Tag Archives: Nick Clegg

Milton Friedman’s Vision for Universities

by Anne Archist

In 1955, Milton Friedman published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The Role of Government in Education’. All the major UK parties have borrowed policies from the text. It argues that lower levels of education should be funded by the state, with only “citizenship or leadership” education being funded beyond this (not “vocational or professional” education); all levels of education should be administered privately, through a system subject to market pressures.

The goal here is to ensure that education providers must respond to “consumer” demands, there is no “unfair” competition between the state and private providers, and only appropriate educational activities are funded. While recognising the difficulty of distinguishing between the two types of education in practice, Friedman holds that they are in principle separable. A key passage dealing with the latter type argues that the market ensures appropriate incentives and it is unjust for taxpayers to bear the costs while graduates reap the benefits.

“[Vocational or professional education] is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded … by receiving a higher return for his services than he would otherwise be able to command. This difference is the economic incentive to acquire the specialized training … [I]f the individual undertakes the investment and if the state neither subsidizes the investment nor taxes the return, the individual (or his parent, sponsor, or benefactor) in general bears all the extra cost and receives all the extra returns: there are no obvious unborne costs or unappropriable returns that tend to make private incentives diverge systematically from those that are socially appropriate”.

The American higher education system has led to an underinvestment in human capital, according to the paper, so easier access to capital must be provided for this purpose. However, if this easy access to capital took the form of state subsidies for students, there would tend to be overinvestment in human capital. Friedman’s solution is to provide an advance for up-front investment secured against later earnings. In the modern political vernacular “the funding follows the student”, exercising market pressures, while the system as a whole is still funded through a form of semi-progressive taxation.

What Friedman’s article doesn’t give due consideration to is the difference between training in different areas – “education” and “training” are treated abstractly. The “return” varies greatly depending on degree subject, and to a lesser extent with race and gender. All of this is obliquely acknowledged when Friedman says that “[Repayment] should in principle vary from individual to individual in accordance with any differences in expected earning capacity”, but there is no exploration of the effects.

Where does this leave arts degrees, which I presume are not covered under training for “citizenship or leadership”, and others that represent a low return compared to the current cost of education? At present, all undergraduate degree courses generally cost the same at a given institution. In some subjects the cost is already greater than the return, and this will only become more common as fees rise and graduate premiums potentially fall due to greater supply of graduates. Medicine degrees, for instance, have a huge impact on earning potential, whereas male arts graduates may not earn any more than they would otherwise, according to some studies (this varies, but there is unanimity on the fact that the arts are currently very low-payoff disciplines). If the student were to bear all the costs of such a degree up-front, they would have no economic incentive to study it. Nobody would want to invest in students on such low-earning courses so easily available capital would dry up in these disciplines; it would represent the death of the arts for all but the wealthiest.

On the other hand, Friedman wants graduates to bear the costs of their own education, so there is no reason why he should support cross-subsidisation between faculties. For consistency, arts subjects would have to be provided at a much lower cost, meaning that medicine, engineering, and similar high-cost, high-return subjects would be even more expensive than they currently are. The gulf in graduate earnings would be reflected by a gulf in tuition costs. This would avoid the death of the arts but may cause less expensive degrees to be seen as the poor person’s degree, as low-quality (‘cheap’ in a derogatory sense), or as unattractive due to evidently low returns.

All of the above is an attempt to impose market logic onto the education system. Despite our best efforts, consecutive governments are following Friedman’s paper as a blueprint – this puts us in a difficult position if we want education to be about more than individuals investing in future earnings. Not only this, but it raises the question of whether the idiosyncrasies of higher education (e.g. providers select consumers as well as vice versa, we only know what we were paying for after the transaction has been completed, etc) conflict with the neoliberal market logic that Friedman sought to discipline it to. I’m interested in that question and might write about it later, but for now I just want to leave you with this question of what further ‘marketisation’ could do in terms of differentiating courses financially, and the broader consequences that these changes might have. Any ideas are welcome in the comments section below.

