Peter Hoskin

The Lib Dems walk through the fire

The Lib Dems walk through the fire
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Brace yourselves, CoffeeHousers. Today is the day of the tuition fee vote, along with all the froth and fury that will attend it. The government's motion will most likely pass through the Commons – yes, even without the support of Simon Hughes – but the wider repercussions are, as yet, uncertain. The main question is what the Lib Dems will achieve by walking through the fire, as Nick Clegg puts it. Will they emerge from the other side, a more credible party of government in the public's eyes? Or will they just get burnt to ashes?

At the very least, the yellow bird of liberty is stuttering this morning. As Anthony Wells reports, the latest YouGov poll has them at 8 percent – what appears to be their lowest level of support for 20 years. You might say that polls don't really matter, especially at this stage, and I'd sympathise. But when many Lib Dems fear being subsumed by the coalition, and losing their seats in the process, these single-digit scores could start to pay grim dividends.

The decision to tie the Lib Dems up with that pledge not to increase tuition fees is perhaps the greatest error of Clegg's leadership so far. It's not that he shouldn't have backed down from it, even though in doing so he has undermined his own claim to be a "new politician." Rather, he shouldn't have signed it in the first place. Sensible government doesn't have room for insensible promises, particularly from the party that, even in April, might have expected to be the smaller member of a coalition. The Lib Dems ought to learn that lesson today.