There will not be a single Coalition MP went into politics to triple tuition fees. Yet here we are. A depressing truth of wielding power is often-times the only responsible choices boil down to picking ‘the least worst thing’. I wont repeat in any depth my own sad feelings on today’s vote – you can see them here.
In all the noise we’ve had on the subject you can break down the core theme into two parts:
- The fact of a raise in the cap on fees three-fold (Boo)
- The funding arrangements for their payment (Yay)
The removal of the cap stinks for everyone who will be impacted. I have two kids to think about and the figures terrify me. That said, given the nation is skint the realistic choices were always to either:
- have fewer people go to university (when it was free for all we only sent 10% of the population)
- keep aspiring to allow 50% of the population to benefit from higher education but revisit funding to ensure we can afford it.
- no change, keep the current funding arrangements regardless and keep adding to the structural deficit
Only 1 & 2 above were realistic (unless we wish to end up like Ireland). We chose 2 (as would Labour). And here we are. Even the right choices can have unpopular consequences.
Which then brings us to the arrangements for payments. One of the things that has got lost in the debate due to the understandable focus on the headline price increase is the new repayment regime. This is a great leap forward from what we currently have in place. There is an excellent website here which covers this in depth and debunks an number of the myths floating about.
Away from the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation the other thing that fascinates me about today’s vote is the Lib Dem position. They really are between a rock and a hard place. As I noted last week they need this Coalition to work. One of their fundamental beliefs is Proportional Representation. PR would make coalition government the norm not the exception. Coalition requires compromise. They either stick to their coalition agreement, vote with the Government and take an electoral beating else they pander to the public noise and surrender any future argument on the viability of governing under PR. It must be a nightmare choice for them. I’m hopeful that Clegg will carry them over the line in choosing to do the right thing over the popular thing but have no doubt that if an election was called tomorrow they would be wiped out as a result of this issue. This means if the vote does pass then they will need distance between today and the next election so that they have positive achievements to point to as counterbalance to today’s resentment. For this reason, IF the fees vote passes today I am more confident than ever that this Coalition will go the full distance – any Lib Dem recovery will depend upon it.