Walking through fire
Nick Clegg says he and all his fellow Liberal Democrat ministers will "walk through fire" together when they vote for a rise in tuition fees on Thursday. He has urged all his MPs to join him but knows that many will refuse.
Clegg sees this as a vindication for the tortuous process of consultation he's pursued in recent weeks and which has left him, Vince Cable and other ministers open to mockery for suggesting that they might abstain.
The Lib Dem leader's message to his party tonight was to "stop beating ourselves up" and to start recognising that they had moved from being a party of protest to a party of government. He told them that their opponents wanted the debate to focus on broken election pledges made in opposition but it was time they moved on to talk about the choices they had made in government.
Clegg has - unless ministers change their minds between now and Thursday - seen off the threat of ministerial rebellion and resignation. However, his party will now split three ways:
• Clegg, his 17 government ministers and backbenchers including I understand David Laws, Alan Beith, Malcolm Bruce, Tom Brake, David Ward, and Gordon Birtwistle will vote for the rise in fees. In all, Clegg expects at least half of his 57 MPs to vote with him.
• Former leaders Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell look set to lead a group of a dozen or more voting against. Some close to Clegg claim that only three MPs actually disagree with the government's policy but the rest are opposed on the grounds that they will be breaking their pre-election pledge.
• The rest will abstain taking advantage of the Coalition Agreement and the fact that backbenchers will not be whipped.