Clegg's dishonesty on tuition fees continues

"I didn't win the election" is not an excuse for breaking the pledge.

One of the main reasons why it is Labour, not the Conservatives, that has the best chance of winning a majority at the next election is the scale of the Lib Dem defection to Ed Miliband's party. Unlike in the 1980s, when the left vote was split between Labour and the SDP, the left is now largely united around Labour. One in five of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 transferred their support to Labour in the months following the formation of coalition and there is no sign of them returning. The latest YouGov poll puts Labour on 41 per cent, the Tories on 32 per cent and the Lib Dems on just 8 per cent.

It was the decision to support the tuition fees increase that was Clegg's Iraq moment, a profound breach of trust for which his party will pay dearly. Challenged on the subject on this morning's Today programme, Clegg replied that since the Lib Dems didn't win the election ["I lead a party with eight per cent of MPs"] he was unable to keep his promise to vote against any increase. "If you want the Liberal Democrat manifesto in full, vote for Liberal Democrats in larger numbers. It didn't happen," he said.

This is disingenuous. Clegg's pledge was not conditional on his party forming a government, rather it was a commitment that all Lib Dem MPs returned by the electorate would vote against any fees increase. The NUS pledge, signed by every Liberal Democrat MP, read:

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

So long as Clegg continues to obscure this point, there is little prospect of him winning back the lost Lib Dems.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.