Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The irony of the NUS protests

Today the National Union of Students and other organisations will take to the streets of London to demonstrate against the Government's proposed university funding scheme. There will be Liberal Democrats amongst them and I understand why they are there. Their position is straightforward - our party policy is in favour of phasing out tuition fees and they want to see us in Government do more to bring that about. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but there is a logic there and one I sympathise with.

The position of the NUS is more complex. There is a certain irony that they are turning their fire on 57 Liberal Democrat MPs who were daft enough to sign their pledge. I know that Liberal Democrat candidates did that with the blessing of Campaigns Department, but I don't believe it was ever anything other than a cynical elephant trap.

Look at it this way. We're being held to account for an NUS pledge which the NUS themselves no longer support. Their scheme, not a million miles from that proposed by the Coalition, was, I'm sure, not drawn up of the back of an envelope overnight. You can tell the close relationship between Labour and the NUS by the sheer number of key NUS figures who've made it into Government - like Phil Woolas and Jack Straw. This pledge was never meant to deliver the abolition of fees, it was meant to trap the Liberal Democrats. You can bet your life that if we'd ended up in coalition with Labour, we'd be voting on the NUS scheme tomorrow night. We should never have signed it.

In other news, the Goverment has made some changes to the scheme this morning  - taking in more part time students under the scheme and ensuring that the £21000 starting rate will rise every year with earnings. These can't be described as anything other than helpful.

I am very surprised that all the Liberal Democrat ministers are going to vote for the proposals. I didn't think they'd be able to achieve that level of consensus.  There will still be a significant number of MPs voting against.

Let's just hope that a few Trots don't shift the focus of today's demonstration from the issues under discussion. Most people who go on these things do so to protest peacefully, but there's always a few febrile types who have to spoil things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I know that Liberal Democrat candidates did that with the blessing of Campaigns Department..."

Those in government embarrassed at having signed the pledge appear to be briefing that the Campaigns Department made them but I've seen no evidence of that. Info on what candidates should and shouldn't sign came from the policy people, almost certainly signed off by the man who's now the DPM's top spin doctor.


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