Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Students of today - they just can't spell. Ask Jim Naughtie... (Pictures - @stopcutsbrum)
The forces of occupation turned up in Yardley today to take the fight to the only backbench Liberal Democrat MP to profess support for the pledge-breaking tuition fees policy. He's already turned up in the pages of the Guardian's Comment is Free with a ludicrous denial of the reality of the policy - and one that got short shrift from the legion of commenters for his claim of being about to scrap tuition fees whilst simultaneously doubling or trebling them.

Hell, not even Clegg buys that - he has expressed sorrow about not being able to keep his word
I regret of course that I can't keep the promise that I made because - just as in life - sometimes you are not fully in control of all the things you need to deliver those pledges

This from a man who fronted a party election broadcast promising an end to broken promises and then decided to break a big one. And other Liberal Democrats seem quite prepared to vote against - Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell have made their positions clear, as has the new President of the party, Tim Farron. Even John's neighbour, Lorely Burt, has been wavering from abstention in recent weeks - perhaps mindful of the significant help from Warwick University students back in May that saved her campaign from what looked like certain defeat.

On a Politics Show West Midlands debate, John snapped back at one young questioner that when he left university, he faced much higher tax rates than she would, implying that she should be grateful for small mercies.

He was interviewed on Radio 4's PM programme by Eddie Mair, who wears a light touch of wit to conceal a very incisive mind. Here's a transcript of an intriguing passage:

John Hemming: "At the moment, I'm very likely to vote for the increase, simply because we cannot reward the bad behaviour from today..."

Eddie Mair: "...part of your motivation might be to punish protestors?"

JH: "Well, if they're going to behave this bad... you see the problem you've got is this - if you reward this form of behaviour, if it has any effect which is a positive effect, you're encouraging this behaviour in the future."

EM: "So part of the reason you're going to reach your decision is based on the protests?"

JH: "Part of the reason has to be based on the protests, because I cannot allow that to influence me in any favourable manner whatsoever."
So, he is saying that he will vote in favour of a hike in tuition fees because of the protests. If he truly believed his Herculean spin, he would surely want to vote against, because his argument is that these proposals abolish fees and amount to a graduate tax - something that he apparently supports. The other point is that he will willingly punish future generations of students for the behaviour of a tiny minority who will be unaffected by the changes.

Neither are good reasons to vote in a particular way - indeed, it seems immature and petulant to base decisions affecting the many on the behaviour of a few and certainly is not becoming of an elected representative. `

Nevertheless, I'm sure that there will be a reward for this slavish loyalty to dismantling what was - despite all the weaselling by various Liberal Democrats - a key manifesto commitment and which was also, uniquely, a pledge made by all Liberal Democrat MPs. No other policy had the same level of personal commitment as was shown to the promise to vote against tuition fee increases. It is intellectually impossible to portray this as anything other than a major u-turn. For the Liberal Democrats, I suspect this may be as serious a political mistake as the poll tax or - in purely political terms - the Iraq war for Labour. I hope all those ministerial chairs are worth it, because the feedback on the ground is that many are very unhappy - there are Liberal Democrat councillors in Birmingham worrying seriously about their seats over the next couple of years. Judging from the venom being directed at all things Liberal Democrat, they have good cause.

1 comment:

Stewart Stacey said...

Pity you didn't have the photo of the local police lined up behind the banner too! They lapped up Labour's newspaper on police reductions.