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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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