“It’s one we think is acceptable. The perception of [tuition fees] is that it imposes a wall of debt as you walk through the entry gates of university. This has a chilling effect on applications. It sends a signal which seems to be discouraging.”
Clegg’s comments contradict David Willetts, the universities minister, who has decided that there will be no further comment until Lord Browne delivers his much threatened report. Clegg has previous form of going ‘off-message’ but this seems more deliberate than his Iraqi gaffe, designed to placate his errant MPs, some of whom are apparently poised to join Labour.
Clegg’s insouciance, assumed at the high-water mark of Cleggmania, has receded as the Liberal Democrats try and fail to influence government policy. So, the Telegraph asks about academies, Clegg talks about pupil premiums. The Telegraph suggests that the coalition is finished if AV is rejected, Clegg says that there is more to the Lib Dems than political reform. The Telegraph asserts that elements of Clegg’s party are mutinous over their lack of influence; Clegg replies that the Lib Dems professed pluralism in opposition. It’s a game attempt from Clegg; but he’d be better off simply admitting that the Lib Dems are the junior partner in coalition and that requires sacrifice. Hollow promises can only disappoint.