Tuition Fees and Broken Promises

"We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents' income" The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, p32

Does anyone else remember the Lib Dem manifesto?  I know hardly anyone read it, but presumably most of you were aware of it’s existence? Well, even if you weren’t, you won’t be surprised to hear that it contained this particular gem on page 32: “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income”.

This has been a staple of Liberal Democrat policy for years. They have built their voter base on it, attracting idealistic students who don’t want to graduate university in mountains of debt. Everyone knows this, just as everyone knows that the Conservatives attracts the rich, and the working classes vote Labour.

It seems, however, that the Lib Dems themselves have forgotten this. In anticipation of the Browne Review publishing its findings tomorrow, speculation is rife that it will recommend that tuition fees be dramatically raised. The current figure that seems to be being batted around at the moment is somewhere in the region of £7,000. Now, I realise that whilst I may be many things (a law student, a writer, a lay political ranter and Labour Party member), I am not a mathematician. So if I’m wrong on this, someone please correct me, but I don’t think that raising them to £7,000 constitutes “scrapping unfair university tuition fees”.

The obvious ramifications on this are those for the Lib Dems. It was their one policy that won serious support. Students are a massive voting sector, who on mass tend to swing towards the Lib Dems. And now they have, as part of the coalition, agreed to allow those people to take a massive hit.

But this runs deeper than that. Very few people at the moment are arguing that free university education is possible. But what is clear is that the increasing debt that graduates are leaving university with are not a good thing. More than doubling that debt is going to radically alter the educational landscape, and be a serious dissuading factor for those from poorer backgrounds, against going to university.

The rich will still be able to attend, and get their degrees. They can afford to shoulder the debt, if not the hiked tuition fees themselves. And when you add to this the speculation that universities will be able to charge over that amount, for those who can pay it.

Which is just brilliant, don’t you think? All the progress we’ve made towards equality, away from elitism, away from the idea that those with money deserve better than those without. All the progress we’ve made towards a fairer society, and the Lib Dems get into government at it’s immediately started to be unpicked.

So here it is. This is what we’re faced with. If students thought that they were going to be immune from the cuts and chaos that’s going around at the moment, we were wrong. We need to find our voices and stand up. We need to tell the world that, no, we’re not just a drain on society, we’re going to be contributing to the economy by paying higher rate tax after we graduate and get jobs. We need to say that education shouldn’t be the purview of the rich, it shouldn’t be exclusive to the privileged.

And to Clegg, Cable, and the other Lib Dems who sold their souls for seats at the Cabinet table, know this: the British electorate will not be forgetting your broken promises any time soon. You keep justifying your cooperation with the Tories as “liberalising” what would otherwise be a harsh conservative government. So do some goddamn liberalising.

Putting the “Dem” in “ConDem”… Sort of

I was going to call this “Putting the Liberal in Libservative”, but after the deeply regressive budget the coalition have put forward, that seemed a little too oxymoronic.

So this weekend, the coalition has announced the date for their AV referendum. 5th May 2011. It’s a big moment, because it’s the only meaningful concession that the Lib Dems got out of the Tories. It’s not what they wanted, but it’s not what the Tories wanted either. Everyone knows that the Lib Dems will campaign for AV, and the Tories will campaign against it, and really that facet of the issue isn’t that interesting.

The importance of this announcement is that it’s Nick Clegg’s attempt to justify himself to his party and voters, after the travesty of the VAT hike he campaigned against, and then fell in line behind. Compromise is one thing, but VAT was the weapon of choice that the Lib Dems attacked the Tories with during the election. To support it now is not simply compromise, but a betrayal of principles, and the voters who listened and agreed to what they had said.

