Pontius Clegg: Lib Dem abstentions won’t stop tuition fees rising

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are considering abstaining in the crucial tuition fees vote before Christmas. But a Lib Dem abstention is equivalent to a vote for the reforms.

The Times reports today that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are considering abstaining in the crucial tuition fees vote before Christmas. But given the Parliamentary arithmetic, a Lib Dem abstention is equivalent to a vote for the reforms.

The Times (£) reports that:

“Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are preparing to abstain from the pivotal Commons vote on increasing tuition fees, putting the policy on a knife-edge.

“Liberal Democrat ministers are discussing plans to abstain together, alongside most of their backbenchers, as the best way to hold the party together.

Given that there are five Sinn Fein MPs who do not sit in Parliament, a majority of 323 is required to pass legislation if every MP votes. With 307 MPs, the Tories fall short and require the support of at least 16 Lib Dem MPs. But if every one of the 57 Lib Dem abstains, the required majority falls to 294 and the Conservatives can pass the legislation on their own.

Lib Dem MPs have, of course, pledged “to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” while Nick Clegg told the National Union of Students’ annual conference earlier this year:

“We will resist, vote against, campaign against, a rise in tuition fees.”

Indeed, 30 sitting Lib Dem MPs plus 103 sitting Conservative MPs, a total of 133, voted against legislation in 2004 to raise tuition fees from £1,000 to £3,000. The list included the Ministers at the heart of the decision-making on Higher Education funding including David Cameron, George Osborne, Vince Cable, and David Willetts.

As the Higher Education Bill passed in January 2004, then shadow education spokesman, Tim Collins, told the Daily Telegraph that students should “learn not pay” – the same right that most MPs had enjoyed. All 133 MPs need to explain what is different about a rise from £3,000 to £9,000.

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