The Lib Dem fees split widens

Lib Dem MPs threaten to resign from the government over the tuition fees rise.

Update: It now appears that Mike Crockart is not resigning after all. The word from the Lib Dems is that the mistake occurred because the wrong phone number is beside his name in a media directory. A spokesman for Crockart said: "The quotes were from a random man, not Mike. They had somebody else's number against his name. Mike is still waiting to see what the final offer will be before he votes and that has always been our line."

The fake Mike Crockart also appeared on the World At One and was quickly cut off after the show realised their mistake. All of which begs the question: is he the only Lib Dem imposter? It would explain an awful lot ...

Update: Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart has said that he will resign from his post (PPS to Michael Moore) in order to vote against tuition fees. He told the Evening Standard: "I will be voting against 100 per cent. I'm not going to be pushed out. Resigning probably will be the only option." Norman Baker and at least one other Lib Dem MP are also thought to be on the verge of resigning.

The dizzying attempt to chart the Lib Dem split on tuition fees continues. It's some measure of Nick Clegg's lack of authority that party unity has decreased, not increased, in the past 24 hours.

What looked like a three-way split has become a four-way split. After failing to reach agreement on a mass abstention, senior Lib Dem ministers including Clegg and Vince Cable will vote in favour of their own policy. They will be joined by pro-fees MPs such as David Laws and John Hemming.

A second group of ministers and backbenchers will abstain from the vote (as is their right under the coalition agreement). A third group of left-leaning MPs including the party president, Tim Farron, and the former leaders Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell ("my credibility would be shot") will stick to their election pledge to vote against any increase in fees. A final group of backbenchers is pushing a fourth option of calling off the vote in order to allow a full public consultation to take place.

One of them, Greg Mullholland, told the Guardian: "Sometimes the most courageous thing to do is to admit you need a rethink. The best thing for higher education is not to force this vote through on Thursday." All of which looks like a feeble attempt to postpone the inevitable. There is no prospect of a substantially different package being put forward by the coalition.

Meanwhile, it's worth keeping an eye on the three Tory MPs who also signed the NUS pledge to vote against any increase in fees. After all, as recently as Michael Howard's leadership, the Conservative Party itself was opposed to the principle of tuition fees.

The Fees Three are: Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North), Lee Scott (Ilford North), Bob Blackman (Harrow East). Wallace has since claimed that the NUS "misinformed" people of his intentions but Scott (who is Philip Hammond's PPS) is still on record as opposing any rise in fees.

Here's a list of those Lib Dem MPs likely or certain to vote against the bill on Thursday:

1. Charles Kennedy ("I shall be voting against the coalition's proposals on university tuition fees.")

2. Ming Campbell ("My credibility would be shot to pieces if I did anything other than to stick to the promise I made.")

3. Mike Hancock ('It's a big step in the right direction but the government hasn't done enough to make me vote for it and I won't.")

4. Julian Huppert ("I made a promise to the students that I would never support a rise in tuition fees and I have reaffirmed that promise today.")

5. John Leech ("I again publicly state that I will vote against an increase in tuition fees.")

6. Ian Swales ("I can't support raising the fee cap up to £9,000 per year.")

7. John Pugh ("I will vote against any rise in tuition fees, unless a rabbit is pulled out of the hat – and there is no sign of that.")

8. Tim Farron

9. Bob Russell

10. Mark Williams

11. Simon Wright

12. Roger Williams

13. Martin Horwood

14. Greg Mullholland

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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