But the Lib Dem frontbench hopes that this announcement will be a reminder that yes, they did get something out of the deal. They might have sold their souls, but at least they didn’t sell them for completely nothing. Right? Well, it’s still a very small concession. The Tories’ line is clear; they like first past the post. They’ll throw their full weight behind it, including the Ashcroft/Murdoch machine (and I don’t believe that DC will remain neutral in the campaign). The Lib Dem’s line on it, however, isn’t exactly harmonious. They want a much more radical electoral reform, and this is just a tiny step in the direction they want to go.

I’m in favour of AV. I’m actually in favour of Single Transferable Vote, but that’s so complicated as to probably be impractical for the population to understand, without a few generations of quality political education in schools (another thing that I’m fairly passionate about the need for). But I don’t know whether it will pass or not.

And on top of that, this could be a serious problem for the Labour Party. Whilst the Tories and the Lib Dems have their clear places on either side of the electoral reform line, Labour is bisected by it. Some want reform, some want to keep first past the post, which will make the whole issue vary precarious. It runs the risk of dividing the party on the campaign, particularly as the inclusion of the boundary changes the Tories want to make to keep Labour out in the future will be bound up in it. Even those who like the idea of AV are relucatant to support a measure which will also gerrymander the constitution.

In my opinion, this is one of those now issues. Labour needs to debate openly and intensely their stance on the referendum, and make a collective decision where the party stands. And it needs to stick by that position, every man, woman and child. Because this might be the godsend Clegg is looking for. It might tear the only opposition apart, and allow him to get away with his betrayal of progressive politics. This is not a time for party squabbles, and the leadership contest so far has been conducted with such dignity and civility, it would be a real shame to lose that unity now.

(And on an entirely unrelated note, don’t forget my Werewolf Anthology Competition! Only a week left, and still no entries. Come on people, I’ve got a copy of the anthology here, and I want to give it to someone for free!)

Coalitions, Treason and Political Suicide

So Thursday’s election didn’t go too well. I don’t think any of the parties were particularly satisfied with the outcome. I know I wasn’t. But thinking on it, depending on how this is handled, Labour (and, in my opinion, the country) could actually come out of this in a good position.

Allow me to elaborate. Labour is beaten. The acceptance of that is paramount, and indeed I believe even Gordon Brown has accepted it. For all the Tory press might be moaning about him still being in Number 10, the Tories (though they almost certainly will) cannot yet form a government. It would irresponsible for Mr Brown, a man to whom duty is very important, to leave the country without a government. So, the most likely options are that the Tories will go into coalition with the Lib Dems, or form a minority government. Neither will be overwhelmingly stable, and particularly given the difficulty of the massive cuts the Tories intend to force through, they won’t be popular. Which will make their government more unstable, and more likely to collapse. If a Labour government can reposition itself as a strong opposition party, opposing the dramatic damage that a Conservative government would do to our economy, Labour could sweep them aside in the resulting election. Potentially.

But the man who I really feel sorry for at the moment is Mr Nicholas Clegg. He’s not having a good time of it at the moment. After being the star of the election campaign, his surge of votes failed to materialised. Still, the result was a hung parliament, which has been the Lib Dem’s wet dream for a long, long time. And now it’s turning into a nightmare for him.

From his perspective, he either supports Labour, or the Conservatives. He’s already voiced his concern at the legitimacy of propping up a Labour government which to all intents and purposes, lost the election. He’s also already said that the Tories should have first shot at forming a government. So far, so good. But since he’s effectively the kingmaker, he has to choose one. And as a Lib Dem, there are certain things he wants, including: voting reform; reform of the House of Lords; greater integration with the EU; and the dismantling of Trident. And he’ll get precisely none of those from David Cameron. Regardless of how DC feels personally on the issue, his party is completely opposed to all of those things. So how does Clegg make a deal? Presumably something is being hammered out behind closed doors, but I’m really not sure what.

