On Wednesday, I left my house at 4.30am. Having travelled up the hill, I then got on a bus and after an exceptionally long journey, I disembarked in Central London, to join 50,000 of my peers to protest against the coalition government’s policy on Tuition Fees. And I did so proudly wearing my Liberal Democrat Hoodie.
I fundamentally disagree that raising the cap on fees is the best way to fund Higher Education and even given the significant mitigating proposals that came through from the Browne review, I believe that this is still the wrong course. In an ideal world, the coalition would have scrapped fees, in a pragmatic best case scenario, we’d have a system which moved towards the graduate tax model, but without some of that model’s drawbacks. Tuition Fees up to effectively £9000 isn’t quite the worst case scenario, but it’s still not a good one. But in spite of that, let me be clear, I still support the Lib Dems remaining in the coalition to the end of the term.
When we went into coalition, I doubt there was a party member out there who believed we’d be happy with every decision that the Government has made, nor do I believe that any party member believed we’d be able to get everything we want or that was in our manifesto. And lo and behold, we as the minority party haven’t gotten everything, we’ve had to sit through Liberal Democrat ministers speaking for the government, on the government line against our policy and sometimes, against some of our core principles. That’s a fact of coalition. And the Tories, particularly the right wing, grassroots members are having a much harder job coming to terms with that. They haven’t been advocates of coalition & compromise for quite as long as us.
However, in coalition there’s only one group of people who have to agree with everything that the government does. That’s the ministers who are bound by collective responsibility. I as a member am free to say when I disagree. As is everyone else. I’ll admit there are times when I seriously question why we went into coalition. Then I remember back to May, I remember the maths. I remember the state the Labour Party was in. I remember the up & downs. Most of all, I remember Special Conference and I remember raising my hand to vote for the coalition deal. I did that knowing full well what we, as a party were getting into, what the risks were and what it meant. Everyone there pragmatically knew we weren’t getting everything, but equally everyone there broadly endorsed the coalition document, with of course exceptions. And ultimately, that deal has lead to and will lead to the implementation of more Liberal ideas in government than we’ve seen for more than 90 years.
And to those of you who harp on about us selling out our principles for ministerial cars, I ask you this? The party almost unanimously endorsed the coalition deal as well. I’ve not got a ministerial car. And to those of you who say we should have stayed in opposition, that’s lovely. But I didn’t join a pressure group. I joined a political party and in with any political party the ultimate goal is to attain power, so that you can implement policy, ideas & principles. That’s why political parties exist. That’s the only way they can change anything. If you don’t want that, then perhaps a political party isn’t the place for you.
At the end of the day, we can all realise that the coalition isn’t perfect. But it’s the best government that both Britain and Liberal Democrat supporters can get from the Parliament we have. Over the longer term, I sincerely hope that the coalition government is a success. Even if it’s not perfect.