On the one hand, I want to defend my party. I want to show the world that the Lib Dems and Clegg in particular don’t deserve this hatred, that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, that this won’t hurt the poor as badly as people think.
On the other, I want every one of those MPs who breaks their pledge to suffer – especially those who now drive around in Ministerial cars. I want to blame them for trebling tuition fees in one fell swoop, instead of doing away with them altogether, a platform the LibDems have held for years, and garnered many student votes because of it.
I won’t bother fully enunciating the vitriol my student half feels. Just look at the TV, on facebook, down at your Uni’s student union…it’s everywhere. There’s no point in me blogging about it.
So instead, I’ll warn my beloved Lib Dems. The ones I have defended for years against allegations of being the useless third party, that we’d never be able to taste power, that we were irrelevant. Constantly, comedians wondering who Nick Clegg was. The news side-lining us. All in the past now.
Don’t turn your back on the students. We are the basis for victories in too many constituencies to alienate our support.
John Leech in Manchester Withington was elected in 2005 to a constituency full of students. In 2005, he benefited from a 17% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. Despite trebling his majority in 2010, it is still only around 2000 votes that keep us from losing the seat again.
David Howarth in Cambridge also won in 2005, with a huge 18.5% swing from Labour. Julian Huppert now holds the seat for us, with a decent majority, over 6,000, but still a vulnerable seat if we alienate student support.
Jenny Willott in Cardiff Central was elected in 2005 – Cardiff Central has a huge number of students, from three universities – she herself quoted 16,000 in her maiden speech. Her majority hovers around 5,000, with a turnout of 36,000.
Greg Mulholland in Leeds North West holds a seat which we have built from trailing by 6,000 votes in 2001, to a majority of 9,000 in 2010. Somewhat safe, we can only hope.
Have you noticed that these four victories came in 2005? A year when the anger against Labour for tuition-fee rises and the Iraq War was particularly high, and, in alignment with excellent campaigns fought by all these MPs, we benefited from a lot of that anger – a swing in votes of almost 4%. Imagine that anger turned against us.
All of these MPs have, thankfully, come out against the rise in tuition fees this Thursday, with some claiming that they will vote against the motion. I can only hope that each and every MP that signed the pledge against raising tuition fees, of any party – remember, some Tories and some Labourites also pledged against this, along with Caroline Lucas and numerous SNP and Plaid MPs – will have the courage to do so.
If the Liberal Democrat leadership cracked down on rebels in vulnerable seats, only doing what their pledge and their morals compel them to do, then we risk losing many seats and our integrity in the eyes of an entire generation, just coming to political fruition. The Greens and the NUS themselves have stated that they will target LibDems in key seats, such as Sheffield Hallam, Norwich South, Bath and seats mentioned above.
Consider the other direction – if the Lib Dems hold fast, perhaps contenting to let our leadership placate the Tories but turn a blind eye to rampant rebellions in the back-benches, we could perhaps even become the heroes of students once again. “We did what we could, but the Tories were too strong”. Marginal seats could even be won in high-student areas – Kingston Upon Hull North, Oxford East and the chance of re-gaining Oxford West and Abingdon spring to mind. At least, we may keep most of the ones that are currently under threat. And we can still draw in an entire generation of students to our cause, the party that everyone ignored, standing firm against the Right – banks offer good student and graduate accounts because people fundamentally feel comfortable sticking with the same company…or the same party…for many years if they are enticed to enlist when young enough.
It’s clear. We can’t risk betraying students on the motion that will come before the house on Thursday the 9th of December. We must vote it down.
Clegg has said he should have been more careful when signing the pledge. I agree. If they had signed a pledge to protect the students of the UK, especially the most vulnerable, their word could still be kept.
The problem I have with the vote on the 9th is that it is only the worst parts of the Browne report. It will simply triple the cap on tuition fees as of next year. That is unacceptable as it WILL hurt the most vulnerable in society. It will hurt everyone, I can practically guarantee I would not have gone to university had my debt been thrice as high as it will be.
However – the Browne report discusses many progressive proposals that haven’t been included. The plan to raise the threshold of repayments to £21,000 of earnings after graduation. 18,000 students currently on free school meals are going to receive a year’s scholarship, and universities breaching the £6,000 threshold will have to offer the poorest students an additional free year. Part-time students will not have to pay fees upfront. If these proposals were included in the upcoming Motion, it would increase fees but also protect the ones who need it. They are due to be brought in at some future juncture, as Clegg has timidly reminded us, but they need to be ensured immediately….or we cannot allow a raise in fees.
I’m sorry to tell the student population of the UK but this rise is inevitable. It will happen. Labour and the Conservatives were both agreed on that before the election – no matter the result of the election, it would have been the same.
But the majority of us will be able to deal with it. Yes, we’ll have to pay off more debt, vast sums more, but we don’t pay up front, we only pay back when earning £21,000+ and we shouldn’t have to face any further rises. We can only hope that the Liberal Democrats in Parliament will have the courage to stand firm against the coalition and Cameron and insist on a fair, progressive system being put into place, thus hopefully helping the least privileged and most vulnerable in society, and stopping the Liberal Democrats losing vital votes and MPs, before agreeing to take the plunge.