6 Dec 2010

Lib Dem MPs may resign over tuition fees

Two senior Liberal Democrat MPs consider resigning from their positions in protest over plans to increase university tuition fees.

Students protest in London over tuition fees (Reuters)

The Transport Minister Norman Baker is thinking about standing down, while Mike Crockart, parliamentary aide to the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, may also resign.

Both are opposed to the Coalition Government’s plans to increase university tuition fees from £3,290 a year to up to £9,000 – and would have to stand down if they want to vote against the rise in a Commons vote on Thursday.

According to the National Union of Students, 15 of the Lib Dems’ 57 MPs have said they will vote against the Government’s plans. But one Lib Dem rebel told Channel 4 News that more were likely to do so.

In a bizarre incident today, Mr Crockart was the victim of an impersonator, who told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme during a live interview that he was definitely going to resign (watch video below).

The same claim was made to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, also by a hoxer pretending to be Mr Crockart.

Mike Crockart impersonated
The Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart was impersonated in a live interview today.

Someone pretending to be the Edinburgh West MP gave an interview to BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, in which he said he was planning to resign over university tuition fees.

A bad mobile phone line brought the interview to an abrupt end and it was only afterwards that the BBC realised it had been hoaxed after calling the wrong number.The corporation said: "The error came about after a call to an incorrect number listed in the BBC' s directory of MPs' contact details.

"The usual pre-broadcast questions were asked of the person concerned, who maintained throughout that he was Mr Crockart and appeared credible.

"Once the mistake was realised, steps were taken immediately to rectify the error and to ensure it was not repeated. A personal apology has been issued to Mr Crockart."

London's Evening Standard was also hoaxed by someone claiming to be Mr Crockart.

The impersonator told the newspaper: "I will be voting against 100 per cent. I'm not going to be pushed out. Resigning probably will be the only option."

Lib Dem headquarters said Mr Crockart was annoyed by what had happened, but could see the funny side of it.

And it wasn't just the interview with the imposter that caused ructions at the BBC today: BBC apologises for imposter MP and four-letter gaffes

In fact, Mr Crockart is still considering his position. He said in a statement released by his party: “Discussions are still going on with parliamentary colleagues. I have not made a final decision.”

Mr Baker told BBC One South East’s Politics Show he had not decided whether to vote for or against or abstain.

“There are three options and, to be honest with you, I genuinely haven’t decided.”

“The only way to have the party united is to have a delay.” Greg Mulholland MP

Lib Dem backbencher Greg Mulholland is calling for the vote to be delayed so a full public consultation on the future of university funding in England can be carried out.

He plans to vote against, telling Channel 4 News: “The Government has to accept that it simply hasn’t convinced people that this is a tenable solution to higher education funding.

“From a Liberal Democrat point of view, if the vote goes ahead, we’ll be voting three ways. Because backbenchers don’t want to vote against it, the only way to have the party united is to have a delay.”

Mr Mulholland said he was not impressed with the Government’s latest proposal to subsidise the fees of students who had been entitled to free school meals.

“It’s a matter of principle. As soon as the leadership accepts the fact that some of us don’t believe that increasing fees dramatically is the way to solve higher education funding, the better. They cannot just put extra things in there and hope they’ll change people’s minds.”

NUS pledge

Raising tuition fees is an extremely difficult issue for the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg because the party’s MPs signed an NUS pledge before the May election promising to vote against any proposals to do so.

The Coalition Agreement they signed with the Conservartives allows Lib Dems to abstain in parliamentary votes.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is responsible for universities, has said he will now vote in favour – after floating the option of a mass abstention by the party.

Former leaders Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy have said they will vote against.

But their predecessor Lord Ashdown defended Mr Clegg. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “”I personally think that Nick has handled this with great wisdom and a good deal of courage.

“It’s not the first time when the Liberal Democrats have taken, in the short term, unpopular decisions that they believe to be right which has delivered benefit in the long term.”

In coalition, there were “some things you like and some things you don’t like”.

And there are reports tonight that the Conservatives could have some rebels of their own. Veteran MP David Davis – who stood against David Cameron for the party leadership five years ago – has reportedly told colleagues that he will vote against the Government on Thursday.