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A Referendum Retrospective

by Anne Archist

The overall result isn’t in yet, but it looks like the no campaign are on course for a 70/30 split victory in yesterday’s referendum. Whatever the exact result, FPTP has definitely taken the day. A substantial majority against AV will secure the tory inclination to spin this as an endorsement of the current system, and to refuse further attempts at reform. The libdems, judging by the local election results and recent polls, are more than decimated and will be in no position to put pressure on anyone for electoral reform agreements; presumably this leaves our only hope of achieving PR in the short term with Labour, among whom there seems to be considerable division on the issue (unlike the libdems), with the LRC seemingly supporting FPTP rather than just opposing AV in the referendum (they repeated false claims by ASLEF that AV “gives some people more votes than others” and their statement generally had the tone of a group quite happy with the status quo, thankyouverymuch).

What can we learn from the referendum, in retrospect? Firstly, the result was probably significantly influenced by utter lies like claims that AV would cost £250m or violate the principle of “one person, one vote”. Secondly, the hypocrisy has been staggering. Labour and the tories both use AV to select their leader, and front-benchers of both parties, as well as some rank and file members of Labour and the vast majority of tory members, supported the no campaign. There’s nothing inherently hypocritical about supporting different voting systems in different contexts, but to do so on the basis that the system is inherently unfair and undemocratic because it gives some people more votes than others (as Cameron and others did) is completely inconsistent.

It’s particularly worrying that the LRC waxed lyrical about “one person, one vote”, given that Labour not only uses AV to elect the leader, but also uses electoral colleges which absolutely uncontroversially do violate that principle (in contrast to AV, which preserves it). There was less objectionable no campaigning from other sources like the RMT – while they also elect their leader by AV, their reasoning was that the referendum was a “distraction”, not that AV was fundamentally unfair. The AWL, CPB, and some others on the left will be celebrating a victory (of sorts!) tonight, but we’ve yet to see whether the reasoning behind their no vote will be borne out in practice – we can assess the help or hindrance this result gives to the cause of PR, and the damage it does to the coalition, but it’s beyond me as to how we’d establish claims that AV would have returned worse governments and so on.

We’ll never know for sure which arguments held most weight with the public, but it certainly seems hard to believe that the poll reflects a fully and honestly informed electorate. If, indeed, about 70% of the public back FPTP purely on the basis that it avoids coalitions and results in strong governments (which as far as I can see was the only argument in favour of FPTP that survives even superficial rational scrutiny), we might as well pack up and hand the country over to the tories and the NF.

Admittedly, there is a generational gap in polls; though PR looks to be even further on the back-burner now, we may see more people becoming comfortable with preferential voting systems over the next decade or two. Interestingly, this may be at least in part due to Labour policies, but not ones to do with constitutional or electoral reform; I’m thinking of their considerable emphasis on more young people going to university, and their devolution of powers.

Regarding the university issue, I’m not saying this because a population with a higher percentage of graduates is better educated and therefore better able to understand the issues – in fact, I doubt this is true except for a very few subjects like economics or maths. The reason that more people going to university could be making a difference is that universities tend to use AV to elect students’ union officers; the more graduates there are in a population, the more people we can expect to have already used AV and therefore got over the barrier of understanding how to mark the ballot correctly, roughly how the votes will be counted, etc. Devolution, of course, has given people in some parts of the UK a chance to get their head around using things other than pure FPTP, particularly in Northern Ireland, where STV is used (more or less identical from the voter’s point of view to AV).

The coming weeks and months should give us a clue as to whether PR will remain a live debate or evaporate into the murky politico shadows it crept from just a few months ago and once again evoke ‘Public Relations’ for most of the electorate. Certainly the former won’t happen on its own – it’s now the responsibility of those on the left that argued for a no-to-AV-yes-to-PR vote to lead  an energetic display of campaigning and debate that will make it impossible for electoral reform to be forgotten amongst the cuts (however much this might piss off Bob Crow), and to give a sharp rebuke to those elements that aligned with them for more conservative reasons, like the LRC.

