Monday, November 29, 2010

Forget Revolting Students - it's Revolting MPs we need!

The next couple of weeks, when this period of the Liberal Democrat history is documented, could turn out to be pivotal for the future of our party. For Lib Dems there are few issues as totemic as our tuition fees policy - as recognised by Stephen Williams, who came up against the immovable object that is Federal Conference. But Stephen, like others, despite their misgivings, signed the pledge. I have to say I fully appreciated the difficult job he had trying to revise our policy and had a certain amount of sympathy - with limited resources is it right to cut, for example, Youth Services, to abolish student fees? However, as a party, despite the internal disputes, and opposition from some at a senior level, we were able to fully cost and fund our policy to abolish fees within six years.

Now, we are not in power, we cannot deliver on fee abolition - do the maths - we need a few more than 57 votes to get our policy through! However, on the commitment to vote AGAINST fee increases EVERY LAST ONE of our MPs CAN. In my view it is crass and disingenuous to suggest the coalition supersedes the PERSONAL promise they made. A promise frankly is a moral obligation, as such it is an issue of conscience and MPs should be allowed to vote with their consciences on this as they would on any other moral issue.

Getting back to the wretched Coalition Agreement. I have made no secret of my opposition to it, but others DID try to amend the section on fees but their amendments were apparently blocked. I am very fearful that in signing that agreement we now find our leaders have signed their own death warrant. Some may have seen my pink fluffy handcuffs at special conference as a bit of a joke - sadly they are proving to be all too prophetic. We not only find ourselves locked into a relationship that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable, we find our moral compass has been knocked completely off course and our integrity seems to be the price we have to pay to avoid being further humiliated. And as a party, if we lose our integrity, we surely lose our soul.

I know Simon Hughes is working his butt off to try and get agreement within the parliamentary party for collective abstention. But I think he would be far better employed bringing out his white steed, polishing up his spurs, and leading the charge to maintain at least a modicum of our party's integrity by voting against this absurd increase,. And this isn't just about the policy, it's also about our party. It's about whether or not we are prepared to sacrifice the birthright of the whole party for the mess of pottage that is a veneer of power. For me in policy terms there are far more important issues that will damage the life chances of all our children and young people - but if we get this wrong I fear we can forget being a force in British politics for a generation. And ultimately that is bad for democracy and bad for society, after all, if we didn't believe liberal democracy was what was best for our country, why would we be in this party?

Sadly I do not have a Lib Dem MP, but to those of you who do, to those of you on whose shoulders they stand to elected, to those of you who week in week out deliver the leaflets, knock on the doors, do the is the time for you to use every ounce of your energy to persuade him or her to recognise it is not just their integrity at stake it is yours and mine as well.

Nick Clegg may or may not have joked about being toast in a year, the danger is its not just him that will be toast, it will be the lot of us, and I for one never chose to jump into the toaster with him!

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