Friday, 10 December 2010

The Shredding of the Liberal Democrats

So the deed has been done. Yesterday the British Parliament passed, by a narrow majority of 21, the decision to increase tuition fees up to a proposed current maximum of £9000, a tripling of the present rate. This action was taken in defiance of a widespread movement of protests, occupations, demonstrations, petitions, letter writing and against the express stance of one of the coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats stood at the general election earlier this year on a policy of abolition of tuition fees, something that was included in their party manifesto and backed up by personal signed pledges issued by each candidate to the electorate in their constituencies. Not only is this the case but it is also true that all those Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the raise in tuition fees did so in open and direct defiance of their own party policy as expressed as recently as 2009 at the party conference. 

There can be no question that there is nothing democratic about yesterday's parliamentary vote. None of the Liberal Democrat MPs had any mandate to vote in favour of this policy either from the electorate as a whole or from their own party members. In voting in favour of it nonetheless they have broken trust and set themselves at variance with the majority of staff and students who have expressed opposition to this policy. To add to their shame, only Vince Cable, the cabinet minister with responsibility for universities, was capable of speaking in favour of the policy. A further 27 Liberal Democrat MPs voted in favour of it as well. A majority of these are on the so-called "payroll" vote, being direct members of the government. A full list of all the guilty men and women follows with the ministers distinguished (*):

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) * (Chief Secretary to the Treasury)
Norman Baker (Lewes)*
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-Upon-Tweed)
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley)
Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington)
Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane)*
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Paul Burstow (Sutton & Cheam)*
Vince Cable (Twickenham)* (Secretary of State for Business)
Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland)*
Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam)* (Deputy Prime Minister)
Edward Davey (Kingston & Surbiton)*
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green)* (Equalities Minister and her maiden speech was in opposition to tuition fees, a particularly bad case)
Don Foster (Bath)
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell & Newquay)
Duncan Hames (Chippenham)
Nick Harvey (North Devon)*
David Heath (Somerton & Frome)*
John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley)
Norman Lamb (Norfolk North)*
David Laws (Yeovil)
Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk)* (Secretary of State for Scotland)
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)*
Jo Swinson (Dunbartonshire East)
Sarah Teather (Brent Central)*
David Ward (Bradford East)
Steve Webb (Thornbury & Yate)*

Additionally the following abstained which is equivalent to a vote in favour since it makes it easier for the vote to pass and is in no way a serious signal of dissent:

Lorely Burt (Solihull)
Martin Hurwood (Cheltenham)
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey & Old Southwark)
Tessa Munt (Wells)
Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine)
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross)
Stephen Williams (Bristol West)

All those who voted directly in favour have directly contravened pledges to constituents, broken party policy and violated the terms of the manifesto on which they were elected. Those who abstained helped those who voted against and are simply collaborators with them. Those who had the courage to stand by their party policy and endorse the pledges made to their constituents have no business remaining in the same party as the traitors prepared to vote for this measure. There should now be a serious and open breach with the clique of Clegg and Cable. 

Since it is unlikely that this will happen the only resource for democrats in this situation is civil disobedience. None of the MPs listed above has any right to respect and should be met with contempt. The Liberal Democrats have violated any right to trust and made clear they have no right to either the name "liberal" or "democrat". No progressive person can support a party that has behaved in this manner: it is a party that deserves to be destroyed.

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