Putting aside for a moment, the arguments for and against the various forms, hybrids & systems that are currently being thrown about the Tuition Fees debate, how will the maths of the issue actually break down in Parliament should a rise in Tuition Fees come to a vote?
Firstly, let us consider if only English MPs were to vote on the issue of Tuition Fees, which is an unwise position for all concerned based on reasons I’ll delve farther into later on in this article. But firstly, the tally as it stands in England:Con: 297 Lab: 193 LD: 44 Green: 1 Speaker/Deputies: 4
This maths, essentially hands the Tories a free reign to do whatever they like. Should only English MPs vote on the issue. Even if every Lib Dem MP, even government ministers were to rebel, the noes would still be 59 votes short of victory. Now, I have issues with the idea that only English MPs would vote on this issue, because as we know many Lib Dem rebels will come from Scotland & Wales and the Labour Party will likely be whipped into voting against under their new leader. The Nationalists will also probably vote against, although as it is an English only issue, there’s no guarantee of that. It’s not like the LibDems or Labour could offer them anything to vote against, so we’d be relying on them standing up for English students. Although perhaps, if only to try & stave off pressures to raise fees in England and Wales, they may join us.
The next scenario is much more plausible, wherein the two major parties whip their national parties into voting either way and the Lib Dems across the country rebel (based on NUS’s information, at least 30 rebellions are expected at present) also joining these are the Northern Ireland allies of the Labour Party & Liberal Democrats, but none of the Nationalists and “non-aligned” Irish parties get involved (with obviously, Sinn Fein abstaining).Con: 306 Lab(+SDLP): 261 Lib(+Alliance): 31 Green: 1 Speaker/Deputies: 4
Using this scenario & the information provided to the Independent, which is the most information I have access to at the present moment as to voting intention, I’m able to build this picture, given that Cabinet Ministers & PPS’s will probably follow the coalition agreement and abstain, that takes 18 Lib Dem MPs out of the running. Discounting the Nationalists, Other Irish Parties (and independents) & the Speaker & Deputies (Because they don’t vote), 45 MPs in total, who under this scenario would abstain, there are then 604 in play.
This puts the vote at 302 For (with 4 Tory MPs defecting) and 297 against. But this scenario still leaves 9 Lib Dem MPs unaccounted for. If five or more of these join the against Lobby, a tuition fee rise would be defeated. If four or less of these were not to cross the floor, then we’d have a Tuition Fee Rise.
My third scenario, posits that all those MPs in Parliament who are opposed to a tuition fee rise were to vote against it, but with Lib Dem MPs & PPS’s still abstaining. This would put the Nationalists (9 MPs) in the Against column, as well as the DUP (whose party policy is at least nominally against fees) (8 MPs). For the purpose of this scenario we’re placing Sinn Fein, the Speaker/Deputies & the Independent (Sylvia Hermon, because I don’t know where she stands on the issue) in the Abstain column along with the Lib Dems in Government. I shan’t recount the numbers again, but that would essentially add another 17 MPs to the against column, with 28 outside of consideration, putting 622 MPs into play. Again, as with before, the For column is filled with 302 MPs, this time however, the Against column, being bolstered by 17 MPs from other parties placing them on 314 MPs, effectively defeating the motion.
The final scenario is that of either the DUP or Nationalists being tempted to the For column in return for some level of benefit, what that would entail would depend on the offer, but if either the DUP of the Nationalists were to be drawn away, the vote would be lost, by between 4-6 votes. This could however, be made up by the 9 unaccounted for Lib Dem MPs if sufficient of them could swing the vote back in their favour.
To conclude, should a rise in Tuition Fees come to Parliament the vote on it will literally be on a knife’s edge. If just a handful of MPs decide not to rebel, or just not to vote, or if a handful are tempted to vote for for some goodies, the vote could be lost. This reality does however make me more confident that Vince Cable and his team at BIS will find an alternative solution to raising Tuition Fees, a very dangerous decision which could lead to an exceptionally embarrassing defeat for the Coalition. This much is certain however. It’s going to be a proper West Wing style drama over the period until any vote on student funding is brought to the House.