2010-11-24

djm4: (Default)
2010-11-24 06:53 pm
Entry tags:

Breaking pledges

I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Nick Clegg's statements on tuition fees (and that starts from a fairly high level of frustration with him for singling them out as one of our long-term policies that might have to go in 2009).

Look, the point is not that the Lib Dem manifesto said that we'd phase tuition fees out. Everyone understands that we didn't win the election, so aren't in a position to implement everything in the manifesto. What we compromise about - and whether we compromise at all or just stay out of government - is up for debate, of course, but it's not a betrayal of principles to fail to implement a manifesto commitment if you lose an election.

No, the point is this pledge that Nick Clegg and all other Lib Dem MPs signed back in February. This is what it says:

"I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative."

Here's the problem: nothing in that pledge becomes impossible just because we lost the election. Nick's still an MP, he still gets a vote, and that vote can still be against an increase in tuition fees.

Yes, I understand that Nick Clegg now doesn't want to. I get that he now thinks that the Browne Report offers a progressive fairness premium or something - I'm sorry, I'm losing track of the jargon these days. I also understand that under the terms of the coalition agreement, MPs agreed to abstain at worst on tuition fee rises (that was noted at the time as being a hostage to fortune, but with everything that was going on then, I can genuinely forgive that slip up). But Nick Clegg's not even going to abstain, apparently; he's going to vote in favour.

A pledge, though, is a pledge. It's a serious commitment that should not be lightly broken, and people will be quite reasonably angry with you when you do. Menzies Campbell understands this. Vince Cable appears not to. It might be seen to be OK to break a pledge if unforeseeable circumstances made keeping the pledge impossible, but it's not OK to break it because it's now politically inconvenient.

And it's really not OK to act as though the pledge were a manifesto commitment that the Lib Dems could only stick to if we won a majority government. It was a pledge to vote against a policy, not a pledge to ensure the policy didn't get passed. Nick, Vince and the rest can still vote against the policy and, IMO, should. Alternatively, they can 'fess up to voluntarily going back on the pledge, and plead changed circumstances; it'll still make people angry, but it's better than falsely claiming that being in a coalition now makes the pledge impossible to keep.

And all MPs should probably be a lot more careful about making pledges that they don't really mean. They might get called on them one day.