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Steel City election results

by Edd Mustill

Sheffield is one of those English councils that has “returned to Labour” this week. The party won a comfortable majority at the expense of the LibDems.

The council itself remains Tory-free:

Labour 49 seats (+9) 47.9% (+12.3%)
LibDems 32 seats (-9) 25.9% (-10.3%)
Tories 0 seats (n/c) 11.7% (-2.9%)
Greens 2 seats (n/c) 11.2% (+4.9%)
UKIP 0 seats (n/c) 1.8% (-1.0%)
TUSC 0 seats (n/c) 0.8% (+0.3%)
BNP 0 seats (n/c) 0.4% (-3.4%)
Independent 1 seat (n/c) 0.2% (+0.1%)
SEP 0 seats (n/c) 0.1% (+0.1%)

So even though we have a government made up of two of the three big parties, they can only muster between them just over a third of the vote in a city like Sheffield. In a story close to national patterns, the Tory vote changed only modestly, suggesting large numbers of people switching directly from the LibDems to Labour.

Although much of leafy West Sheffield with its detached houses stayed yellow, Labour did take seats in Broomhill and Crookes (areas with significant student populations whose allegiance was perhaps with Clegg until… you know), as well as Nether Edge. Gleadless Valley with its public sector workers went back to Labour, as did working-class Hillsborough.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is due to the LibDems coalition with the Tories, Clegg’s own unpopularity, the Forgemasters episode, the lack of an economic recovery, etc etc. If anything, I’m surprised that a quarter of voters still backed the LibDems, although in some of the poorest wards (Burngreave, Firth Park) they finished bottom of the heap. Up on the Manor, the two national governing parties mustered less than 600 votes between them.

So where is the coalition government’s mandate to make any decisions affecting the working-class North? Non-existent.

Sheffielders experience of Liberal Democrat administration, between 1999-2002 and 2008-11, has only been that nothing changes. Sheffield’s two-party system means that each party gets punished in turn, usually due to something happening on the national stage. In fact, the council defected to the LibDems fairly early on in the New Labour years, back in ’99. So it’s too early to write-off the yellow-bellies completely; they may well come back when Labour get back into power in Westminster. But, across the North (Newcastle, Hull), they have destroyed in a year a lot of the municipal bases they built up over two decades. The longer they remain part of the coalition, they worse it will get for them.

Significantly, the Greens came very close to out-polling the Tories and becoming the city’s third biggest party, although without coming close to taking any more seats. In fact, it’s difficult to see how they can break out of their Central ward ghetto, except maybe by having a go at Broomhill in the next few years. Still, the point should be made that as many people in the city voted for a minor party with one Westminster MP as for the main governing party.

Among the smaller parties, the BNP vote collapsed as it could apparently only muster three candidates. Even in Beauchief and Greenhill they could only attract 262 votes in a ward where, not long ago, the party was polling closer to a thousand. Significantly, they had no candidate in Shiregreen and Brightside where they have achieved big votes in the recent past. The fash have never successfully got a foothold in the Steel City, and they look pretty much finished for now, electorally.

So the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) vote actually eclipsed the BNP, largely thanks to another good vote for Maxine Bowler in Burngreave, but other TUSC candidates (in Graves Park and Gleadless Valley) also recovered some of the votes that were squeezed out in the rush to Labour last year, when the general election was held on the same day.

Ultimately it’s perhaps surprising that the LibDems didn’t suffer even more. Perhaps they have a bigger municipal voter base in the Northern middle class than we would hope, or perhaps this indicates a lack of positive enthusiasm for the Labour Party.

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The Strange Death of Nick Clegg

by Liam McNulty

Polls are predicting a Liberal Democrat wipe-out in today’s local elections.  The party is expected to lose Sheffield, where this blog has already covered Paul Scriven’s antics, and several other councils in the north of England.  Is this the beginning of the end for the Liberal Democrats or am I tempting fate?  But if it is, how will this impact on popular consciousness?  Let’s imagine:

Exam papers

University of Cambridge Historical Tripos 2018, Part I, Paper 6:

1. ‘To what extent is Nick Clegg to blame for the destruction of the Liberal tradition in British politics?’