And then, there is the fact that the vast majority of people who did vote for the Lib Dems did not do so because they agreed with the Tory policies. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are not the same party. They are not on the same side of the political battle-lines. Realistically, they are closer to Labour, and in a deal with Labour would get at least two (possibly three) things on Clegg’s policy wish list. If he makes a deal with Cameron, to put Cameron in Number 10, he will be going against the wishes of a large portion (if not all) of his voters. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to make sure that you don’t see power again any time soon. If you go against the clear wishes of your party and your voters, you may as well put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. You’ll be about as useful as a politician that way.

Clegg owes the Conservative voters nothing. You don’t elect a politician of one party, to serve the interests of another. If Clegg trades his policies for a minor seat at the Conservative cabinet table, he’s a fool. The consequences would outweigh the benefits (with the possible exception of if he could get George Osborne’s seat for Vince Cable, and take that clueless muppet out of government completely, before he can even think about implementing a flat tax rate).

What Clegg does will depend on how smart he actually is. If he’s particularly thick, he’ll enter into a coalition with the Tories, and the dream of three party politics will be over for another century or so. If he’s less thick, he might enter a coalition with Labour, and hope it holds up long enough for the positive effects of economic recovery to be noticed despite Murdoch’s screeching. If he’s particularly smart, he’ll give the Tories a minority government, wait for it to collapse, and then wait for the surge of anti-conservative feeling to carry the Lib Dems along with Labour into a new era of two-party politics, and the Tories can take up the Lib Dem’s former non-entity status.

But at this point, we just have to wait and see.

A Call to Arms

This is mostly for readers in the UK, so I apologise to any international readers. But hey, you never know, you might find it interesting anyway.

Today is election day. At time of writing, the polling stations have been open for about an hour. And I am begging every single UK citizen, who is over 18, reading this to go out to their polling station, and cast their vote. I don’t think I can overstate how important this is. Today you can decide who is going to be in government tomorrow. If you have the opportunity, and do not vote today, in my opinion you have no right to complain about the result.

Now, I am not politically neutral. I think I’ve probably made that abundantly clear already. I am a Labour supporter, and I have already cast my vote according to my conscience. I have voted for the Labour party, because their policies make the most sense. They don’t promise unfeasible tax cuts. They promise to be fair to the poorest people in this country. They have steered us through one of the worst recessions in living memory (which was the fault of the Conservative Thatcher government), and they will continue to bring us through it if we give them the chance to do so. I urge you to read their policies, and consider voting for them.

But what I beg you to do, is to not vote for the Tories. I am firmly of the belief that David Cameron and his cronies would be a disaster for this country. They would begin drastic cuts too early, risking a return to the depths of recession. They would alienate economic allies in the EU, with their ridiculously archaic Euroskeptic view (and incidentally, Cameron has not read the Lisbon Treaty. However much you may think there should have been a referendum on the matter, actually gives greater power to Westminster, rather than Brussels). They would cut benefits for many of the families who genuinely and honestly rely on them to get by. They would usher in changes to the law that discriminate against all but the white, middle/upper class, heterosexual married family. Basically, they would return to the dark days of Thatcher.

Vote for Labour. Vote for the Lib Dems. Vote for the Greens. Vote for one of the Nationalist parties (if you’re in Scotland or Wales). Vote for an independent. Preferably don’t vote for the BNP or UKIP. Read the parties’ politics, what they would do for this country, and decide on that basis. I’m not stupid, I don’t think that the Tories are evil. I think that they are wrong. And I also don’t like how they have conducted their campaign, using millions of pounds of donation from Lord Ashcroft; a man who doesn’t pay tax in the UK, but still thinks it’s his right to decide how and by whom this country is run. And Rupert Murdoch. The man who wants to buy Number 10, who wants to install his man as PM, so that the BBC will be dismantled, and he can expand his monopoly. The Sun, et al, have lost all sense of responsible journalism, declaring Cameron the winner of debates in which he floundered, and lying to the public at large. Today they run with a gaudy Obama-style image of Cameron.

