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The Death Knell of the Lib Dems has not yet been sounded – despite what some people may think

Utopia. It is such a beautiful place. In a lazy piece of blogging here is how the ever reliable wikipedia describes Utopia. ‘Utopia is a name for an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia.’

We all have different views of what Utopia is and what is should be. The lefty part of the Liberal Democrat Party are deep down all utopians. We want to create the perfect society where everything is perfect and people live in peace and harmony with one another. Sadly Planet Earth is not Utopia – nor will it ever be – hence forth we (I say we as I am a Utopian deep down) shall never be content. We shall never be happy with the way things are. Things can always be better. Then along came Nick Clegg. A man for whom we clung to as leading us into a new land and a new way of thinking. He was the Pied Piper and we were the rats (and latterly his children) following him with his magical tune. He promised the Earth and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. He didn’t deliver and therefore we hate him.

But wait a minute. I don’t.

Whilst I am a Utopian by nature I am also a realistic and a pragmatist. Utopia wasn’t built-in a day and society and the country are not exactly in a position where a lick of paint will cover up the cracks. Deep changes need to be made and I believe that the best way to do that is to implement as much Liberal Democrat policy as possible. So to do this one of two things had to happen. A groundswell of Liberal Democrat upheaval to sweep the party into power or a mistrust of everyone allowing a coalition to be formed. The latter happened and after a lot of talking in May – the Liberal Democrats joined the Conservative Party as an albeit junior member of a coalition.

This meant that Liberal Democrat policy would be backed by the majority in the House and would become law. Good times for the Lib Dems surely.

But wait. It hasn’t been.

The elephant in the room was the NUS Pledge to not raise tuition fees. A pledge that all Lib Dem MPs are believed to have signed. Now I know for a fact that not all Lib Dem PPCs signed the pledge so I wonder why did all the elected MPs? By this point surely they knew that they were going to be in a coalition? It was a mistake that has hurt the party no end. I said the other day that people can say and do things one day that they fully believe but do the opposite at a later date when faced with actually making the decision. Comment is easy when you have no ability to act on it. The Lib Dems though now did.

When a couple gets married they stand before God (or before a local official or whomever) and declare their love for one another and how they will be faithful until death do they part. One third of marriages end in divorce. One third of people are therefore liars. Did all of them know they when they stood before all those people that they would be unfaithful? No they did not. They truly believed (well the vast majority) that they were standing with the person they would love, cherish and be with forever. However in time that proved to be an untruth. The Lib Dems were in a similar position. They truly believed (and to be frank – they still do – anyone that says they do not is a moron and doesn’t understand the nature of coalition politics) that education should be free for all. Had the Lib Dems swept into power in May then you can be sure that they would have honoured that pledge fully and found the money – most likely from the Trident budget.

However they did not. So they were faced with a gut wrenching decision. Do they honour that pledge and make the students and parents who voted for them on this one issue happy or do they take a big gulp and let it go for the greater good of other Liberal Democrat policies? That is the question that the 56 MPs had to decide (Chris Huhne was away from the HoC so did not vote – he would’ve voted yes though). Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on the rise in the Income Tax threshold? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on House of Lords reform? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out n a referendum on a new voting system for the House of Commons? Is honouring the pledge worth losing the Green policies that Chris Huhne is working on? Is honouring the pledge worth losing out on the most important Liberal Democrat policy of all – the Pupil Premium.

The answer is quite clearly and emphatically no.

For those that do not understand coalition politics I shall once again quote from the bastion of knowledge that is wikipedia – ‘A coalition government, in a parliamentary system, is a government made from a coalition of parties. This means the union of different political parties or groups for a purpose, usually for a short time.’

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives formed a coalition government for two reasons. Firstly the public had said quite loudly that they did not know who they wanted in office. They didn’t want a pure government made up of one set of policies. Secondly they formed a coalition because at the time of the election. Greece was burning and the economy was on a knife-edge – any minority government would have been weak – had it been a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem government – and therefore the markets would have panicked (and they would have – anyone who doesn’t believe this really has no idea how the markets work) and we would have been plunged into a long and deep recession.

Here we are in December and the country is no longer in recession. The recovery is steady and whilst I agree that there is a long long way to go – the green shoots of recovery are not just isolated patches – they are very visible. This is because the Lib Dems and the Tories worked together for the greater good. Country before Party. It is a new kind of politics. Maybe it isn’t the one Lib Dems thought they were getting when Nick Clegg spoke about it but it is certainly one that has without a shadow of a doubt helped the country in the short-term.

