Peter Hoskin

Vince Cable’s discomfort is shared by the coalition

Vince Cable's discomfort is shared by the coalition
Text settings

The trouble with holding a ministerial debate in public is that, when it comes to the crunch, it's obvious who the winners and losers are. So it is with Vince Cable and higher education funding. A couple of months ago, the business secretary tap-danced onto the stage with a (problematic) plan for a new graduate tax. Now, it seems clear that the Browne Review will reject his advice (£) in favour of increasing tuition fees. And so Cable has had to send out an excruciating email explaining why a graduate tax was never really a good idea in the first place. After the flip comes the flop, so to speak.

But this isn't just about Cable's embarrassment. Before the last election, the Lib Dems pledged never to increase tuition fees – but now they are part of a government which may do just that. This puts them at a fork in the road: do they abstain from any vote to increase tuition fees, as suggested in the coalition agreement? Or do they rebel against the government? Much will depend on whether Downing Street can reach a compromise over the next few weeks – but if Lib Dems choose the latter, then there might well be blood. According to the Sunday Times report, the majority in favour of tuition fee reforms could be as low as five. And that's small enough for this story to carry explosive potential.