Friday, 10 December 2010

A Personal Statement - On Tuition Fees

The following is a personal statement I have issued as the former Liberal Democrat candidate for Linlithgow and East Falkirk in the 2010 General Election:

Last night in the House of Commons MPs voted 323 for and 302 against the proposal to increase the cap on tuition fees in England to £9000. If I had been elected on 6th May as the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk I would have been joining the 21 Liberal Democrats who upheld the Liberal Democrat party policy not to increase tuition fees but instead to look at abolishing them. This had been stated in our manifesto as well as the personal pledge that many of our candidates in May signed.

The reasons I would have done so are:

  • The party had instructed us to do so, not only in the years before the election, but in motions passed since the general election in most of our federal regions upholding that commitment.
  •  Because personally the increase on personal debt to students is something I personally have been campaigning against since I was an undergraduate fighting the introduction of student loans when they first came in to replace grants.
  •  We would be leaving students with half a hefty amount to pay off when they leave university, which when you take in the interest payments comes to a sizable part of a second mortgage
  •  Even though I would have been representing a Scottish constituency I saw that the cut of the teaching budget funded by the increase in tuition fees would have a knock on effect in Scotland were tuition fees have been abolished.

I take exception to some of the comments made by colleagues in the party I have long considered closely aligned to me on the political spectrum.

Steve Webb wrote on his blog:

"I stood on a manifesto that had literally hundreds of policies and pledges."

I thought a lot of that was aspirations, many of those had caveats dependent on the economic situation, one that didn’t no matter what the financial situation was the promise not to increase tuition fees. He goes on to say that he was elected as part of 'Coalition programme for Government', a programme that allowed for Lib Dems to abstain if the findings of the Browne Report were contrary to our beliefs. That was a concession that was made to our party over this sticky issue yet Steve and 27 others not only didn't take that option, or uphold their pledge but voted for increasing the level of tuition fees.

Lynne Featherstone another blogging MP wrote:

"For some one like me – who has always believed that education should be free – it has been a difficult decision. Sadly, my view of education (free through raising taxation) isn't on the table – or anywhere near it. That vision was ended when Labour introduced tuition fees and the principle of free education for all feel."

Thankfully my colleagues in Scotland didn't feel this way and reversed the decision in Scotland and as a result that was the aspiration of our party nationally to repeat that process in both our 2005 and 2010 manifestos. I also think that because of the general benefit to society as a whole of those who go through Higher (and Further) education that this should indeed be funded, if need be, by increased taxation. The fact that it is not on or near the table would be a reason for me to further vote against.

Last night I heard Vince Cable even say that Scotland had failed to take hard decisions, I beg to differ one that Scotland has taken in that tuition fees should be abolished and from what I understand the main parties are agreeing that they should remain abolished. That is a tough decision made in light of the current situation and one that I was signed up to as a candidate this May, that we, no matter how bad things were would phase fees out.

At least in Lynne’s favour she did have the courtesy to apologise for breaking her pledge.

However, I am most proud of the twenty one, who I feel are erroneously listed as ‘rebels’ they have stood up for what the party believes in, and how the electorate who voted for them believed they would vote. Therefore I salute Annette Brooke, Sir Menzies Campbell, Mike Crockart, Tim Farron, Andrew George, Mike Hancock, Julian Huppert, Charles Kennedy, John Leech, Stephen Lloyd, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Alan Reid, Dan Rogerson, Bob Russell, Adrian Sanders, Ian Swales, Mark Williams, Roger Williams, Jenny Willott and Simon Wright.

However, if Nick Clegg things that those listed above and myself are 'dreamers' because of our opposition to increasing tuition fees, I'm glad that I can still dream of a fairer and truly progressive way of funding Higher and, I want to expand it to, Further Education.

I'll not stop dreaming. I will fight on.

Even though this blog may be remaining silent over the next few months due to the nature of my work, I will be keeping up the fight. Recently I was elected as a Conference Representative for my local Liberal Democrat Party. I will not be ripping up my membership card in disgust, I will be pushing up my shirt sleeves and getting down to the business of upholding the things enshrined in the opening paragraph of the preamble to the party constitution:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives."

I'll carry on dreaming of achieving the above, but when I'm awake I'll be fighting tooth and nail to achieve it.

Note: This statement is made in a personal capacity due to the fact that I was a Liberal Democrat candidate in the General Election in May. It is not a statement on behalf of either the West Lothian Local Party, who very graciously selected me, nor the Northern Irish Local Party of which I am now a member, nor of my current employers. 

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