James Forsyth

The Lib Dems need to get their act together on tuition fees

The Lib Dems need to get their act together on tuition fees
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There have been a huge amount of police out in Westminster today. After being caught off-guard by the student demo a few weeks back, the cops are now leaving nothing to chance.


But if the police have now got their act together, the same cannot be said of the Liberal Democrats. They are currently considering whipping their MPs to abstain on tuition fees despite the fact that the government’s policy is one that has been crafted by a Lib Dem Secretary of State, Vince Cable, and a Tory Minister of State, David Willetts.


If the Lib Dems were to abstain, it would play to the worst stereotypes of the party. They would be derided as ditherers of the first degree, incapable of taking a tough decision. It wouldn’t win them any votes from those who oppose fees and would lose them a lot of the credibility that they have won so far in government.


Those in the Lib Dem who worry about how it looks if their MPs split three-ways — e.g. the ministers voting for fees, most backbenchers abstaining and 15 or so voting against—are over-estimating how much attention the public pay to parliamentary votes. But what will be noticed is if Clegg and Cable don’t vote for their own policy.