2. ‘Who is the most inept politician in British parliamentary history?  Candidates may answer with reference to one of the following: (a) Nick Clegg.’

Books

‘Penguin has announced a new edition of George Dangerfield’s classic book ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’ with a foreword by  former Liberal Democrat leader and expert in the field, Nick Clegg.’

‘Having reinvented himself as an essayist, failed politician Nick Clegg has been commissioned to write a new introductory chapter to Toby Young’s ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.’  It is understood that the two met after Mr. Clegg opened Young’s free school in West London in 2011.’

‘Failed essayist and politician, Nick Clegg, has entered the world of books with a self-penned work of theology.  Entitled ‘Judas Iscariot: A Defense,’ Clegg seeks to rehabilitate the eponymous traitor with access to new archive material.  Mr. Clegg’s agents refused to confirm the value of the advance paid to the former deputy Prime Minister but sources close to the publisher suggest it was in the region of thirty pieces of silver.’

Definitions:

Clegg (vulgar) -noun

1. A superficial and dishonest politician: You are nothing but a Clegg

Clegg -verb

1. To say one thing and do another.

Cleggmania -noun

1.  Short-lived naive hysteria over the supposed merits of a bourgeois politician.

2.  The name given to the events of 5th May, 2011, when a disillusioned pitchfork-wielding mob drove Nick Clegg out of Sheffield.

Merchandise

‘Nick Clegg was accused of yet another U-turn today after it emerged that the Liberal Democrats had launched a new range of Clegg-themed punchbags.  Sources close to the deputy Prime Minister revealed that, just weeks after Mr. Clegg insisted that he ‘was not a punchbag’, the party’s dire financial position had forced them to market the product after an enthusiastic response from focus groups.  Shoppers have been camping outside Liberal Democrat headquarters since the early morning, indicating that demand is likely to be very high.’

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Why Social Mobility is Shit (II)

by Anne Archist

The second lesson from our analysis of the concept of social mobility, which is much less significant but worth pointing out in the absence of its acknowledgement by the political mainstream, is that people can move down as well as up the social hierarchy. Not only this, but (in relative terms at least) every movement up is accompanied by (a) movement(s) down, and vice versa. Marx talked about one-sided ways of understanding a concept, and this is certainly something that most commentators are guilty of – social mobility is a good thing, right? After all, it allows people to end up better off than they started in life. But, of course, it also means that people might end up worse off than they started too. For everyone who wins the lottery, someone’s business collapses. For every child of a mining family that became a professor, a child of the bourgeoisie was forced to seek wages by an inheritance squandered by their parents.

Basically, social mobility is generally conceived as a matter of relations – the generally increasing wealth of society as a whole, even when distributed around the population to some extent, is not termed social mobility. People’s position improving relative to their barest physical needs is not, therefore, social mobility (on this normal interpretation of the term, at least). Rather, it is improvement relative to other people in our society that counts as mobility. I leapfrog you, leaving you no better off. Someone else takes my place, sending me crashing back to where I was before. None of this makes any overall improvement – social mobility, conceptually speaking, is a zero-sum game.

If we all move together, we are not moving within the hierarchy but shifting the whole hierarchy onto different ground, still intact. John MacLean said “Rise with your class, not out of it” – the working class can improve their position as a class, and can eventually abolish the very social relations that make them the working class. This should be their focus, rather than the language of social mobility that implores workers to leave their class behind them and enter the ranks of small capital or the self-employed.

It’s interesting also to reflect on the way that social mobility is measured and conceptualised by the right. This is a methodological issue that threatens to slip into the analysis of those on the left, as methodologies and underlying analytical assumptions have been known to do in the past. Here’s an example: David Willetts is concerned about the effect feminism has had on social mobility. His reasoning is that many women have been able to take opportunities that would otherwise gone to men and improved their social positions. Of course, the reason that Willetts sees this as a threat to social mobility is that he conceives of the family unit as a single, indivisible economic entity, represented largely by the ‘male breadwinner’.