As for the Liberal Democrat Party. It is as dysfunctional as a family can be. The idealists believe now that there is a new messiah – who it is they’ve yet to decide but Tim Farron seems to be a name on everyone’s lips. He voted against the tuition fees bill so he must be great. He knew (and did all the MPs on the government side of the house) that he was in a no lose situation. He could vote against it and make a public stand to be rejoiced by the people without any worry of the government losing. Had the vote been expected to be a squeaker then I wonder how many would’ve chosen to abstain instead of vote against – quite a few I’d imagine.

This is because for the first time since 1922 Liberals were getting policies into law. Not all of them that were in their manifesto but more than enough to justify being part of the coalition. Was tuition fees and the pledge the point to draw a line in the sand? Clearly it was not. Not everyone voted for the Lib Dems solely due to them signing this pledge (I know – the media would lead you be believe differently). I voted Liberal Democrat because I preferred the bulk of their manifesto compared to that of the other parties who were field a candidate in Southend West. The bulk of that manifesto isn’t becoming law – but more is than would be if we weren’t on the government benches. That is why I continue to support the party and what they are doing.

I shall leave you with this. There are around 1.7m full-time students in this country at universities. If they on average now have to spend £3000 more for their tuition then that equals around £5bn. The Pupil Premium is set to give out £2.5bn to the schools that take the most disadvantaged youngsters of this country to ensure they get better education. So the question is – if it came down to a straight choice, should Liberal Democrats prefer to spend that £2.5bn on helping the 18+ university students or should they spend that helping to ensure that everyone from the age of three upwards gets a good level of education?

Personally. I think that there is no point investing in people at 18 if we aren’t to invest in them at the age of 3-18.

There are four and a half years until we go to the ballot boxes against for a Westminster Election. A lot can change. If the Lib Dems can point to their success in the Pupil premium, Income Tax Threshold, Parliamentary Reform and Green Policies – as well as helping the country get back on it’s feet then the damage can be repaired. If people are still fixated in 2015 about tuition fees and can’t see any of the other policies that will be in place due to the Lib Dem part of the government then I’ll be surprised. You have to ride the waves to get through the storm – and that is what the Liberal Democrat Party has to – is to and will continue to do.

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Lib Dem Ministers make the right call

So the Lib Dem ministers are going to back and vote for the Tuition Fees Bill that’ll be discussed and go before the House of Commons on Thursday. They are defying a pledge they made and in some eyes snubbing the electorate. So why are they making the right call? Because when push comes to shove – this isn’t the bill where we should draw a line in the sand.

Look I think university students should get a free ride. I believe tuition fees are bad. However I also do not think it is the biggest issue facing the country today. This is what really filets my Chilean Sea Bass (if you get that reference then you are awesome). If the Lib Dems make this the bill that they stand up to the senior partners in the coalition and vote the motion down then morally we have to leave the government benches and return to the opposition. Technically the coalition could survive but morally we would have no right being in government voting down a bill – a bill we even have a right to abstain on no less.

Also if we do not vote for it then we are perceived as weak but the electorate – and quite frankly the Lib Dems look weak today. They look like a fractious party not sure which way to turn. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they vote for it they are defying a key pledge – never a good thing. Abstaining is weak. Voting it down would move us away from government and would show the party unable to make the big decisions and would slow down other bills that government are bringing in that are Liberal.

So vote against this bill and should we leave the government benches (which I think morally we would have to do) then we would be walking away from House of Lords Reform, Political Reform, the Pupil Premium (which is fantastic) and other bills that have yet to be announced. Do we want to walk away from all those for this?

Now I know if we left the government benches we would be in the majority in opposition – the thing is – none of these bills would get through. The Tories would pull them out or they would re-write them and make deals with the nationalists to get them through in different formats. The government would not have to pander to the Lib Dem voices around the cabinet table.

When Nick Clegg and the team were discussing what to do after May 5 this year everyone was protesting to ensure the leader and the party knew they wanted fairer votes. Fairer votes was the most important thing. We won a referendum on AV from the Tories as part of a coalition. So all is good. However now Lib Dems don’t care about this so much – tuition fees are the buzz word of today.

Well listen to this folks. If (and I am making the assumption here that we leave the government benches if we voted en masse against the Tuition Fees Bill and honoured our pledge) If we vote against the bill and leave the government benches then would the Tories still allow a referendum on this subject? Even if they did with enough Labour backbench support and localised support the country will probably vote the referendum down. The Lib Dems will be seen as weak and that only Labour or the Conservatives can form a strong government so why vote for a political system that would allow the leafy weak Lib Dems a larger say in the HoC?

The Lib Dems are junior partners in a coalition. I’ve said it on more than one occasion and people just don’t seem to see it. The big mistake was clearly the party and their prospective MPs signed the pledge. That was the big error of judgment. I know that some MPs may have felt it would sway them votes but remember the student vote is neither the strongest nor the biggest turn out around.

