When the will the Federal Policy Committee be renamed the Federal Aspirations
It might as well be, judged by what went on ahead of the launch of A Fresh
Start for Britain in July.
This document, which rather unfortunately shares a title with the founding
statement of the Liberal/SDP Alliance (whatever happened to that?), stated that
the Liberal Democrats in power would focus on the creation of a sustainable
economy, building a fairer society and cleaning up politics. It also said that
no extra spending commitment would be made without an equivalent cut elsewhere.
The phrase ‘tuition fees’ occurs nowhere in it. Indeed, the only reference to
higher education is the observation that “while we need to make admissions
fairer, we do not believe that the arbitrary target of expansion to 50% of young
people going to university is achievable or affordable”.
So why was the document, issued with exquisite mis-timing on the eve of the
Norwich North by-election, spun heavily in public as signalling the abandonment
of the party’s policy to scrap tuition fees?
Since it did not mention these fees, it is rather unlikely that any media
commentator would have leapt to the conclusion that the policy had been ditched
unless the party had briefed them that that was the case.
The spring conference reaffirmed opposition to tuition fees by a large majority
and, with a number of MPs in university seats, any attempt to ditch this policy
would be politically suicidal.
Leader Nick Clegg responded that the three goals set out in A Fresh Start
were all the party could commit to and other policies were ‘aspirations’.
This introduced an entirely new concept into party policy making. Those policies
the leader approves of are deemed ‘policies’; those he doesn’t are mere
‘aspirations’ and exist in some sort of limbo.
Lengthy discussions in what is still the FPC (not FAC) left the committee very
clear that it wished neither to ditch any policies nor to have some arbitrary
number agreed as ‘definite’ and the rest not.
The committee felt that, since public spending cannot be guaranteed, all
policies should serve as examples of what the party would wish to do in power.
“It’s a remarkable coincidence that the way [A Fresh Start] was presented in
public was the same as the leadership’s original line to FPC and what we are
left with matches the leader’s private view,” one FPC member told Liberator.
FPC had been presented with a costings document that contained a large hole,
which by a most remarkable coincidence was equivalent to the cost of scrapping
tuition fees. The committee was then told it could keep the commitment to scrap
tuition fees only if it agreed equivalent cuts to the NHS, but it declined to
play that game.
So why would Clegg wish to do something as politically suicidal as dropping
opposition to tuition fees? “I think these are people who don’t have a problem
with charging for public services because their own education was paid for
privately,” Liberator’s source opines, adding, “it comes from Nick Clegg, Danny
Alexander and the Orange Book lot.”
This ‘lot’ dislike the social liberal majority on the FPC. Thus the abolition of
tuition fees remains policy, but if conference passes the woefully anodyne Fresh Start for Britain, Clegg and his sidekick Alexander may be able to
claim the policy has gone since the document does not mention it.
Also in Radical Bulletin 335:
- HOW THE WEST WAS LOST
- GOOD RIDDANCE
- HANNAN AROUND
- IT’S HOW YOU SAY IT
- DUFF DUFFED UP
- BASKING SHARKEY
- EMPTYING OUT
- 20-11 VISION
- THROUGH THE SQUARE WINDOW
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