Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's it all about.....?

Why the furore over tuition fees...?

The tution fees vote as come and gone and the coalition has "won", i.e. it got enough votes to carry the day in the Commons. But the reverberations linger on, and the fall out continues...

David Cameron has been on the telly piously redirecting attention to the violence and damage that accompanied the student protests at the fees rise. Better not to think about the huge damage done to universities and students by the policy. Better not to think about the damage done to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems by the splits in their ranks. Better to claim that policemen were hauled from their horses and attacked by protestors (it didn't happen). Better to point to Prince Charles being shouted at rather than question why the heir to the throne was being silly enough to drive through a possible riot.

But the fury over the rise in student fees is not (really) about the violence.

Nick Clegg, meanwhile has been claiming that it's all about the coalition: he would be voting another way, but the coalition agreement won't allow him to do that. Sorry. Better not to mention that Clegg has always opposed the Lib Dem policy of abolishiong tuition fees. Better not to mention that he signed the pledge, but he always thought that tuition fees are a good thing, and that they would rise if he had the power (which he now does).

But the fury over the rise in tuition fees is not (really) about the coalition agreement.

And various Lib Dem aplogists have been telling us that the tuition fees rise is "fairer" to poorer students because they will only pay back as they earn more. Which may be true,

But the fury over the rise in tuition fees is not (really) about how "fair" the ToryDems think it might be in practice.

The Lib Dems also make the point that that other parties fail to deliver on manifesto promises.

But the fury over the rise in tuition fees is not (really) about meeting or not meeting manifesto promises.

All of the above come into the argument at some stage, but the rage over tuition fees rising in the way they have is about other, deeper, causes.

1. The Lib Dems promised in their manifesto to abolish (not just fight rises in) tuition fees. That's bad enough, but every single Lib Dem candidate signed a solemn pledge to fight the rise in fees. Now, a manifesto promise is made by a party that can say, in power, the situation has changed, we don't have the resources, we have changed our mind, or even we just did not place this issue high enough on our list of priorities. We will get round to it, but other things take precedence. But signing an individual solemn pledge is not the same as a party manifesto: it invests personal honour and integrity in the promise to do the thing you have pledged to do. And to renege (not just fail) on a solemn pledge is a sign of personal dishonesty and failure. Those Lib Dems who signed the pledge and then abstained or voted for the fees rise have lied and broken a personal pledge. It's not just me that's saying this: Lib Dem MPs who voted against the rise said so in Parliament and this Lib Dem has resigned from the party over it.

2. The rise in tuition fees is so steep because the ToryDem government has chosen to cut all of the funding that universities in England use to pay for their courses: £800 million has been taken out of their budget and they need to get the money from somewhere. The ToryDems say, " raise fees to £9000, that'll get you the money we heve just taken from you". If the budget had been cut by the same amount as every other department, the rise in fees would be hundreds, perhaps a thousand pounds, not a trebling of the fees.

3. The cuts are necessary at these levels because the ToryDem government has decided to cut much faster and further than is really needed to put the economy back on track. The Lib Dems wanted smaller cuts and a slower introduction of those cuts. Until they got elected. Another broken Lib Dem promise.

4. The Torys believe that too many people go to university, and that anyone who thinks that paying a large amount for an education might not be right, doesn't deserve one. The eventual aim is to privatise university education. Michael Gove, currently the Education Minister, said as much when in opposition.

Yes, there has been violence on the periphery of the demonstrations. Yes, there are manifesto promises made and broken. But the tuition fees have risen so much because the ToryDems have cut the universities funding for courses by 100%. And the real rage against the Liberal Democrats is a result of their about face on the over-all cuts and their personal betrayal in ignoring their solemn pledge to resist rises in tuition fees.

Antything else is smoke and mirrors.

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