BUT – Owen is right Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge, and if being a Liberal Democrat means anything it is honouring your word.
Nick Clegg doesn’t seem to realise he leads a party which is against tuition fees as a matter of principle, believes higher education should be funded from general taxation and that we already have a progressive graduate tax( it’s called income tax).

Unfortunately, currently we are a party of mainly social Liberals led by a small group of mainly economic liberals.

Written By Dilke on December 8th, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

Well Dilke, I can’t say I ever thought that being a Liberal Democrat meant keeping your word, they seemed just as shifty as the rest to me.

I completely agree with Owen’s point about them signing a pledge being different to a manifesto promise, I just didn’t mention it in my earlier comment.

Written By Owain on December 8th, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

Good piece. As a Lib Dem I don’t think the MPs who are planning to vote with the Government should be making the ‘we’re in coalition’ argument at all – they should be making the case for why they feel supporting the policy takes precedence over keeping to their pledges.

Written By Majeed on December 9th, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

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