Don’t do this to Britain. The choice is yours, this is the principle of democracy. I haven’t always been it’s greatest advocate or supporter, but I’m asking you to prove to me today that it has merit. So please, go down to the polling station today, and cast your vote. Because untold numbers have died over the ages so that you can do so. And if the country is to survive the next five years, every one of you needs to. Go out and vote, for policy, not personality. For equality, not closed mindedness. For the future, not for the past.

Thank you.

“In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” -Aristotle, Politics.

Why the Lib Dem Surge is a Good Thing

The immediate answer to this is obvious: because a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote not for the Tories.

But I promised myself (and now am promising you) that this won’t be an anti-Conservative rant. I’ve done enough of that in the nineteen-and-a-half years I’ve been on this earth, and will no doubt do a hell of a lot more before 6th May. No, this is about something else. For those of you not familiar with British politics, allow me to do a quick background filler:

The Liberal Democrats are the third party in Westminster. They have consistently in the last half-century been a weakened, ineffective force, and the but of many a political satirist’s joke. Their politics are middle ground, slightly left-leaning, and they are usually seen as the safe, protest vote against Labour or Conservatives. I don’t have a clue when was the last time they were serious contenders in an election.

Except no. That’s not quite accurate any more. Over the weekend, the Lib Dems and their leader, inoffensive Cameron-a-like Nick Clegg, climbed to dizzying heights in the polls, and overtook the Tories. This really was breaking new ground. Since before the announcement of this election, the Lib Dems were touted as the kingmakers of any potential coalition government, being able to choose who would govern the country. But at no point would anyone have pegged them as being up their competing with Labour and the Conservatives.

It’s a glorious blow to the Tories hopes’ of victory, and to David Cameron’s “patriotic duty” to become the next Prime Minister, and I have been loving every moment of it. Of course, it probably won’t last. Already the Tories are regaining the lead, and whether the Lib Dems will stay in the same kind of contention in two and a half weeks time is anyone’s guess. But what’s really worth commenting on is precisely how this came about.

And say what you like about votes disenfranchised with the two major parties, or people liking their policies. That no doubt does contribute. But the real poll-swinger was the first ever televised party leaders’ debate. It was last thursday, on ITV, and took place on a set that looked like it had been borrowed from a cheap daytime gameshow presented by some washed up comedian or actor. Or Noel Edmonds.

This was a historic occurring, the first time that any such debate had taken place. In the past, opposition leaders have frequently challenged the incumbent to televised debates, with the incumbent usually refusing on grounds that the election should be decided on policy, not personality. Personally, I agree with this argument, and wasn’t looking forward to the whole palaver, expecting a smarmy display of PR from Cameron, a lot of embarrassing blustering from Brown, and pretty much nothing from Clegg. I think everyone else was expecting the same.

But I was wrong. David Cameron looked like a Madame Tussauds wax model (except for one memorable moment where he looked like a haunted Madame Tussauds wax model), Gordon Brown seemed relaxed and at ease, even cracking jokes, and Nick Clegg came across as the reasonable everyman. Personally I thought that Brown came out the best, but apparently the British public disagree with me, and I suspect that it’s because they have never seen or heard anything from Clegg before. The Lib Dems have been in the background so long, as British politics marches on towards a US-style bipartisan system, that everyone had forgotten they exist. Now they have gotten themselves noticed, and although their surge in support may just be a novelty, and may not last, it will hopefully last long enough to cause some bloody change when the election results come in.

They won’t win, I’m not deluded enough to think that. But when the hung parliament is a reality, they will be major players in a coalition, rather than just the quiet kid picked at football to make up numbers. Frankly, any move away from a two-party system is a good thing (well, not if the third party were the BNP or UKIP, obviously). Bipartisanism leads to extremes. Two parties that are polar opposites of each other, with no happy medium. The Lib Dems, no matter what you might think of their policies (and believe me, they have some which I myself think they can go shove where the sun doesn’t shine), are that happy medium.

And the irony of it is that this move away from a US-style bipartisanism, came out of a US-style televised political debate. Brilliant!