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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.