30 Nov 2010

Tuition fees: getting Lib Dems in line like ‘herding frogs’

“Herding frogs into a wheel barrow” is how one senior Lib Dem describes trying to get Lib Dem MPs in line.

The latest attempt by Lib Dem high command to get their party into some sort of order on tuition fees proves the point. The Business Secretary Vince Cable has just confirmed that he and his ministerial colleagues plan to lead a collective abstention when the critical vote comes on raising tuition fees in two weeks time.

Yes, that’s the Business Secretary, responsible for universities, the man who drafted the government’s reforms on Higher Education, abstaining on his own measure. Embarrassing? Yes. But the Lib Dem leadership has decided it could be worse.

The scene they most wanted to avoid is Lib Dem MPs darting off in three different directions on the night (abstention, oppositition and support). They hope to minimise that with a two-way split (some backbenchers cannot be reconciled to abstention and will oppose – for the latest on how many of them there are check out this Lib Dem councillor’s blog).

You see how close the vote gets if the Lib Dem ministers lead an abstention and those saying they’ll vote “no” stick to their guns and hold their numbers.

By the way, the tuition fees vote at 10pm tonight is on a Labour motion and opposition days are traditionally a bit of a non-event … government backbench rebels save their fire (most of them, anyway) for the critical legislative votes not the opposition-made bear traps. Two weeks time is crunch time, exact date of vote not yet decided.

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