29 Nov 2010

Lib Dem candidates tell Clegg: oppose tuition fees rise

More than 100 Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates sign a petition calling on the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to oppose a rise in university tuition fees.

A protester wears a Nick Clegg mask during a tuition fees demo (Reuters)

Despite a Lib Dem pledge at the election to vote against a rise in fees, the Coalition Government is proposing that universities should be able to charge up to £9,000 a year – almost three times more than the current cost.

The petition, signed by 104 unsuccessful candidates at this year’s election, says: “During the General Election campaign many of our MPs (and now Government Ministers) signed a pledge with the National Union of Students that they would vote against any tuition fee rises during the course of the next parliament. There is one thing that sets the Liberal Democrats apart from other political parties; this is that when we say we will do something during election campaigns we then do it in government.

“The wording of this pledge clearly indicated that this would be unconditional; regardless of whether the party was in government or in opposition.”

Liberal Democrat election pledge

Before the May election, Lib Dem candidates signed a National Union of Students pledge opposing a rise in fees.When voters returned a hung parliament, Nick Clegg offered his backing to the Conservatives.

Under the terms of the agreement Messrs Clegg and Cameron struck, Lib Dem MPs are free to abstain in any parliamentary vote on fees.The student vote is important to the Lib Dems. In April, the pollsters Opinionpanel found that 50 per cent of students likely to vote were planning to back the LibDems.The company's latest research shows that 73 per cent of students feel let down by the party following Mr Clegg's decision to back a rise in fees.

Of those questioned, the largest single number voted Lib Dem in May.

NUS President Aaron Porter has told Channel 4 News that in university towns and cities, Lib Dem candidates made it their main issue - and of the party's 57 MPs, 15 now
represent these seats, including Mr Clegg.

The petition is hosted on the website of former Lib Dem candidate Derek Deedman, who told Channel 4 News: “My main reason is that we should be adhering to our promise. When we made the promise in April we were clear that the most likely outcome was a hung parliament .”

Mr Deedman said he wanted the Lib Dems to oppose tuition fees at the next election.

“This is what you get with a coalition government. You have to compromise on specific pledges, but that does not mean you are not going to resurrect them.”

It was now time to review the Labour Government’s commitment to having 50 per cent of young people attending university, he said.

A vote on the Government’s plans to raise fees is expected next month. The Lib Dems can abstain under the terms of the Coalition Agreement, but the Universities Minister David Willetts has said he expects the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable to vote in favour. Former party leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell are poised to vote against.

Last week, students throughout the country held protests against the increases.