Many students aren’t registered and many don’t bother to vote as they are busy watching Hollyoaks and getting drunk. Many are registered to vote at their home address and not at their uni one and therefore don’t vote whilst at university as they don’t have the foresight to sort out a proxy or postal vote. So pandering to the students is not a great idea in terms of votes.

Are those who protested for Fairer Votes the same as those who are protesting for Free Universities for all? If so then these two issues might well be mutually exclusive at this point in time. That is the way things are and that cannot be changed at this juncture. If the Lib Dem ministers vote this down on Thursday then tuition fees will stay – just not at the higher threshold – but they would also lose the higher repayment threshold and the scholarship scheme – oh and universities would get shitter as the money would still be coming out of the budget. So everyone’s degrees will be worse and will have less value.

Yes folks this isn’t ideal but this system is actually fairer and more beneficial long-term for young people. LEA’s will still pay the fees for the poorest students and the repayments would start kicking in when people are earning a good wage. Do you want to pay £4k a year for an average degree with badly funded universities with no resources or pay 6k a year (yes i know 9k is the limit but they’ll be for the rare circumstance) and get a good degree from a well taught course with excellent facilities and teaching?

The tuition fees bill is the best way forward for young people today. I firmly believe that having read in detail what the alternatives are. Free education for all is not affordable at the moment and even if it was – the Tories have no desire for it and therefore it would never go through parliament. We are breaking a pledge which is not good – not good at all – and many will rightly feel hurt and betrayed by it – but I put forward the PoV that we are not a one-issue party. The good the party are doing in government is out weighing the bad and if they do not make a law better and fairer because it goes against their utopian view then we would be doing the country a disservice.

The Lib Dems will go through the fire whatever they do. Might as well go through the fire and make a positive difference. So vote for the Tuition Fees Bill and do it with your heads held high Lib Dem MPs. It is better than the alternative and as a party we should do things that make life better for the people of this great country and not condemn our young people to substandard education which will mean their prospects for employment will be even worse. Better to pay good money for a great degree than pay money for a poor one.

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Oh Vince Cable – You have gotten yourself into a right pickle haven’t you?

Two posts in two days. Whatever next?

This one has been inspired by Vince Cable’s announcement that he might abstain on the Tuition Fees bill. Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5Live today the Business Secretary – who has oversight for universities – Cable said, “My own personal instinct, partly because I’m the secretary of state responsible for universities and partly because I think the policy is right, my own instincts are very much to vote for it but we want to vote as a group.”

The likelihood of a Lib Dem block vote seems remote but when the #2 in the party is willing to not back his own departments plans then it really is quite baffling. I love Vince Cable like most Lib Dems. I think he’s a bright man who brings a lot to the party but when you hold a position in government and you aren’t prepared to fully back what you are putting to the Commons then it just doesn’t work. He openly admits that the party are going through difficult times and that is clear for everybody to see. They are torn every which way they go. Do they back what they believe in a fairer system or do they not. If they fail to back it then other Lib Dem policies would come under threat from the Tories.

So the big question is whether or not the Tuition Fees bill is one worth risking everything for. If they do pull out and either en-masse abstain or even vote it down – they what will the ramifications be? Will the public rejoice that the Lib Dems listened to their people and showed that when it comes down to it they will not risk their principles or will the public see them as weak and when push comes to shove they are unable to make the big hard decisions that governments have to make?

That is a difficult question to answer and due to the fact we do not have a Mirror from Stargate or any other ways to go into parallel universes we’ll only ever see one side of that equation play out. I must admit I don’t know which way I want the MPs to go but I think I want them to man-up and do what they think is best for the country today. If that is vote for it and take the flak that will come their way then so be it. I’d prefer grown-up politics and policies that trying to keep everybody happy. For the party the best thing to do is probably to vote down the bill as that will play out well with the young people of the country but for the country as a whole it’s not the best thing.

So Political Party or the Country? That is the question. The answer..well we shall see.

As for Vince though. Vince I do love you but if you abstain then you have to resign as a member of the cabinet. Your position will be untenable. This is your departments bill and if you don’t back it then why should anyone?

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Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems

I was on the verge of joining the Liberal Democrats. I have been for a while in all honesty. It was more of a fait accompli really. It was going to happen. However the title of this blog is ‘Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems’ so clearly something has happened in the meantime that has stopped me nailing my colours firmly to the mast.

Now let me first get this out of the way – my decision is not based on what the political party are doing. I am proud of the MPs for being grown up and dealing with the financial crisis in the correct way. There are things that I don’t like going on but you can’t get everything you want in life – the same is true of a political party. I ideologically disagree with tuition fees, with renewing trident without even looking at other alternatives, the cap on immigrants flat out disgusts me but the fact of the matter is the Liberal Democrats did not win this election. No party won the election. Therefore either we had a weak government at a time of genuine financial upheaval or we had a strong government, which my party of choice were part of but we’d have to go along with a few less than ideal policies.

