Tuition fees bill passes with slim majority

Coalition’s majority cut from 84 to just 21.

The result is in: 323 MPs voted in favour of raising the cap on tuition fees from £3,290 to £9,000 a year, with 302 against.

That means the government's majority was slashed from 84 to just 21 – easily the largest rebellion of this parliament.

But, as Vince Cable and others have pointed out, the majority was still four times larger than the one achieved by Tony Blair in the 2004 fees vote.

The Lib Dem rebels

In total, 21 Lib Dem MPs voted against the government, including two former party leaders, Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy, and the party president, Tim Farron. Here's the full list:

Annette Brooke (Dorset Mid and Poole North)

Sir Menzies Campbell (Fife North East)

Michael Crockart (Edinburgh West)

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Andrew George (St Ives)

Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South)

Julian Huppert (Cambridge)

Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)

John Leech (Manchester Withington)

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne)

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North-West)

John Pugh (Southport)

Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

Dan Rogerson (Cornwall North)

Bob Russell (Colchester)

Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

Ian Swales (Redcar)

Mark Williams (Ceredigion)

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central)

Simon Wright (Norwich South)

Eight Lib Dem MPs abstained, which means they still broke their election pledge to vote against higher fees. They were: Lorely Burt (Solihull), Martin Horwood (Cheltenham), Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark), Chris Huhne (Eastleigh), Tessa Munt (Wells), Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine), John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) and Stephen Williams (Bristol West).

It's worth noting that Huhne and Horwood were unable to vote because they were at the Cancún climate-change talks. As a cabinet minister, Huhne would have voted in favour of fees but Horwood was expected to vote against.

The Tory rebels

Six Tory MPs voted against the bill. They were:

Philip Davies (Shipley)

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Julian Lewis (New Forest East)

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley)

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole)

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood)

It's notable that none of the three Tory MPs (Ben Wallace, Lee Scott and Bob Blackman) who signed the NUS pledge to vote against higher fees kept his promise.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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