If Willetts conceived of social mobility on an individual level, the improvements in women’s social mobility would neutralise the damage done to men’s social mobility, as we’ve already seen. The reason that women pose a problem in this way of looking at things is that they themselves aren’t seen as worthy of assessing individually for their own social standing. Their social standing is, largely, that of their husband. Families are becoming less socially mobile due to the fact that generally families now consist of either two people who are well off and well educated or two people who are not particularly economically prosperous and averagely educated at best.

This means that there is increasing polarisation between family units in terms of, say, education, when you average out between the husband and wife. Before you could have relied upon well-educated men marrying poorly-educated women in order to create a tendency towards the mean. It also means that families are less likely to change dramatically in terms of income and so on – if the family’s income depends almost entirely on the man’s income, then the loss of his job will affect them much more than if his income only makes up half or a third of the income.

None of this has anything to do with individual people’s chances in life, their incomes or levels of education, their class membership, or whatever. It has to do with the way that these people come together into family units, and that is what Willetts is blind to; by taking the basic economic unit to be the male-headed family, he obscures inequalities within families and the social mobility of women (other than single women, perhaps, who may appear in his metrics as a kind of abberation). Willetts also seems to confuse inequality in household income with lack of social mobility, though it’s unclear as to what exactly his reasoning is from the way he’s been quoted in the press.

Why, then, do some on the left promote this apparently right-wing goal? Arguments over what will best promote social mobility abound, claims that the cuts to education will harm social mobility come even from hardline SWPers and so forth. It makes perfect sense that David Willetts should be concerned with social mobility – presumably he thinks there’s some link between meritocracy and social mobility (which, of course, isn’t logically the case since people’s position could change due to luck, as when workers win lottery jackpots), and that meritocracy is good.

But surely the left should be making the more politically explosive points against this agenda? When tories talk about social mobility they’re talking merely about: shuffling around who’s rich and who’s poor, not eliminating poverty; increasing competition for good educational opportunities, not improving educational opportunities for all; pitting ordinary working people against each other, not building cooperation and solidarity among them.

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Why Social Mobility is Shit (I)

by Anne Archist

Everyone’s talking about it. David Willetts has kicked the hornet’s nest most recently by arguing that feminism is to blame for reduced social mobility over the last few decades, but the concept itself is in widespread usage these days, from the left through to the government. Social mobility is good, we’re told; it gives people a chance to get on in life, to do better than the generations before them. That all sounds nice, but today I’m going to tear the whole concept apart like only a philosopher can.

The kind of social mobility we’re talking about here (and that most people are talking about elsewhere) is ‘vertical social mobility’. This is the idea that people can move up or down the social hierarchy. Some people are at the ‘top’ of society (generally those who are best educated, have the highest incomes, have the most political/economic power, know the most powerful people, etc) and others are at the ‘bottom’ (the opposite), with people in various layers in between, or a spectrum stretching from one to the other. To talk about (vertical) social mobility without imagining society in this hierarchical and unequal way renders it nonsense.

So the first lesson we can take from our analysis of social mobility as a concept is that it’s incompatible with an equal, classless society. Social mobility presupposes a class divide or a spectrum of inequality; equality and classlessness makes ‘mobility’ impossible because mobility means (the capability for) movement from one point to another, and an equal, classless society is one in which everyone occupies the same social position – everyone is at the same point because there is only one point. Next time people imply that equality and social mobility go hand in hand, remember that while higher degrees of equality may correlate with higher measures of social mobility, real equality is incompatible with real social mobility.

Some people will be confused by the previous paragraph – generally more equality means more mobility, but the most equality means the least mobility? How can that be the case? Something that might illuminate the previous paragraph is the idea of multiple-peakedness; this is important in understanding certain aspects of politics. The idea is that not everything works as a linear improvement in a particular direction. It’s not true, for instance, that everyone who votes for the most right-wing party would vote for the second most right-wing party as their second preference (an assumption, incidentally, that seems to be underlying much of the AV debate at the moment; maybe I’ll talk about this more in a further post).

