Wednesday, 15 December 2010


To Tories like the intellectually limited Nadine Dorries who are worried about a 'non-aggression pact' between their party and the Lib Dems at the next election, or concerned about the prospect of a longer-term period of co-operation, let me reassure you: I - and thousands of Lib Dems like me - have absolutely no intention of reducing our aggressive dislike of you and your ilk and opposing you in almost every arena possible, or of toning down our desire to increase fairness and democracy in our country.

I pledge that I will always oppose the Tories wherever I find them, which does not mean not working with you where it is necessary or beneficial for the country or a local area but it does mean that Hell will be sending out the gritters before I seek anything closer than we currently have. The coalition is working, let's be thankful but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Then, in 2015, as agreed, we'll go for your jugular and no doubt you'll do the same.

If not, I'll be looking for a new party. Calm down, Ed, it will never be the Labour Party. It would need to be a party which fought for civil liberties, for better education, for fairer local services and the abolition of the hated and utterly unfair Council Tax, which opposed illegal wars, which promoted democracy and fairness at all levels of society. That list kind of summarises where the Lib Dems still are and neither of the other two parties even come close to those ambitions.

So there's the conclusion: if you're a Tory I'll always dislike you but I'll work with you; if you're Labour, you've got a long way to go to redress the shameful errors of the past 13 years before I'll even talk to you; if you're a Lib Dem I'd suggest you keep the faith and see how things turn out. These are difficult times but, by Jiminy, the alternatives are not appealing at all.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Ed Miliband said today of the student fees debate: "Before the election, they promised families and young people that they would oppose any increase in tuition fees"

That's true Ed, but then before the 1997 election Labour said there would be a vote on a fairer electoral system. They won that election and failed to do this.

Before the 1997 election Labour said they would abolish the House of Lords. They won that election and failed to do this.

After the 1997 election John Prescott pledged to reduce road transport dramatically and he failed utterly and miserably. His only achievement was his magic trick of turning his minsterial car into a bus, perhaps to encourage greener transport...

Before the 2001 election Labour said they would not introduce tuition fees, then they did.

It wasn't a concrete pledge but I doubt a single Labour voter supported that party in 2001 in the hope that they would drag this country into a disastrous, oil-fuelled war of revenge the consequences of which will continue to reverberate for decades to come.

Before the 2010 election Labour supported a referendum on a fairer voting system, now they oppose this because it doesn't favour them.

Before the 2010 election, Labour Chancellor Alastair Darling pledged to address the deficit through swingeing cuts equivalent in severity to what the coalition has implemented. Now Labour politicians decry any suggestion of this.

Do you really want to talk about broken pledges? If you do, we've got 13 years to consider. Labour broke countless pledges over that time but perhaps the biggest crime of all is how little they did when they had the power to do so much.

Before 1994 Labour had some principles. I didn't like them but at least they were there to be seen.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Ay yi yi! The Prime Minister - he of the expensive private and Oxford education - was defending student fee changes today and he said of them: "We want more people to go to university, not less".

Its 'fewer', Dave. It's 'fewer'.

If Dave is planning to take us all to Hell in a handcart, you'd think he could at least condemn us grammatically correctly as we slide to our collective doom. No doubt these days Hell is spelt with a 'Haitch'...which, if you think about it, would be entirely appropriate.


I have struggled with the student fees issue more than any other but its important to be able to decide so here goes.

I fought the election having agreed the pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees: the LDs didn't win the election, we came third. I work for a university, albeit not in a teaching area. I had a free education - but no support grant and the first year of loans to deal with. I did a Masters which was paid for by my parents - thanks Dad. I have never quite lifted myself from the debt ridden state that university put me in, despite nearly 20 years of work so I know about paying for an education, I know about debt and I know about hardship.

I have been faced with a barrage of information about the proposed cuts to university funding and over the inequities of the proposals. Under the current system of fees which Labour introduced - let's call them 'Labour fees' for short - you are saddled with upfront debts as soon as you start university. You can apply for grants and other support but for most people its pay upfront or get a job. If you're part-time you pay your Labour fees upfront and in full, so that's the low-paid stuffed good and proper by the supposed 'people's party'.

The new system being proposed by the coalition will mean much higher fees. This will cover much more of the cost of the courses at universities, putting their finances onto a fairer footing. The crucial difference is that these higher fees will only need to be paid back once people leave university and once they are earning over £21,000 - thanks to the LDs - a figure very close to the average income in this country and one which can reasonably be called a 'living wage'. (If anyone wants to argue about low pay, I've got a lifetime of experience on that front so bring it on...)

