Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Time for Lib Dem MP's to Rebel

Being in coalition means a need to compromise. When a coalition is required, it means that no one party has won the election outright. It means that no one party can lead a government unimpaired, with an ability to enact their policies as they see fit.

So it is with the Westminster coalition. There are many governmental initiatives that are Tory led which makes a number of us Lib Dems feel queasy. At the same time, watching the Tory conference last week in Birmingham, it's clear that their rank-and-file aren't at all happy at how some of their policies have been watered down to accommodate its more centrist partners. So we must be doing something right.

A joint agreement for government has been agreed by both parties, but that document can not and does not cover every eventuality.

A Fees Disaster
The agreement made in May for example could not account for the detail that was to be unveiled this morning in Lord Browne's review.
The rumours have been doing the rounds for days but we now know the recommendations - that the £3,290 cap on University fees be lifted with potential charges of up to £12,000 a year to be requested from students. The devil is in the detail of course and there are some notable recommendations that would allay some of the concerns - for example the raising of the threshold where repayments must be made from £15,000 to £21,000.

A Pledge is a Pledge
But, say what you like, the Liberal Democrat view on this has been loud and clear for many a year.

Indeed, over 500 Lib Dem parliamentary candidates signed a NUS pledge to vote against an increase in tuition fees for students before the election. There are times, when in government, where we must stand up for our core principles and remind the watching public, that when we say something, we mean it.

It'll be tough for those in the Executive to do any more than abstain, as the coalition agreement allows them to do - we do of course have that constraint of collective responsibility. But the likes of Nick Clegg, who said pre-election that “We will resist, vote against, campaign against, a rise in tuition fees" will have to seriously consider whether he can hold to that coalition agreement when in his own city lies the Universities of Sheffield and Hallam.

Bachench Backlash
For those Lib Dem MP's on the backbenches however, the constraint of collective responsibility holds less water. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the recommendations and the government line on these recommendations, once they are known to us all.

There is no doubt however that this will prove to be the first real test of the coalition's resolve. Whatever happens however, it won't bring the coalition to its knees - anyone who hopes that that may be the case, does not realise the deep sense of purpose that exists within the coalition ranks, of clearing up Labour's mess.

But there will always be tension and this will undoubtedly be one of them. For the sake of our credibilty on those issues in which we have shouted loud and proud, our MPs need to have the courage of their convictions and vote with their conscience.

This may well be an England-only issue in principle, but its impact has UK-wide repercussions.

So I'm pleased to see that our local Lib Dem MP Mark Williams has come out against a rise in fees and he has stated very simply, that he will vote against such a move in Parliament.


There's a time and a place for rebellion - particularly in government. This is most certainly one of them.

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