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Radical Bulletin 335 – September 2009
04 October 2009 (18:38:58)

99% ASPIRATION

When the will the Federal Policy Committee be renamed the Federal Aspirations Committee?

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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