Suppose that a working-class voter is minimally class-conscious; they realise that free markets are just a route to the rich getting richer at their expense, and they know that they have a certain common interest with fellow workers in a similar position to themselves. They may also be racist or generally nationalist and short-sighted, however. That is, they may not be internationalist and may not understand their common interest with immigrant workers. They vote BNP because they see the BNP as a party that will fight for the native working class, will oppose free market profiteering, etc. Ignoring the question of how accurate this perception is, it doesn’t therefore follow that they would vote for UKIP or the tories as their second preference. Perhaps they’d vote Labour or even support the Socialist Party or something of the sort.

This is multiple-peakedness – the line on a graph that represents their preferences doesn’t have just one peak and descend in a straight line from there, but actually has a peak at each end. In this instance it’s probably double-peaked, with a gradual descent down from the far left towards the tories but then a big peak at the end representing the far right. In other instances there may be more than two peaks separated by troughs of varying heights, etc. Now we can apply this idea to the relationship between equality and social mobility; it may be that in, e.g. conditions present in Western European style broadly social democracies, equality and social mobility are correlated. This doesn’t imply that they will correlate in other conditions (other sections of the graph, as it were). After all, if a society is too polarised, mobility will be all but impossible too – social mobility is going to be low for slaves, for instance! – but if a society is equal enough then social mobility is going to be conceptually impossible altogether because there is no room to ‘move’.

While we’re on the subject, don’t forget the transformation of quantity into quality in terms of understanding the relationship here… This is the thing that Engels repeatedly explained in terms of water changing states – as water heats up (a change in quantity of energy), it eventually reaches a point where it boils (a change in quality of state). It could be that social mobility improves up to the point that it just becomes a socially/politically meaningless concept because there is little relevance to moving within the narrow constrains that a society that is basically equal. I’m not concerned here with laying out a strict analysis of the relationship between the two variables across the whole range of possibilities, but it seems pretty clear that at the extreme of total equality, social mobility is utterly non-existent. As I’ve said, social mobility presupposes an unequal, class-divided society.

Part II coming tomorrow…

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How to make people really angry

Make them a promise:
“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”

Text of NUS pledge signed by all Liberal Democrat MPs in April 2010

Hey, that sounds pretty good…

Break the promise by coming up with a pathetic non-reason:
“With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now”

Nick Clegg, October 2010

…wait, when did he suddenly realise the economy was bad? May 7th?…

Deny that you broke the promise:
“We didn’t break a promise. We made a commitment in our manifesto, we didn’t win the election. We then entered into a coalition agreement, and it’s the coalition agreement that is binding upon us and which I’m trying to honour.”

Vince Cable, 21st November 2010

… hang on, the pledge you signed didn’t mention whether you would be in government or opposition. You committed yourselves to voting against higher fees, full stop. We’re not idiots…

Demonise people who are starting to get angry:

“I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying property and that is completely unacceptable. And we need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished and we need to make sure that we don’t, as the police put it, see scenes like that on London’s streets again.”

David Cameron
, 11th November 2010

… but there’s no punishment for flagrantly breaking election promises, or trashing the welfare state?…

Be hypocritical:
“Here’s what makes me angry. Oxford and Cambridge take more students each year from just two schools – Eton and Westminster – than from among the 80,000 pupils who are eligible for free school meals.”

Nick Clegg, 23rd November 2010

…yeah, I especially hate it when they become Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and make a living screwing over everyone else…

Be patronising:
“Listen and look before you march and shout.”

Nick Clegg, 23rd November 2010

…we’re not crossing a road, Nick. How about you listen to us…

Give over billions more pounds to failing banks:
“We are doing this because it is overwhelmingly in Britain’s national interest that we have a stable Irish economy and banking system.”

