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.