Go back

Delay – the explosive rebel solution to the tuition fees crisis

The Mail on Sunday reported this morning that seven Lib Dem MPs have written to Nick Clegg asking for the crunch vote on tuition fees scheduled for Thursday to be put off.

One of them, Greg Mulholland, has already put down an early day motion to this effect. Now the Guardian reports that the rebels will press for an amendment to the motion in the House of Commons on Thursday that would prevent the legislative motion on raising the cap on fees to £9,000 from moving to a vote.

The rebels argument is that the government has not made its case. But one interesting thing about the move is that it is not transparently a violation of the Coalition Agreement. The Lib Dems can argue that, without the kind of detail to be found in a white paper, the government has not yet actually brought forward its policy on tuition fees. Conservatives will no doubt reject that out of hand, but the move muddies the waters and would leave the public to decide who was to blame if the Coalition collapses.

A second key point is that it should be easier for worried Lib Dem MPs to support the rebels amendment than to vote against the government motion. For the same reason, it should maximise the chances of any (so far hypothetical) Conservative rebels joining in. And the proposed amendment reflects exactly the arguments put forward by Labours John Denham in the opposition debate last week, which in turn echoed those made by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the National Union of Students, the Million universities and the academics union. In other words, it has the potential to unite every opponent of the rise in tuition fees behind a simple position: “Were talking about the countrys future here. We wont buy a pig in a poke.”

But any delay will be met with a storm of protest from universities, some of whom could face bankruptcy if the delay drags on and the government refuses to reverse huge planned cuts in the teaching funding provided to them via the Higher Education Funding Council for England. University leaders have already warned of a Valley of Death if the Coalition fails to resolve its policy promptly.

And delay would transform what has generally been seen as a Lib Dem crisis into a Coalition crisis, with questions being asked about why Conservatives opted for the high-risk strategy of a simple vote on raising the cap to £9,000.