Arguing On Tuition Fees
There’s no denying that the Lib Dems are getting extremely negative press, and coming under a lot of attack, over upcoming proposals for University funding and how our MPs might vote. The actuality of the proposals isn’t as bad as is being portrayed, and most of the quotes from protestors in the media (and media commentators such as David Mitchell, who is usually better-informed) are factually incorrect. However, the Negative Narrative is focusing solely on the Lib Dems, and solely on the negative aspects of the proposals. This much is unsurprising to anybody who’s been following the media reporting since the Coalition was formed.
What is more surprising is the way that many Liberal Democrats who are opposed to the proposals are adopting the same negative language, using terms like “betrayal” and making similar factually incorrect statements about them. The recent letter from 100+ PPCs implies that any Lib Dem MP who does not vote against the proposals has no integrity.
At some point, I’d like to do an analysis of the three main party’s manifesto, the Coalition agreement, the Browne report, the Coalition proposals and the NUS pledge and how they all compare; in the meantime this BBC Q&A on the subject seems a good overview.
I don’t think it does any good for Lib Dems who are opposed to the proposals to ignore or omit the positive, progressive aspects of them. I certainly think there’s a good argument that those positive aspects do not make up for the increased fees cap which means that richer students will end up owing twice as much (three times in special situations) than they do currently – or that even that it doesn’t justify voting against the part of the NUS pledge that opposed a rise in cap (as opposed to the part for introducing fairer funding). I know many Lib Dems who have examined the details of the proposals and come to that conclusion. I respect that decision, and it’s basically my position.
However, there are many Lib Dems who have examined the details of the proposals and decided that the increased cap is justified by the more progressive aspects such as poor students paying less than they do currently to study, or that the NUS pledge to introduce fairer funding does justify breaking the part against raising the cap, and I think that decision is respectable also.
We should be encouraging people to examine the proposals in detail, to decide for themselves whether the progressive aspects are worth the down-sides, rather than joining our opponents in denying their existence and attacking those who have reached a different conclusions. That position is not respectable, and I’m sad to see Liberal Democrats taking it, both in terms of their own integrity, and the damage they do to the party by keeping the focus on the counter-factual negative narrative of Liberal Democrat betrayal.
This is a complex issue, with all parties making compromises and U-turns from their pre-election positions, and it merits an informed debate. Nothing is so heartbreaking for me as reading about young people protesting and marching based on poor information and half-truths spread by partisans. For their sake as well as our own, let us try to generate light, not heat, in this debate.
Update: And after writing this entry, I read the BBC article Nick Clegg urges students to see ‘true picture’ on fees. The language in the BBC article is a lot more factual and less emotional than previous news articles, though it still only concentrates on the fees part of the NUS pledge.