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Cameron and Clegg appoint Simon Hughes to sell university policy

Tim Montgomerie

HUGHES-SIMON-SQUARE The Liberal Democrats' Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, has been appointed as the Coalition's "Advocate for Access to Education”.

It's an unpaid post but is recognition by Downing Street that the tuition fees policy has not yet been effectively communicated.

The Prime Minister has asked Mr Hughes to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply for university. A Lib Dem source told The Independent:

"I think there is recognition that we have not got our message across on this. It has been drowned out by brick-throwing students and scare-mongering stories about upfront fees. This is something we need to address before students are put off from applying to university on false grounds."

The Guardian interprets the appointment as more than a communications initiative. Patrick Wintour suggests that the Coalition has "opened the door to reshaping its plans to help disadvantaged children enter higher education". Mr Hughes will apparently help decide what replaces the Educational Maintenance Allowance and also the configuration of the £150 million National Scholarship Fund.

The appointment - although due to last just six months - is also an attempt to bring another Lib Dem into the big Cameron/ Clegg tent. Hughes is on the Left of his party and was the architect of the failed suggestion that all Lib Dem MPs abstain on tuition fees. His party ended up voting all three ways although Hughes, himself, abstained.

On Question Time last month Mr Hughes was confronted by an angry student who demanded to know why, during May's Coalition negotiations, AV was non-negotiable for Lib Dems but they were willing to u-turn on fees.