George Osborne, 23rd November 2010

…not this shit again! Seriously?!

That should do it.

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A pledge is a pledge

by nineteensixtyseven

The NUS Pledge that more than 500 Liberal Democrat candidates, including every sitting Lib Dem MP, signed before the General Election read as follows:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”

Note what it did not say.  It did not qualify its statement with ‘conditional on the economic climate’.  Nor did it read, ‘I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament except if my party joins the government, in which case I will vote for higher fees.’ Listening to some Liberal Democrats, though, you would think that they signed a pledge which contained these very get-out clauses.

Julian Huppert and Nick Clegg

Let’s face it; Lib Dems were never going to form a majority government.  Those students who were naive enough to vote for them did not do so because they imagined a hypothetical land of milk and honey where everyone agreed with Nick, and the smooth-talking lothario benevolently rained down gifts upon dewy-eyed sixth-formers.  No, it was because there was a chance of a hung Parliament and possible Lib Dem participation in some form of coalition.  That is exactly what happened.

Nick Clegg, however, said yesterday that: ‘At the time I really thought we could do it. I just didn’t know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were.’  This is nonsense.  Would these be the same finances affected by the economic crisis that broke out nearly two years before the election?  Moreover, hasn’t his coalition partner, George Osborne boasted about bringing Britain ‘back from the brink‘?  If this is true then surely there is more call for phasing out tuition fees now than when the Lib Dems made the promise at the so-called brink?  You can’t have it both ways.

If you take the step and voluntarily sign a pledge then you should consider that you may one day have to act on it.  There is a reason why wedding vows do not usually contain multiple clauses spelling out circumstances in which they can be broken.  When you make a promise you are supposed to work hard to keep it. Otherwise, Clegg should have said this on his wedding day:

“I, Nicholas William Peter Clegg, take you Miriam González Durántez, to be my lawful wedded wife, for better but not for worse, for richer, but not for poorer, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part, unless of course, I meet a more attractive woman or I discover after the wedding day that you really annoy me.”

I doubt if his vows contained such qualifications, and the NUS Pledge certainly did not.  Even if Clegg really did feel that economic conditions had changed since before the election, he would still have no excuse because he should not have signed an unconditional pledge in the first place to boost his party’s electoral fortunes. If we apply Clegg’s logic we could have MPs promising free chocolate one day and citing possible cocoa shortages or milk price inflation the next.  Indeed, with no connection between the policies of a party and its actions in government we might as well all just appoint people to Parliament at random.

There is one aspect of this saga that people are in danger of missing.  The pledge contained an important promise to to ‘pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative’, not just to vote against higher fees in the knowledge that it will probably go through anyway and then abnegate all responsibility.  If you have a Liberal Democrat MP promising to vote against higher tuition fees then ask them what they are doing to stop the rise being implemented.  Are they pressurising their backbench colleagues?  Are they organising a proper backbench rebellion?  If the answer to these questions is ‘No’ then they, like the traitors who break their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees, should resign and facilitate a byelection so that the electorate can pass judgement on their betrayal.

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Could fees destroy the Liberal Democrats?

by Edd Mustill

The coalition government has so far proved stronger than many on the left hoped or wished. The fall out from Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, which has recommended the removal of the cap on tuition fees, may present the biggest challenge yet to the coalition agreement.

Fees: More ammo for anti-Clegg LibDems

Higher Education is a big issue for the Liberal Democrats. In recent years their successes have come in university towns, like Cambridge. Nick Clegg’s own constituency of Sheffield Hallam has a concentration of students. All their MPs, while running for election, signed an NUS pledge to vote against higher fees.

The Liberal Democrat leadership’s arguments justifying their U-turn are incredibly weak. They are trying to plead ignorance, saying they did not know how bad the economic situation was until after the election. This is a strange attitude to take to a protracted economic crisis that has so far lasted for over two years, and also ignores economic indicators just after the election pointing to a smaller budget deficit than had been feared.

Even this is beside the point. The pledge was not “to vote against higher fees unless we decide that it’s not economically reasonable.”

