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.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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