William Cullerne Bown is the founder and owner of Research Fortnight.
Now it's official. Thanks to Vince Cable's email to Lib Dem members last night we know that student fees is the first authentic crisis of the Coalition.
Cable wrote to all Lib Dem members yesterday evening. The reason was to explain his party leadership's decision to abandon a graduate tax, an open secret that was about to become undeniable with the publication of the Browne Review on Tuesday. But that's not where the news is. The news is the bit where Cable says:
“Next week, Lord Browne will publish his report, with recommendations for reform. The Government will respond shortly.”
The news is the revelation that there is - still - no agreement between the Coalition partners on fees.
If there was a deal, David Cameron would be doing what Tony Blair did with the Dearing Report, Browne’s predecessor. He would be announcing, at the moment when the review was published, that he was implementing its recommendations. The whole point of having independent reviews of a politically explosive subject like student fees is to build a consensus that allows the government of the day to push through reform without excessive damage. And the way you do that is to strike while the iron is hot.
The Browne Review was long ago scheduled to report in the wake of the general election precisely so that radical reform could be rapidly pushed through during a new government’s honeymoon. Cable and David Willetts have had six months to come to a deal over student fees. And it’s not as if the contents of the Browne Review are a closed book to them. Willetts in particular, advised by my former colleague Anna Fazackerly, knows where all the policy bodies are buried. But they still haven’t struck a deal.