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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Nigel Farage's love for Dunkirk shows how Brexiteers learned the wrong lessons from WWII

Film has given Britain a dangerously skewed perspective on World War II

For months now it’s been hard to avoid the publicity for what seems like an epidemic of new World War Two films for 2017. June brought us Churchill (starring Brian Cox), which concerns Operation Overlord and the allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. A month later, in July we were pushed back four years, to Dunkirk, with Christopher Nolan’s film of the evacuation of Allied troops from French soil in the summer of 1940. April had already brought Their Finest, a comedy about making a - let us not let the irony go unacknowledged -  stirring film about the evacuation of Dunkirk in the event’s more or less immediate aftermath and November will bring us Darkest Hour, some events in which will predate all three earlier films, as Gary Oldman’s Churchill struggles through the earliest days of his war premiership.

This glut is peculiar. There are no significant round anniversaries to commemorate (e.g. Dunkirk is 77 years ago, the Normandy landings 73). More, we’re meant to be in the middle of a series of commemorations of the horror and waste of the Great War of 1914-18, but that seems to have slipped away from us in the political turmoil that’s engulfed this country since 2014. Instead, it’s to the Second World War we return yet again. To modern Britain’s founding myth.

It’s a coincidence, of course, that these films should come along together, and at a seemingly odd time. They were developed separately, and films takes so long to conceive and produce that no one could have anticipated them arriving together, let alone arriving in a toxic Brexit Britain where they seem like literally the least useful things for anyone in the UK to watch right now. As works that will inevitably, whatever their own creative intentions and merits, be hi-jacked by a press and political culture that is determined to gloss its opposition to the UK’s membership of the European Union, and its appalling mishandling of the process of exit with garbled references to, the conflict the films portray.

This is an impression that is not exactly dismissed by Nigel Farage posting to twitter of an image of himself standing next to the poster for Dunkirk, along with a statement in which he encourages all young people to see the film. For what reason, we’re entitled to wonder, does he make this encouragement? Does he admire the sound design? Or the aerial photography? Or is he just a big fan of Mark Rylance and Harry Styles? Or perhaps he is, inevitably, indulging in a behaviour that some might call "nostalgic"? Of pining for the past. Except, of course, nostalgia requires an element of pain. The suffix "algia" the same as employed when referring to chronic conditions. For Farage and his ilk there is no pain in this behaviour, just the most extraordinarily banal comfort.

Farage is asking us and asking the young who voted against his chosen cause by an overwhelming majority, and who are are sickened by where he and his ilk have brought us - to share in his indulgence. To enjoy, as he does, those fatuous analogies between the UK’s isolation between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbour with its imminent failures in European politics. To see that "escaping from Europe with nothing is at least better than not escaping at all". Or to believe, once again, in a "plucky little Britain, standing up against the might of a wicked mainland European tyranny, its back against the wall".

All this, confused, indeed nonsensical, as it is, is being invoked, as surely as the anti-EU right have always invoked Churchill. This is despite his own family recognising him, as the EU itself does, as the fervent pro-European he was. Indeed, he was one of the founding fathers of the whole post-war pan-European enterprise.

What Farage and his behaviour demonstrates, yet again, is that British culture, in many ways, learned not merely the wrong lessons from the war against Hitler, but exactly the wrong lessons. It’s a lesson that found its most enduring, poisonous expression in Margaret Thatcher’s breathtaking assertion that the European Union was a "third attempt" by Germany to take over the world.

In contrast to the rush of war films in cinemas, television has recently given us glimpses into theoretical worlds where Nazism did succeed in conquering the planet, in Amazon Prime’s The Man In The High Castle and BBC One’s SS-GB. There are lessons too, in these alternative histories, proper lessons that we have collectively failed to learn from the real one. Which is that fascism or authoritarianism are not diseases to which anglophone countries are somehow miraculously immune due to [insert misunderstood historical fetish of choice].

The Man in the High Castle, particularly in its more subtle first series, goes out of its way to show Americans that their lack of experience of collaboration with Nazi occupation is a result of circumstance, even luck. Not because collaboration is a peculiarly European tendency. SS-GB also worked hard to demonstrate the helplessness of occupation, and how that leads to the sheer ordinariness of collaboration. Both show the understanding that while fascism from the outside is funny accents and funny uniforms, fascism from the inside is your neighbours informing on you and the absence of the rule of law.

That experience of occupation, of subsequent complicity, and humiliation, felt by many other other European nations, is absent in Britain. Farage’s fellow Leaver Liam Fox, without anything resembling self-awareness, asserted that "the United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history". Fox’s remark summed up, again seemingly unintentionally, the oafishness of the principle Brexiteers. A group who exemplify a culture that boils a vast and unimaginably complex conflict down to the title sequence of Dad’s Army - an animation in which a Union Flag is forced off the European continent by a trio of Nazi triangles, and after returning home bobs around defiantly. A group who, in a strange and witless inversion, have fantasised themselves into a position where they see the Britain’s membership of the European Union as the occupation the country once avoided.

This is the UK’s postponed tragedy. At a timethat European countries experienced national humiliations which fundamentally reconfigured their understandings of their place in the world, the UK got yet another excuse to shout about how much better it was than everyone else.

I’m a child of the very late Seventies. I grew up in a world where (British) boys’ comics were dominated by war stories rather than science fiction or superheroes, where literally everyone knew several people who had fought in World War Two - and almost everyone someone who could remember World War One. That war was the ever-present past. I am, as a friend who teaches history neatly phrased it "Of the last post-war generation." After me, the generations are post-post-war. They are free. The moral clarity of the war against Hitler has, in the end, been a curse on British culture - a distorting mirror in which we can always see ourselves as heroes. 

But, not, of course, all other generations. The war generation collectively (I make no claim that there were not exceptions) understood what the war was. Which meant they understood that the European Union was, and is, its antonym, not an extension of it. Unlike their children and the eldest of their grandchildren, they had real experience of the conflict, they hadn’t just grown up surrounded by films about how great Britain was during it.

The Prime Minister who, or so he thought, had secured Britain’s European destiny had also, as he related in his autobiography, seen the devastation wrought by that conflict, including by shells he himself had given the order to be fired. Like Helmut Kohl, whose worshipped, conscripted older brother died pointlessly fighting for Hitler, and Francois Mitterrand, himself captured during the fall of France, his experience was real and lived, not second hand.

This can be seen even in the voting in 2016 referendum. That the young principally voted Remain and the old voted Leave has been often noted. But if you break that over-65 vote up further, there’s a substantial flip to back towards Remain amongst the oldest voters, the survivors of the survivors of World War Two. After all, someone who is 65 today was born nearly a decade after the war ended. It was their parents’ war, not their own. A war that has been appropriated, and for purposes of which those who fought in it would, collectively, not approve.

Let’s return to Dad’s Army, after all, BBC Two does often enough. Don’t Panic! The Dad’s Army Story (2000) a cheerful history of the sitcom great written and presented by Victoria Wood contains a telling juxtaposition of interviewees. The series' surprising continued popularity is discussed and Wendy Richard (born 1943) expresses a nostalgia for the war years, and how people banded together during them. This is a sentiment which Clive Dunn (born 1920) bluntly dismisses. “Like most people I had a foul war,” he says, and disgust and horror briefly pass across his face.

It’s the difference between those who remember war, and those who only remember war films.