David Blackburn

The Lib Dems are in quiet turmoil over tuition fees

The Lib Dems are in quiet turmoil over tuition fees
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A cruel north wind heralds the Lib Dem’s discontent. In public, the party has withstood criticism of its apparent u-turn on student finance, helped in part by the more puerile elements of the student protest. Ministers, from both wings of the party, have stressed that coalition necessitates compromise: tuition fees had to rise; therefore, the Lib Dems’ task in government was to protect the poorest, which they seemingly have. Backbenchers hedged their bets, saying that they were scrutinising the legislation before deciding how to vote.    

But consternation has reigned in private. This morning, weeks of whispered disgruntlement broke into open tension. Politics Home reports hat the Lib Dems met on Tuesday night and debated how to proceed without splitting the party, committing electoral suicide or torpedoing the government. No easy task.

Several options are being entertained, but the majority of Lib Dem ministers are expected to abstain from the vote and backbenchers will be encouraged to follow suit. Abstention would give satisfaction to some, whilst ensuring the government’s majority (it is also far from certain that all Labour MPs will obey Miliband’s likely opposition whip). The Lib Dems’ long-term problem is whether abstention is sufficient to bind the parliamentary party and retain voters. I suspect that pessimism will be the better part of reality.