Peter Hoskin

Compromise time for Nick Clegg?

Compromise time for Nick Clegg?
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Where are we with the tuition fee rebellion? Nick Clegg has an article in the FT claiming that the coalition's policy is fairness codified, but he is running out of time to persuade his own MPs either way. Barring various unlikelihoods, the crunch vote will be held on Thursday. Before then, a handful of PPSs could well resign their bag-carrying roles. And, judging by today's Sun, a few ministers might even join them (Norman Baker, of course, as well as Steve Webb and Lynne Featherstone). The plan to present a "united front" has already crumbled to naught.

What's left for Clegg, ahead of his meeting with MPs later today, is to prevent some of the more toxic fallout from this vote. The resistance of backbenchers like Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell is to be expected, and I doubt it will unduly excite the public. But ministerial resignations would be considerably more embarrassing. In which case, as Gary Gibbon says over at his blog, much revolves around whether Clegg allows disgruntled Lib Dem ministers to both abstain from the vote and keep their jobs. If that compromise were offered, then the Bakers in government would no doubt take it.

Some CoffeeHouers might be wondering, what's the point? If some ministers abstain – while the rest vote for government policy – are they not sending out the same message as if they had voted against it? Perhaps. But there's little doubting that, in the news reports to follow, "abstention" would have considerably less bite than "resignation". And when it comes to coalitions, and their longevity, these small differences can matter.