Nick Clegg apologises for tuition fees pledge

"There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it and for that I am sorry."

Nick Clegg has filmed an apology for the party's pledge over tuition fees, which will be broadcast to coincide with the Liberal Democrat party conference.

The Lib Dem leader says: 

"I'd like to take the opportunity to set a few things straight. When I meet people around the country, it's obvious that you have strong and pretty mixed reactions to things the Liberal Democrats have done in government . . . I meet people who are disappointed and angry that we couldn't keep all our promises, above all our promise not to raise tuition fees."

He that it was a "mistake" to make the pledge, when the only way that Lib Dems would be in power was as a coalition partner of Labour or the Tories, who wanted to raise fees. Clegg adds:

"There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it and for that I am sorry. . . When we're wrong, we hold our hands up. But when we're right we hold our heads up too. We were right to leave the comfort of opposition to face the realities of Government and I know we are fighting for the right things."

Making the video is a bold move from Clegg: will it "detoxify" the Lib Dem brand, or cement the image of him as a weak leader who has lost his core voters' support? Here's the video, courtesy of ITV: decide for yourself.

Nick Clegg. Source: ITV News

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.