“Politician breaks promises” is hardly headline news, and the public are well used to it. But party activists will be annoyed that the move comes just weeks after the party conference, which is supposedly the sovereign policy-making body, voted for a campaign to replace fees with a graduate tax.

The leadership know this, but it would be too embarrassing for Clegg and Cable to climbdown after accepting the substance of the Browne Review. A U-turn for the sake of power is good political sense, but a U-turn for the sake of principle would be one they cannot afford to undertake.

The parliamentary party is already in disarray as some MPs openly state their willingness to break the pledge, while others affirm their anti-fees position. The party’s youth wing, which has its conference next weekend, has urged MPs to vote against any fee rises.

Although outrage has exploded in the light of Lord Browne’s recommendations, the reality is that the coalition agreement, formed days after the general election, already effective broke the Liberal Democrat’s pledge. It allows for LibDem MPs to abstain on raising fees, but not to vote against.

Given that this has therefore not come as a bolt from the blue, one wonders why the membership did not make more of an issue of fees at the recent party conference, where the coalition agreement was endorsed with minor grumbling. Will a fight develop inside the LibDems as the young people who joined as anti-fees, or anti-war, activists in the last few years finally tire of an agreement that has systematically shut out what they regarded as their flagship policies?

This will rely on an organised force emerging. It will depend on whether MPs see that their party is heading towards an electoral catastrophe, and whether they and Liberal Youth want to risk a confrontation with the leadership that could increase the possibility of a general split in the party, between its pro-Tory and anti-Tory elements.

In this sense, the emergence of LibDem senior figures like Simon Hughues and Ming Campbell publicly disagreeing with government policy is potentially significant. I should stress that I see this as important not because the LibDems could provide us with a “better” alternative to the Browne Review. They can’t. Opposition will come from the organised left, and from angry students. In fact, it already is.

Rather, it is important if the government is politically weakened at a time when the spending review is about to unleash battles all over society. Student opposition to the government has the potential to be much more powerful than it has been for years, partly because the issue of fees could cause cracks in the LibDems more than any other issue, but mostly because what universities face is part of a generalised and ferocious attack on the public sector.

In 2004 I watched the Higher Education Act that brought in top-up fees pass through the Commons by five votes on television. Those of us who have spent a lot of time in the years since then arguing that this was the thin end of the wedge, and would lead to indefinite fees and a marketised university system, have now been vindicated. The era of students joining the Liberal Democrats as a right-on “progressive” group is dead and gone. Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats were amusingly (tragically?) out on the lash at the same time as a meeting was being held in the town to discuss the Browne Review.

The Liberal Democrats will disintegrate as a political force on campus. As discontent spreads on campuses and in workplaces, they could easily disintegrate as a party entirely.

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The Week in Irony

by nineteensixtyseven

Pope Benedict XVI criticises Britain’s ‘aggressive forms of secularism‘ during a multimillion pound visit paid for by- you guessed it- the State.

Infamous billionaire tax-cheat Lord Ashcroft blames the failure of the Tories to win an outright majority on ‘ suspicions about lack of substance, concerns that the party was for the better-off rather than ordinary people and a residual fear that the change had been merely cosmetic.’  Hmm, whatever gave people that idea…

Pseudo-left Guardianista favourite Will Hutton backs torture-colluder David Miliband for Labour leadership because the party and the country ‘need a leader who will not jettison the political legitimacy’ won by war criminal Tony Blair.

The Basque separatist group ETA has included former SDLP leader and Nobel Prize laureate John Hume on a list of statesmen and women it would accept to mediate with the Spanish government, just weeks after Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams boasted of his own role in securing the ETA ceasefire.

Despite backing a cuts agenda which appeared nowhere in their manifesto, agreeing to gerrymander electoral boundaries, and ignoring a conference motion critical of the very same Michael Gove education reforms which Sarah Teather opposed in opposition but is now helping to implement, Nick Clegg’s party still have the tenacity to call themselves the ‘Liberal Democrats‘.

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