30 Nov 2010

Nick Clegg, tuition fees and the battle to keep Lib Dems united

Just been up in Trafalgar Square where a few hundred students are still protesting and some more hardened political activists are hanging around too. The police arrested someone and there was a surge towards the scene, a few things were thrown in the direction of the police – I saw bollards, fireworks and bits of wood thrown.

Down the road in Parliament, Lib Dem MPs are meeting to discuss tactics for the tuition fees vote in 2 weeks’ time. Last week, the meeting went on for 2 hours – all very rational, troubled but not antagonistic, I’m told by one who was there.

Nick Clegg feels he has to make sure that he did everything he could to keep his MPs united. So he is giving the “let’s all abstain together” strategy his best try. But when he looks at the coverage he may think he hoisted a flag and it’s come down riddled with bullets. One MP said Nick Clegg was in danger of putting party unity above principle or sanity.

He tried “principled abstention” once before when he marched his MPs out of the chamber in March 2008 over the issue of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. He got pretty well pelted with ridicule on that occasion by people outside the parliamentary party and some close to him think he may spot that he’s walking into the same situation again with a planned mass abstention on tuition fees … this is the strategy Nick Clegg is pushing right now but it might not be in 24 hours.

Tories are relaxed whatever happens on the Lib Dem benches, confident the measure gets through.

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8 reader comments

  1. John says:

    I have not seen in press coverage the answer to the following questions:

    1. Comparison of Expectations of College to Non College in annual income: expenditures with new Tuition loan program. Example:

    £25,000 £35,000 £60,000 plus
    College Non College College Non College College Non College

    Gross Ann Income
    Less Nat Income Tax
    Less Council Tax
    Less Payback
    Net available for
    personal expense
    Frequency in the population, each Frequency in the population, each Frequency in the population, each.

    2. How long typically does it take to rise in income from the average starting salary to £21,000 pounds and from £21,000 pounds to £35,000 pounds and then £60,000 pounds.

    The current discussion is too abstract to understand what is real and what isn’t. I would like to see such a charge for each of the regions
    as well as overall. I do not want to see a “lifetime” income projection. That is too remote and…

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      While I understand your argument, I have two objections to university fees on principle:

      1 It will mean young people setting off on their working life with a debt of around £40,000 and while there are all kinds of caveats around that, it is still a major debt

      2 Those who propose this are the very people who enjoyed a free university education plus, in many cases, grants. They think it is ‘fair’ for those who benefit from a degree to pay for it but they show no signs of being willing for their generation to cough up retrospectively.

      The answer for me is simple – the country benefits from good education so a fair rate of income tax should be used to pay for university tuition. Then if a graduate earns sheds loads of money (s)he will contribute accordingly.

      Politicians seem happy to inflict all kinds of taxes (VAT, motoring, tuition fees) but frightened of setting a proper rate for the fairest tax under which those who earn the most contribute the most.

    2. Mudplugger says:

      Sam is right in some ways, but lots of the problem starts with our ‘dumb’ Income Tax system.

      Because our politicians seem wedded to having only 2 or 3 tax bands, that creates large threshold steps which, at each large change of step, encourages crafty earners with craftier accountants to buck the system.

      With the quality of computing now available, there is no reason why the Income Tax system should not have 20, 30 or 40 tax mini-bands.

      They could start at, say £10,000 with a 5% rate, then each additional £5,000 of earnings would attract an additional 2% of tax. All the way up to a top rate of, say, 60% for those earning around £130,000 or more.

      That way, we would, in effect, be applying a ‘graduate tax’, but only on those for whom the additional education paid off. Yes, it would also trap all top earners, graduates or not, but that’s not unfair.

      Where it really starts to pay off is that, because each incremental step would be so small, it is not worth anyone playing the crafty accountant trick because the amounts at stake at any tiny threshold change are not worth it.

      So that’s a graduate tax and tax avoidance both solved in one move. Simples.

    3. Saltaire Sam says:

      Mudplugger, excellent scheme and fair to all

    4. Lynette says:

      Yes, Lib Dems have broken their promise; that cannot be disputed.

      However, for those who are crucifying Nick Clegg, pause for a moment and consider it is David Cameron who is Prime Minister and leader of the executive; it is his party and his cabinet which is driving forward this scheme. As Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems take the hits, Cameron is quite comfortable behind his human shield.

      Many had questioned why David Cameron appointed Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, many more had commented that he could possibly be the most influential and powerful Depute, as events unfold it is becoming apparent that the coalition is to the Conservative’s gain and every one else’s loss.

      Tuition fees are but the beginning.

  2. Ray Turner says:

    All this demonstrates is the problem with our method of electing a Government.

    During the campaign, all parties campaigned on what they’d do if they exclusively formed the next Government. At no stage did the campaign cover what would happen if a coalition were needed, because none of the main parties wanted to consider that. They were all campaigning for outright victory and didn’t want to conceded that they might not get it.

    What we have got now is a reasonable coalition agreement, under the circumstances, with one or two compromises that Lib Dems are finding rather painful.

    I do wish the students would shut up and realise that the country as a whole didn’t vote for the LibDems manifesto, or the promise that LibDems wouldn’t support an increase in tuition fees. The student protest is invalid really, as the country didn’t support the Lib Dems policy…

    What we should have done however, was have another vote, on whether the coalition agreement was acceptable or whether we should have gone through another election campaign and tried again for an outright majority.

    If there’s been a mistake here, its not legitimising the coalition agreement in this way….!

  3. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    This is a matter of social and political principle.

    One of the main principles of any civilised society is how it cares for and educates its young. Free at point of use is an important brick in the wall of such a society. Funding from general taxation is the way to provide for it, as it used to be and as we can well afford.

    This is why I will always treat with complete contempt any consideration of “the best way” to stick our youngsters with a lifetime of debt. This is a system intended to placate right wing extremists in the USA, the same bedfellows who seek to overturn the NHS in favour of “health care” companies.

    The main purpose of this is to exert greater control through infliction of debt from as early an age as possible. This is “economic fear” as propounded by the likes of the extreme right wing academic Patrick Minford.

    The sooner this country returns to funding sanity and decency in our higher education the better. Getting rid of crazy ultraright American notions would be a good start.

  4. maya bisht says:

    One of the main principles of any civilised society is how it cares for and educates its young. Free at point of use is an important brick in the wall of such a society. Funding from general taxation is the way to provide for it, as it used to be and as we can well afford.
    All this demonstrates is the problem with our method of electing a Government.

    During the campaign, all parties campaigned on what they’d do if they exclusively formed the next Government. At no stage did the campaign cover what would happen if a coalition were needed, because none of the main parties wanted to consider that. They were all campaigning for outright victory and didn’t want to conceded that they might not get it.

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