Friday, December 03, 2010

Advice from Beyond the Bubble: MPs, please forget this abstention nonsense

Deep in the Westminster Bubble, I can imagine that there is a place where trying to get all the Liberal Democrat MPs voting the same way on the landmark tuition fees votes next week sounds quite sensible. Can I suggest that if they want to be cured of that misapprehension, they should watch Danny Alexander trying to rationalise it on Question Time last night?

Now, Danny overall did splendidly on the programme. He had by far the most difficult job and having Nadine Dorries as his coalition wing man was a bit like being chucked into the Thames with a rucksack filled with lead on his back. You probably couldn't have imagined two worse people to be up against in terms of their general humour, personability and charm than John Sergeant and Ken Livingstone. Danny stayed calm, focused and made some good points even when all the heat was turned on him.

What was very clear, though, was that people just don't get internal Liberal Democrat angst. They can't understand why someone who believes in a policy would abstain rather than vote for it to make life easier for their party colleagues. Frankly, people don't want to hear about it. The audience reaction to Danny was pretty hostile on that point and I hope he got the message loud and clear that this group abstention nonsense is just not going to sit well with people.

It doesn't even sit well with the party. If nothing else, the idea that Danny and Vince would abstain rather than vote for has united Liberal Democrats from both sides of the argument - those who think that there should be no fees payable by students and those who never supported it in the first place.

If the Question Time audience isn't enough, then the Parliamentary Party should watch former Lib Dem Communications guru Olly Grender completely disarm Andrew Neil on This Week last night, saying that she thought that the abstention policy wasn't the way to go and suggesting that we could have handled it better.

The only thing I could really have asked from Danny last night is that he could have been a bit tougher on Labour, could have reminded us with more vigour that it was Labour who'd gone back on pledges not to introduce tuition fees in the first place and had somehow managed to introduce them without incurring the rancour of NUS. That a graduate on a lower income of £21000 would actually, under the new scheme, pay £74 LESS a month than they would under the scheme Labour introduced. That's a lot of money.  And that the scheme proposed by the Coalition is virtually the same as that proposed by NUS, except the Coalition's is fairer and not retrospective. If you want to see more of the detail, the Elephant has it all here.

And, just as an aside, Nadine Dorries, who, on a previous Question Time appearance, said that Trident wasn't a weapon of mass destruction, stated that MP's should never abstain on votes because that wasn't the job that they were supposed to do.  My immediate reaction to that was to ask on Twitter for someone to check out her voting record to make sure she'd voted in every single division. Funnily enough, as Iain Whiteley quickly discovered:
@ Since you've been an MP you've voted 887 times out of a possible 1429 votes thats 542 abstentions 
There's a surprise.

I don't often watch either Question Time or This Week live because I need my sleep. Last night's was possible because Anna's school is still closed so I didn't have to get up early. If you didn't see either programme, check out Danny Alexander and Olly Grender on the iPlayer. They are worth watching.

Pity Question Time only managed to get one woman on the panel, too. I see its gender balance is not improving.


Dan Falchikov said...

Well said Caron. I've been arguing similar - infact i think we now have to go further and get all Lib Dem MPs to vote in favour.

I've even blogged about it myself!

KelvinKid said...

Caron, Danny Alexander was made to look extremely foolish last night. That only reflects the farcical situation that the Party has got itself into thanks to Clegg and Cable. This issue has sent Clegg's opinion rating amongst members plummeting. The Party may well split over this and other issues. I'm afraid I think you are the one in the bubble on this one.

Unknown said...

OMG, Falchikov is blogging. Will put you on my blog roll:-).

There is no way on earth they'll all vote in favour, and nor do I actually think they should - they can up the fairness of the scheme later, but after they've kept their pledge because that's the issue more than anything else.

I suspect we'll get a 3 way split and it'll go through.

KK, you know that this is not my favoured option by a long way, but I'm not going to allow the NUS/Labour misinformation become fact in the public consciousness. This isn't what I want, but it's better than we'd have otherwise got.

Paul Walter said...

Great post, Caron - and thank you for commenting on mine.


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