I prefer the latter of the two options. I’m not one of those who is sticking his head in the sand and thinking we can spend our way out of debt. Those that think that know nothing about debt. So therefore savage cuts are needed for the short to medium term to get the country back on its feet. Yes there has to be investment in certain areas but in others for the next 5-10 belts will have to be severely tightened.

So we get on to why I’m not tossing my hat into the political arena at this juncture. In essence it is because of the babyish way many Lib Dem members are acting at the moment – in the main regarding the tuition fees row. They are saying that they were lied to and that the Lib Dems are screwing the poor by backing this policy where tuition fees could rise. Well yes – it is not ideal. The Lib Dems believed (and still do believe) that higher education should be free. However when you only have so much money in the coffers you have to pick and choose what to spend money on. The Higher Education budget was getting savagely cut by whichever party or parties got together to form a government.

So there are three choices – allow universities to raise more through tuition fees and keep up the quality of our courses. To stick as is and let the qualities of the courses slip and therefore make our degrees less worthwhile or we could dig our heels in for our ideological goal and basically say ‘no tuition fees and make all the universities pretty shit’. The big unis would always survive due to the fact they can raise revenues in other areas. It would be the small to medium size universities that would go to the wall. Now whilst I personally believe that too many people go to university these days (a significant % that go – just go for the lifestyle and not to enhance their career) I will defend anyone’s right to go. In a lot of these places the universities are a significant employer and bring in money to local businesses. So killing off universities isn’t ideal.

I myself went to a very small university – at the time it was the smallest university in the country that gave out its own degrees. These days it has merged with other art colleges and is larger in pupil size and based over five campuses. This was only a few years ago and I lived with my dad and we were poor – therefore the council paid my tuition fees – otherwise I doubt I would have gone to be honest and that is the thing – councils will still pay for the poorest to go. The IFS say that the poorest 35% will actually be better off under these proposals. Also they are raising the point on where you start repaying your student loan from 15k p/a to 21k p/a – that is extremely significant. Basically most entry level positions will not see graduates start paying anything back. This was overlooked by people in my opinion.

Nick Clegg announced £7bn for the ‘Pupil Premium’ last week and that hardly raised an eyebrow amongst Lib Dem circles. They were all still up in angst over tuition fees. When it comes down to it – if you asked me what is more important – giving the poorest a better start throughout pre-school, primary and secondary schools or whether universities should be free to all then it is a no brainer. Everyone deserves a start in life. I was lucky – I didn’t come from a rich background – not by a long shot but I had good parents and good schools (well my final school wasn’t great but still – I’d had a start). If we don’t invest in pupils from the age of 3 up then what is the point of investing in them when they get to 18? Give the kids a chance in life and that is what we are doing. I am proud of that. Yes I’d love free education for everyone – at every level – but when you can’t afford it then you can’t afford it.

Now obviously this is how it is today. If in 5-10 years the country is back on its feet then I would seriously look at things again. Throw tuition fees on to the bonfire and rejoice. Heck I’d even be down with an extra 1p on Income Tax to pay for a better and fairer state run education system. People though don’t like tax rises and to pay for university education then people would be up in arms. However they are also up in arms that people have to pay for higher education. So people want everything without having to pay extra for it. Sadly that isn’t how it works.

So there we have it. I have chosen not to join a political party at this juncture not because of how the party are acting – but because of how the grass roots are. All these Lib Dems saying that Nick Clegg is a Tory and now Vince Cable is a Tory and I’ve even seen lots of comments over Danny Alexander today. It screams of throwing the toys out of the pram. Lib Dems would prefer to be in opposition so they can bash the government and not take any responsibility rather than put into action some of our core values. We can’t afford them all and even if we could – we didn’t win the election so the country doesn’t want us to.

Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander et al are all Liberal Democrat MPs and members of the Cabinet. Yes they would like to do some other things than they are but in the real world that isn’t how it can go down. Do you want a Liberal Democrat party who can in part help to shape the country or do you only want a Liberal Democrat party that can do everything it wants? I prefer the former but from what I read the majority only want us to do and get everything we stand for. I can’t agree with that and so for now I can’t join a party where the grass roots do not agree with my Point of View.

So instead of getting involved in local politics and let’s be honest – I have a serious interest in that area and possibly even more. I will spend the autumn and winter working on another time consuming project. When that is finished at some point in 2011 I’ll once again survey the landscape of the Lib Dem party to see if the grass roots have grown up or whether they prefer to stay in their cocoon, where they prefer to moan at the things we don’t want to do than praise the fact that we are doing some genuinely good things.

I find this all a little bit disappointing butfor now that is just how it is.

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