January 17, 2013 by Nash Riggins
The Liberal Democrats are apparently considering whether they should promise to reduce the £9,000 cap on university tuition fees in their manifesto at the next general election. Yet they’d best reconsider – otherwise the move could finally finish off what the party’s last chain of broken promises started.
Since Nick Clegg agreed to his shotgun wedding with David Cameron, the Lib Dems have slowly withered from a highly-valuable chess piece in front line politics to a mere Conservative pawn – why? Above all else, the answer stems from too many broken promises.
In 2010, Nick Clegg claimed to oppose a rise in VAT – but later backed the Tories to raise it to 20%. Nick Clegg then promised to protect the NHS from pesky government bureaucracy – then backed David Cameron’s pricey and unsuccessful overhaul of the system. Yet the greatest fail of all materialised by way of Nick Clegg’s now infamous vow not to raise university tuition fees.
It was a poor move at best; however, it appears as if the PM was somehow able to convince Mr Clegg that – for some strange reason – most UK universities would choose not to raise fees by such a substantial amount if a cap of £9,000 was implemented upon them. Mr Clegg persuaded his party to acquiesce, and then both leaders acted genuinely shocked when their half-baked policy turned out to be a flop. UCAS has subsequently reported a 5% shortfall in applications due to massive fee increases, and the Lib Dems have more or less been permanently cut off from the National Union of Students. What’s more, the Deputy PM’s epic fail was built upon shoddy statistics, as it later turned out that, rather than save the government money, the tuition hike will actually cost taxpayers around £1b in debt.
Mr Clegg has since paid for his broken promises and then some. In 2011’s council elections, the Lib Dems suffered heavy defeats nationwide – even losing Nick Clegg’s own constituency. After a failed campaign to establish an alternative voting system, Clegg’s party lost more than 300 additional councillors in 2012’s local elections. His failed quest to reform the House of Lords was desperately embarrassing, and Clegg became an international laughing stock after a catchy remix of his YouTube apology for breaking his promise not to raise tuition fees went viral. God help them if the Lib Dems haven’t hit rock bottom yet.
For all these reasons and more, Nick Clegg would do well to stage a massive rethink over whether pledging to make yet another policy U-turn is indeed wise. In fact, his party’s best course of action would probably be to campaign based upon another principle entirely: to make absolutely no promises whatsoever (that way, there aren’t any promises to break 2 years down the line).
Not only does Vince Cable reportedly reject the notion that the great ghost of tuition fees should be resurrected, but the Lib Dems who are considering a promise to reduce the cap have yet to produce a way in which to pay the difference. Similar to many within Labour, some within Mr Clegg’s party now want to cap fees at £6,000 – which would consequently yield a £2b shortfall in universities’ income. This massive debt would be the final nail in Clegg’s political coffin, were said coffin not already half-buried already.
The Lib Dems were once regarded as the defenders of Britain’s civil liberties – now, they’ve evolved into the cautionary tale of modern UK politics. If Nick Clegg knows what’s good for him, he must tread carefully or risk losing his party forever. This must start by coming to the realisation that a political party must pick and choose its battles wisely – and above all else, it starts by pledging not to make any more broken promises to voters in 2015.