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.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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