Observing the reaction on Twitter* it seems that many have responded with ‘oooo…ok…brave’ to Nick Clegg’s video apology. The ordinary party members I follow think this it might be a good idea. The party staff think totally was a good idea, naturally. The journos are split. I’m with the journos for now.
He was right to get this over with now. To do it at the time would look weak and we would’ve been attacked for what is a much better policy than the one we inherited (that really cannot be stressed enough times – especially now). Under Labour’s broken tuition fees promises, the average graduate was paying between £70-80 per month in repayments (friends of mine are paying around £100). Now the average will be around £45.
For the first time, part-time students will not be punished by having to pay up-front fees, affecting those from poorer backgrounds disproportionately.
Had he left it much later it would’ve been caught up in the 2015 election. Doing it now obviously hasn’t taken it off the agenda in 31 months time (jeez, is it really that soon?) but it means that most sensible hacks, leader writers and columnist won’t be as interested in it.
However I am more interested in the comments that will probably get the least attention:
‘We made a promise, before the election, that we vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances. But that was a mistake.’
‘…you’ve got to learn from your mistakes and that’s what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.’
Both statements are correct. It was a mistake to sign the pledge. David Laws says in 22 Days in May that Nick had setup a group of senior colleagues to look at possible coalitions months before the election. It should have been walked back, watered down (whatever cliche you would like to use) then. But there were people saying it was important for our electoral chances. They were right then and they are right now – but not for the same reason.
The second comment is the most interesting to me. Coupled with the ‘comfort of opposition’ line, it gives a clear nod that Conference should look long and hard at what it expects it Parliamentarians and candidates to campaign on. Yes, Conference is sovereign (and I wouldn’t have it any other way), but it shouldn’t ask the impossible of people that have to sell it first and then deliver it.
Unfortunately, I won’t be attending conference in Brighton. Had I been, I would be distributing ‘Got a 2015 pledge? How are we going to keep it?’ bumper stickers along with the ‘#IStillAgreeWithNick badges.
*I am only referring to the people I follow and regard as ‘sound’ and is therefore not reflective of the entire mood of Twitter (should such a thing exist). I gave up on following The Others a while ago for the sake of my blood pressure. Each to their own.
Luke Tyson is the Vice-Chair of Basildon, Billericay and Thurrock Liberal Democrats and a general humble functionary. This is his first blog with the Libertine, and you can follow him on twitter at @Luke_Tyson.
This article is solely the views of the author and should not be taken as the views of the Liberal Democrats, Liberal Youth nor the editorship of the Libertine. You can, however, find Liberal Youth’s statement here.