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Daily View: Tuition fees, protests and the Lib Dems

Clare Spencer | 09:48 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Protesters against tuition fee changes in Edinburgh


Commentators discuss tuition fees after another round of student protests and talk of Liberal Democrat MPs abstaining from a vote on changes.

Having reported on student protests around the world, the writer of the Economist's Bagehot's notebook predicts these protests are not a British revolution in the making:

"At the risk of being proved horribly wrong by some stunning act of civil unrest on a campus, I think the current band of student demonstrators are too incoherent, too diverse and - in many cases - simply too polite and sensible to constitute any threat to the Government. This is not going to be a sneering blog posting, though on today's showing, British students are a lot more muddled when it comes to political ideology than their peers in other countries where I have reported. On the contrary, though I disagreed with almost every student I talked to in Trafalgar Square and later at UCL in Bloomsbury (now in its seventh day of a sit-in), I found myself oddly relieved.
"The contrast was striking with student demonstrations I have reported on elsewhere, over the years. In France and China, for example, students are fantastically articulate, but in a slightly creepy, parrot-like fashion."

In the blog Political Betting Andy Cooke echoes Bagehot's notebook, saying the message is not clear:

"All that the NUS are marching for is to insist that all graduates pay the same fees, regardless of where they studied, what they studied and for how long they studied. So why is it that they don't make this explicit? Why did I have to go an look? Why isn't it being shouted from the rooftops (of Millbank Towers)?"

Former Conservative candidate Iain Dale blogs that he isn't impressed with the methods of the student fees protesters:

"Call me old fashioned, but I always thought the idea behind protesting about something was to garner support for your cause. Silly me. Because the way that students are rampaging around London today is achieving the very opposite... Most MPs haven't had a single student lobby them in Parliament during the course of any of the protests.
"What a bizarre way to lobby. They may be very good at getting on the TV or radio, but I don't know of any MPs who have been persuaded by the manner in which they have conducted their protests."

The Guardian editorial defends the student protests:

"[G]raduates are less vulnerable than the frail and the impoverished who are suffering from other cuts. These are all truths that ought not to be buried, and yet the indignation of the students who took to the streets yesterday was nonetheless justified - and not just because the coming fees hike is both big and ugly..."

It goes on to also defend Vince Cable's possible abstention from a tuition fees vote:

"The strategy might, however, provide the party with a way of muddling through, since it is consistent with the coalition agreement that members overwhelmingly endorsed. The difficulty is that Liberal Democrats have not been hearing a sufficiently distinctive message from their wing of the coalition, making such totems of identity as fees more important than ever. The leadership badly needs to learn how to sing in harmony, as opposed to in unison, within the coalition choir. Until it does, it will struggle to escape the student debt trap."

In the Financial Times' Westminster blog Alex Barker argues that abstention is understandable:

"To be fair, there are no good options. They will be punished for breaking their pledge to vote against a rise. But it seems that after countless hours of excruciating debate, they've decided the best way to minimise the pain is to not vote at all." "Why? Clegg and Simon Hughes are placing a premium on unity. They fear the party will look shambolic by splitting three ways -- with some ministers voting for, some ministers and MPs abstaining and the die-hards voting against. Abstention is the best compromise to build a common defence."

BBC Westminster blogger Mark D'arcy explains why students may not appreciate the abstentions:

"I wonder if angry student voters will be impressed by abstentions, or even outright votes against, by individual MPs. The coalition's majority will only be threatened if a large number of Lib Dem MPs vote against, rather than abstain... and if the senior Lib Dem coalitionists vote for, that would be enough to ensure the measure goes through."

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