Conservative Diary

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Should we care if Cable and Clegg abstain on tuition fees?

5.30pm: On the issue of the Coalition Agreement allowing the Lib Dems to abstain on tuition fees, this is the actual text: "If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote". Given that Vince Cable, with David Willetts, crafted the response to Browne, events have moved on since that Agreement was written.


Tim Montgomerie

David Cameron writes a defence of higher tuition fees in tonight's London Evening Standard. He says:

  1. further public subsidy of higher education is unaffordable;
  2. more investment in higher education is vital for future British competitiveness;
  3. many of the lowest-paid graduates will pay less under Coalition plans than under the existing Labour regime.

Read the PM's full piece.

Screen shot 2010-11-30 at 14.38.42 Today's big news on student fees isn't Cameron's article, however. Nor is it the fact that the cold weather has kept most students away from today's protest march. The big news is that the Liberal Democrats are inching towards a position of mass abstention on tuition fees (something permissible under the Coalition Agreement). At Deputy PMQs in the Commons, moments ago, Nick Clegg ducked questions from Harriet Harman, when she asked him if he'd vote for the Coalition policy on tuition fees. Vince Cable - the man who crafted the policy - will probably abstain. Yes, that's right, he may not vote for his own policy in order to show solidarity with comrades Hughes, Farron et al.

Will he finish his speech to the Commons with a great rallying cry of "I commend this policy to the House but I won't vote for it"?

This, of course, risks making Saint Vince a slightly ridiculous figure but should Conservatives care? If the policy passes we should probably be relaxed, shouldn't we? Yes, is my immediate reaction. My only concern is that there'll be leaflets from Liberal Democrat candidates at the next election which attack Tory candidates for the tution fees policy. I certainly wouldn't put it past them although I think most voters will see through such a scam.


CCHQ, btw, have released information about the graduate tax favoured by Ed Miliband (but opposed by Alan Johnson). Low-income graduates would be, CCHQ says...

  • "Worse off if earning up to £25,000 a year. All graduates earning between £6,475 and £25,150 would be worse off under a 2 per cent graduate tax compared to the Government’s proposed graduate contribution scheme.
  • Worse off by up to £290 every year. Graduates earning £21,000 per annum would pay £290.50 a year under Miliband’s graduate tax. Under Government plans, they would pay nothing.
  • Worse off by £5,000 over a lifetime. A graduate who earned the UK’s median salary for twenty years would pay £5,000 more under Miliband’s graduate tax compared to the Government’s scheme.
  • Worse off if working part-time. More than 60 per cent of part-time workers earn over £6,475 and would therefore be liable to pay the graduate tax if they had gone to university. Only around 10 per cent of part-time workers earn above the £21,000 repayment threshold for the Government’s proposed scheme.
  • Worse off on the average graduate starting salary. With more than half of all graduates starting on a salary of less than £25,000 per annum, the majority of graduates paying income tax would be worse off under Ed Miliband’s policy at the start of their careers."


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