Clegg: “I didn’t even spend that much time campaigning on tuition fees”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has made the extraordinary claim that scrapping tuition fees was not one of his main manifesto priorities, reports Shamik Das.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has made the extraordinary claim that scrapping tuition fees was not one of his main manifesto priorities. He makes the comments in a wide-ranging interview in the latest edition of the New Statesman in which he talks about his relationship with his boss, his relationship with his party and foreign policy.

The deputy prime minister says:

“I don’t even pretend we can occupy the Lib Dem holier-than-thou, hands-entirely-clean-and-entirely-empty-type stance. No, we are getting our hands dirty, and inevitably and totally understandably we are being accused of being just like any other politicians…

“I have a rather old-fashioned belief that you’ve got to stand by what you’ve done and take the consequences, good or bad; I didn’t even spend that much time campaigning on tuition fees.”

A claim many will find hard to stomach, given how much the Lib Dems courted the student vote in the run up to the last election, for which the campaign proper kicked off about a year ago – a campaign in which the Lib Dems, their leader very much at the forefront, assiduously sought the student vote.

In addition to each one of their candidates signing the NUS pledge “to vote against any increase in fees”, the party’s 2010 manifesto (pdf) stated (page 33):

“We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income.”

And (page 39):

“…we will ensure that adults who wish to study, including those wanting to return to education later on in life, are able to do so without being put off by the burden of debt.

“We will: Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income.

“We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.”

On his relationship with the prime minister, Mr Clegg says:

“We don’t regard each other as mates and actually I don’t think it would be a particularly healthy thing if we tried to become personal mates… I don’t think a coalition works unless you have a very careful balance between mutual respect and civility and also a certain hardness, as at the end of the day you are representing different views.”

On Mr Cameron’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch and News International, he says:

“I don’t know anything about Oxfordshire dinner parties. I’m assuming that they weren’t sitting there talking about News International issues… Look, you’re putting me in a very awkward spot. If you’ve got an issue with it, speak to Dave. I don’t hang out in Oxfordshire at dinner parties. It’s not my world. It’s never going to be my world…

“I think that the days when newspaper barons could basically click their fingers and governments would snap to attention have gone”

On the phone hacking scandal, he says:

“My thoughts are that it has all come out much more into the open since the police investigation… And I think, you know, since those days it is becoming much more out there, and quite rightly. I’ve always said that the police have got to investigate and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] have got to take action. Look, I don’t follow every twist and turn.”

And on Afghanistan, he adds:

“In a sense, we have brought our ambition to a much more realistic level. We’ve now got an exit date, which we didn’t have before, and a much better set of weapons on the ground. And crucially you’ve got the British government saying to [President Hamid] Karzai – who I had dinner with recently – this cannot be won militarily.

“Once you’re in that far and you’ve had that many people die and be maimed, I think it would be morally questionable to cut and run overnight.”

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