djm4: (Default)
David Matthewman ([personal profile] djm4) wrote2010-11-24 18:53
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.
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[identity profile] andrewhickey.info 2010-11-24 21:26 (UTC)(link)
Couldn't agree more. There are three possible (relatively) decent options open, and Nick appears unwilling to take any of them:

1) Say "I signed a pledge, I'm sticking with it", as (e.g.) John Leech, Tim Farron etc have done.

2) Say "I signed a pledge to vote against fees rising *and to support a fairer system*. I think this *is* a fairer system, but it also involves fees rising. I didn't anticipate that when I signed, and I should have done, so I'm going to abstain, and I apologise for putting myself in a position where I signed a pledge which is impossible to keep" (no MPs appear to have taken this option, but it's a reasonable one).

3) Say "Yes, I made a pledge. I honestly didn't realise at the time that the Browne report would come up with a system that is better for students than the current system. I'm going to vote for the changes, but I recognise that that involves me breaking a pledge. I hope my constituents can understand that by breaking the letter of it, I'm trying my best to keep to the spirit of it, but I can well understand their anger if they disagree, and can only apologise."

Any one of these, even if one disagrees, would be a respectable position. The one coming from our 'leadership' at the moment just isn't...
ciphergoth: (Default)

[personal profile] ciphergoth 2010-11-24 22:03 (UTC)(link)
It would be more honest to say "I didn't realise at the time that I'd end up in a coalition government trading away this thing in return for some other concessions".

Though it would be still more honest to say "When I signed this pledge, it seemed obvious that it would be politically expedient to vote against tuition fees anyway. It didn't cross my mind that I might find myself in circumstances where keeping it might cost me something."
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[identity profile] andrewhickey.info 2010-11-24 22:10 (UTC)(link)
I'm trying to assume the best of people here :-/

The first one wouldn't be true, as firstly it was very, very possible when they signed that pledge that there would be a coalition government (and neither other major party was in favour of scrapping tuition fees) and because, as David points out, it wasn't a manifesto 'for government only' commitment, but a personal commitment about a single vote, above any other commitment made.
ciphergoth: (Default)

[personal profile] ciphergoth 2010-11-25 07:33 (UTC)(link)
Thanks - I should temper its harshness a little though. There's a good reason why our politicians often put political expediency first: the ones who don't, don't get elected. There's a lot to be said for actually getting elected.
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[personal profile] rmc28 2010-11-24 22:56 (UTC)(link)
I agree. I think 2 is probably closest to my own views on the subject (no, I didn't stand for election nor sign That Pledge, but I agreed with the pledge before I read the Browne review - now I think differently). I wish any MP at all would express this but it's probably too complex. I found out recently that 4 Conservative MPs also signed the NUS pledge: wonder how they'll vote.

My MP (Julian Huppert) is choosing option 1. I like to think this is his personal integrity, but it's also true that anything else would kill his re-election chances in Cambridge.
Edited (Fixed HTML for link) 2010-11-24 22:58 (UTC)
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[identity profile] andrewhickey.info 2010-11-24 23:01 (UTC)(link)
I suspect that as with Leech (the only candidate out of the several I campaigned for who actually got in) it's a bit of both - both Leech and Huppert are among the more principled and decent MPs, but they're also both in university seats... but then, there's nothing unprincipled about representing your constituents' interests, either...
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)

[personal profile] rmc28 2010-11-25 13:59 (UTC)(link)
Yeah. It can be in their best interests AND the right thing to do :)
lizw: Lib Dem logo (libdems)

[personal profile] lizw 2010-11-25 14:33 (UTC)(link)
3) is pretty much my position, except for the fact that I (obviously) wasn't called upon to sign the blasted pledge in the first place; if I'd been a candidate, I probably would have done. Thanks for articulating it so well.

I also didn't fully realise during the General Election campaign just how much it would cost the taxpayer to fund universities properly without raising fees or something financially equivalent to it; I think Nick and Vince had probably realised it by 2009, and I wish they had communicated it to Conference much more clearly than they did. If they had done, we might have gone into the election with a more realistic policy. Tuition fees have been such a shibboleth in the party that some of our MPs would probably still have signed the pledge, but at least they would have been warned.
barakta: (Default)

[personal profile] barakta 2010-11-24 22:50 (UTC)(link)
Yes. This! Thank you - I was recalling one of your posts about why you personally objected to a graduate tax after a LD con some years back - idealogically etc.

I believe your 1) 2) and 3) are all things which would have made me respect Clegg more. He is missing the point big style and the students are FURIOUS and they will punish the LibDems for it and Clegg's attitude of "Don't protest stupid students you don't understand" is not helping!

I have been debating some of this on and off all day as various annoying union people tried to hectoring me for not being a Labour Party supporter/voter. I said I voted Lib Dem and while very disappointed with Clegg and the whole tuition fees and education stuff as you describe I don't think I could have made better use of my vote. And I have HUGE issues with trade/student unions being SO Fucking Labour that people who do not identify with Labour politics are made to feel uncomfortable and traitorous even if they support the same general aims as the union.

