Will David Davis’s anti-tuition fees vote remain a “rebellion of one”?

Tory whips are nervous that MPs may not turn out to vote, but out-and-out opposition seems unlikely.

The Conservative MP David Davis has confirmed that he will rebel against the government in tomorrow's Commons vote on raising tuition fees.

Davis, who stood against David Cameron in the 2005 leadership election, and is seen by many as a right-wing standard-bearer, voiced concerns about the implications of trebling tuition fees.

He said that the changes would gravely affect social mobility. "The kids being helped are the very, very privileged indeed," he told the Guardian. "Free school meals being the bar [for the government's financial support plan] means quite a lot of aspirant working-class kids will not be helped."

Speaking to the Telegraph, he added: "I simply don't agree that university should be this expensive. "I'm concerned about the effect this would have on social mobility and the huge level of debt we are encouraging young people to take on. People in their twenties are very much more indebted than I was when I was a student and that is something I don't believe we can allow to continue."

While his position is consistent – he voted against top-up fees in 2004, in common with most other Tory MPs, and spelled out his views on the matter in the Daily Mail last August – it will still cause embarrassment to the government. Just today, Nick Clegg has published an article in the Financial Times insisting once more that the plan will protect social mobility and fairness.

But will it have any impact on other Conservatives? Since losing out to Cameron in 2005, Davis has made no secret of his distaste for his rival's brand of liberal Conservatism, and has been a focal point for disaffection among the right wing of the party. In a ConservativeHome poll of right-wing backbenchers, 70 per cent said that Davis represents their views.

Yet his politics are increasingly individualist, independent and defined by opposition, partly because he now has no designs on leadership and has nothing to lose. His announcement has increased nervousness among the Tory whips that not all of their MPs will turn out to vote, but in terms of out-and-out opposition, it is likely that Davis's own assessment is correct and this will remain "a rebellion of one".

Even if it does not, it is unlikely that enough MPs will defect to stop the government from winning the vote.

UPDATE: Not a rebellion of one, after all. The former frontbencher Julian Lewis will oppose the move, while the office of Lee Scott, a parliamentary private secretary, indicated that he will, too. The backbenchers Bob Blackman and Andrew Percy may also refuse to support the fee hike. While this unexpected defection from within the party is destabilising for the coalition, it is unlikely to jeopardise the government's victory in Thursday's vote.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Meet the ex-footballers launching a support network for victims of sexual abuse in the sport

The Offside Trust is set up after hundreds have come forward, and 55 football clubs have been linked to allegations of abuse.

In a sumptuous room inside a luxurious hotel in the centre of Manchester, the country’s media anxiously await the arrival of a man whose story has rocked English football to its very foundations.

Since Andy Woodward went public with allegations that he experienced sexual abuse as a young footballer in the 1980s, the nation’s favourite sport has been left in crisis and, in the process, forced to do some soul-searching.

Following Woodward’s story, a number of his peers have also come forward with tales of unimaginable suffering.

This week, some of those men have joined together to launch the Offside Trust, an independently-run body aiming to provide support to players and the families of those who have suffered sexual abuse in football and other sports.

According to Woodward and his colleagues, the Trust won’t just be a way to help those who have been abused while playing the sport they love, but also represents a direct response to institutions that, in their view, have failed to protect them.

“A number of people who have come forward have indicated that they don’t have trust in the establishment,” says Edward Smethurst from Prosperity Law LLP, a Manchester law firm in charge of administering the trust.

“We are not here to criticise any of the establishment bodies, but we do have to respect the sensibilities and the opinions of the victims.” 

Wearing a crisp blue suit, hair combed neatly into place, Woodward’s composed demeanour masks the tremendous emotional stress he has revealed to the world he had to endure for decades, in silence until now.

Hearing him retell his story time and again, it is evident that, although exhausting, this process of letting the world know the horrors he says he experienced as a boy is both cathartic and a way to help others.

“I’m totally overwhelmed, the emotions are just unreal,” he says. “I can’t believe how many [people] have come forward, but I just encourage more and more [people] to have that strength and have that belief to do it.”

Sitting beside Woodward is Steve Walters – a former football prodigy whose career was cut short due to a blood disorder – who says he fell prey to the same serial child molester as Woodard. The person in question can no longer be named for legal reasons.

Walters tells me how his story has affected every aspect of his life. “It has ruined marriages, the relationship with my children, flashbacks, lack of sleep, panic attacks,” he tells me.

Walters speaks of “injustices” done to him for the past 20 years by those in charge of the sport he once loved. But he also knows how he would like to start turning the page and move on with his life.

“An apology [from Crewe Football Club] would be a start,” he says. “For them to not even put out one small apology, it does hurt.”

Since Woodward’s allegations were first made public on 16 November, 18 police forces across the country are now investigating claims of historic sexual abuse in football.

Every player I speak to at the Offside Trust launch in Manchester describes this as an epidemic, and that, in modern Britain, some children are still at the mercy of paedophiles operating within the sport. 

“I do believe it’s happening,” says Jason Dunford, who also claims to have been abused at Crewe Alexandra. “I believe it’s happening on a lower scale than when we were children, but as a father of a young boy who is around the football industry at the moment, I still have worries.”

Woodward coming forward has had worldwide implications. Walters and Dunford tell me they have been contacted by players as far-flung as South America and Australia who say they have been through the same ordeal as young footballers. The men are adamant this is not a UK problem, but a football one – wherever the game is played.

Woodward is mentally drained. Prior to the interview, he repeatedly tells me how the whirlwind of the last few weeks has affected his health. But he knows that this is his chance, perhaps the only one he’ll get, to help those like him.

“The closure will be when I feel like I’m satisfied that I have done everything I can to help as many people out there as possible,” he says. “People with children in football need protecting.” 

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.