Education is a right and it should be free. In the 1950s when a few tens of thousands of people went to university this was a wonderful dream and one anyone could support. Why shouldn't rich people be educated at the expense of the rest of us? In the modern world hundreds of thousands of people go to university, which is a major achievement and a widening of opportunity - but its expensive and the money has to be found somehow. For sure the majority of people going to university will earn higher than average salaries but many will not. Is it reasonable for that stalwart of the tabloids, a single mum bringing up her kids with part-time work, to support them? It is surely far better to ask people to pay for their choice in higher education when they have finished it and when they have a job which is paying them enough to allow them to do so reasonably.

Remember that the country is broke, there is no money for most services, Labour has layered on PFI debt across the land and spent any money left over on grandiose schemes before the election. Carrying on regardless is not an option and if you think otherwise, pop across to Dublin for the weekend - they could do with the cash.

For me the Damascene moment in all this is thinking about what universities are and how they have changed out of all recognition from those halcyon days of Kingsley Amis and jolly japes in the quad. I work for a modern one and I went to a polytechnic - by choice because I knew I would get a better education there. Both institutions have embraced modern learning, including part-time and vocationally focused learning alongside traditional academic subjects. Education has to map on to the economy, not at the expense of more academic pursuits but complementary to them. Two year Degrees have been touted, to cries of horror from traditionalists. Why? Surely the bottom line in all this is choice and if someone wants to do a two year Degree so that they can start to work, why shouldn't they be able to. Higher education must evolve, just like every other sector. Shall we mention ivory towers here or do you get the picture?

My prediction is that we will have roughly the same number of universities in 10 years, with some less well performing ones having closed or merged. Some will have to face up to the fact that they were never viable. The vast majority of universities which remain will have more students, including more from poorer backgrounds. They will have more minority students - the story today of 21 Oxford colleges having no black students at all is frankly disgusting and shows starkly how appalling the 'old' sector is generally - and more part-time students. Most will be more vocationally focused and all will offer a range of course models. People whose blood is boiling at this point might reflect on the runaway success of the utterly flexible Open University since its creation with the aim of making university accessible.

And yes, students will pay for their education. Never forget that Labour introduced fees in the first place, all we are seeking to do is to make the system fairer, which this policy does. The alternative is upfront Labour fees, students saddled with debts from day one of their courses, less well off people put off education altogether and more of the same. So after much deliberation, I'll say it once, I'll say it loud, the proposals on student fees are the right thing to do here and now.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


The wonderful thing about the Tories is that their true character is just beneath the surface and it only needs a scratch to expose it. Thus the comments of the Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council in response to students daring to step into his fiefdom in central Oxford - a public building owned by Council taxpayers to which students, as citizens, are entitled to enter, although not to disrupt - are entirely within the bounds of this negative, fearful, backward-looking party.

Describing them as badly dressed and 'ugly', the good Tory later decried them on the radio, saying of the demonstration: 'this is a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on'. And that's Conservatism. The cuddly Cameronites dropping their 't's and hugging huskies are a thin veneer over the old-fashioned, reactionary forces which pervade our councils and constituencies across the country. The 'our' in that sentence is important because we need to challenge the execrable Tory idea that we should be humble subjects to which services are provided. No. We pay their allowances so we should have far more of a say over what is done to us. That's something LDs are working hard to achieve in the coalition and I am sure it puts the willies up many people who might be affected.

For the benefit of clarity, of course I don't support the students in disrupting the work of the County Council and I don't support any illegal activity. However, I do recognise the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and I accept that that some young people involved in this demonstration may have been carried along by the usual rent-a-mob wasters who spoil all such protests by their idiotic actions in the name of some '-ism' or other, before they slope off to mummy on the weekend with their washing. That doesn't mean that the majority of the demonstration was an illegal anarchist attempt to take over Oxfordshire or that the majority of the people involved are necessarily 'ugly' or 'badly dressed'. (When you break these comments down they sound increasingly absurd.)

I wish David Cameron well and I applaud his efforts to modernise his party but I fear that his hard work to drag them into the 20th century (one century at a time, folks) will ultimately fail at the first sign of trouble as the 'old' Tories will drag him down under the weight of their own hubris. The leader of Oxfordshire County Council cried 'god help us' as these students are the future of our country. Well we should all thank god that some people are increasingly rooted in the past and pray that they will eventually become an irrelevance.

If you don't like free speech, councillor, leave the country. Please.