The BBC has posted a short interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, in which he earnestly confirms that the tuition fees policy is “the best and fairest possible approach for the future”. For many of those who were out protesting this week these words will still be hard to hear.
He goes on to talk about the impact on his party:
Internally within the Liberal Democrats we knew we weren’t going to find completely unanimity on this, and clearly we did not. It’s no surprise to anyone that this was going to be a difficult issue for us. But we’ve talked to each other and the party has discussed this in a calm and respectful manner which I think will allow us to move forward without rancour and in a united way, not least in the coalition government, so we can deliver the liberal, fair things we want for Britain as a whole.
There are a few interesting things about this statement. First, the “calm” he talks of within the party which would seem to be at odds with reports from the House of Commons on the day of the vote (Diane Abbott tweeted that she had seen Clegg comforting a “distraught Lynne Featherstone” as they voted). Then, there’s the assertion that the party can move forward “without rancour and in a united way”. Given his acknowledgement of the lack of unity over the issue, this seems hopeful at best.
It also fails to address the feelings of the grass roots, which, as Eduardo Reyes has pointed out, are passionately conflicted, with many expressing their deep disappointment in the party and describing the vote as Nick Clegg’s “Iraq war moment”.
Clegg clearly wants to move the debate forward, closing his statement with a focus on the “liberal, fair things we want for Britain”. But, for many of the people – especially students – who voted Lib Dem in the election, this moment, and the sense of betrayal, will surely not be so easy to brush off.