I agree the Browne review contains many progressive things (part time student stuff is very unexpected and very needed) and indeed I believe there is evidence to suggest English fees have increased equality university participation for poorer students compared to the Scottish system which is allegedly the same - I must find the cite for that though. But there is still the issue of "burden of debt" even if you don't have to pay it off which I feel has not been resolved adequately.
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[personal profile] doug 2010-11-25 06:44 (UTC)(link)
The "study our proposals before protesting" thing is extra annoying since the details are not available. Even the headline points have proven misleading.

And he did the "well if you look closely, squint a bit, it's like a graduate tax innit?" which is ... very wrong. There is a specific claim one could make around the likely overall lifetime financial contribution by some students given some assumptions, which may or may not be true (depending on what the scheme actually does) but (a) it misses the point that the psychological impact is quite different, and (b) he didn't make that specific narrow claim, it was a fuzzier, broader one that is simply Wrong.

I had a lot of respect for him in making a decent fist of a bad situation after the election but I have shifted to contempt.
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[personal profile] nanaya 2010-11-25 20:47 (UTC)(link)
I do find it frustrating how Labour - who, in their 13 years of majority rule, caused a lot of the current mess by introducing up-front tuition fees and the 50% target - got off relatively lightly, both at the time and now. But the fact that they were let off doesn't mean I think we Lib Dems should be, so I'm not inclined to press the point.

*Very* much my feeling on the subject, yes, although it's slightly more complicated by the shifting cast of individuals over the last decade and a half, but basically yes.

In fact, yes to the whole comment. I was having an interesting conversation about experiences of attitudes to money in poorer circles, and your 2nd paragraph certainly sums up a few of those ideas quite well.
almadsfeika: (waiting for godot)

icon-appropriate?

[personal profile] almadsfeika 2010-11-25 05:14 (UTC)(link)
Thank you. Thank you for formulating my thoughts without me screaming at everyone. Sigh.
almadsfeika: (ignorance)

[personal profile] almadsfeika 2010-11-25 07:35 (UTC)(link)
I think that's definitely understandable. It's a bit fucked up really, because there are lots of really awesome Lib Dem attached people who are my friends, and one of my partners is involved too - however the bigshot types are far away from the nice people. That's common in all branches of life though, I suppose?
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[personal profile] pseudomonas 2010-11-25 14:51 (UTC)(link)
There also seem to be Nice People (as I understand your use of the term) in the parliamentary party; they just aren't the ones in the cabinet. I'd be seriously interested to know whether the ones in the cabinet who are sticking to the government line, despite the coalition agreement at least allowing them to abstain, have been whipped into publicly agreeing, have actually been persuaded that this is the correct course of action, or have been offered some large concessions (on this or something else) in exchange for keeping their mouths shut.
almadsfeika: (download cars)

Lib Dem dark side in cabinet? Do they have better cookies?

[personal profile] almadsfeika 2010-11-25 15:25 (UTC)(link)
That makes a lot of sense. As a party, lib dems have a higher percentage of 'human beings' within the party than any other major local political party in my experience. This is the south-east of England so I don't know much about parties in, say, Northern Ireland. I've met some awesome LGBT Tories although very few, some reasonable Tories, some Labour lackeys/ supporters and the odd labour councillor. The greens tend to function more as an alternative to a spoiled ballot in my area - don't feel like making a difference? Vote green or independent. Sad but true here.
The really annoying thing about politics is that there can be a gulf between the ideas/ ideals/ beliefs of the party and those of the individual politicians - what they will do to get ahead.
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Re: Lib Dem dark side in cabinet? Do they have better cookies?

[personal profile] pseudomonas 2010-11-25 15:33 (UTC)(link)
Hopefully Greens and Independents will have more of a chance if and when we get a preferential system of voting. Re: individual politicians, I certainly have a lot of confidence in my (Lib Dem) MP, who is (as far as one can tell so far) principled and doesn't seem too scared of pushing the government when he disagrees with it.
almadsfeika: (Default)

Re: Lib Dem dark side in cabinet? Do they have better cookies?

[personal profile] almadsfeika 2010-11-25 17:02 (UTC)(link)
My local lib Dem councillors are either idiotic, famous & cabinet-like, or both simultaneously... I think it can be a matter of attitudes as well as faults in the voting system. It'd be nice to see a proper better system for voting.
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Re: Lib Dem dark side in cabinet? Do they have better cookies?

[identity profile] andrewhickey.info 2010-11-25 20:10 (UTC)(link)
This is why (generally, with some very noticeable exceptions) Lib Dem MPs tend to be nicer people than Labour or Tory MPs. I don't think anyone ever joined the Lib Dems in the expectation of getting any kind of power nationally - if you want to become Prime Minister, you join Labour or the Tories. Councillors are a different matter, because of course we're in power in many local authorities.