12 November 2010

We Owe Lib Dem Voters an Apology

Let's face it. The Lib Dems have really screwed up on tuition fees. It's possibly our most public screw up ever. Our candidates made high profile personal pledges that they should have foreseen not being able to keep. The party is now in the position where breaking these pledges is the best option, for the following reasons:

1. The Browne Report's proposals are unexpectedly fair. They are progressive (which we didn't expect before the review was published), they are workable (unlike a graduate tax, as Labour are soon to realise) and they will improve the quality of teaching (unlike free tuition) and will deliver improved access for students from poor backgrounds.* Indeed the policy beats the Lib Dem manifesto pledge on all of these tests. When a better policy comes along, we should back it, even if it costs us popularity - otherwise we're doing the wrong thing simply out of self interest.

2. Further to the above point, if we keep up the pretence that our original policy was fairer, we will be fuelling the misconception that University is inaccessible to the poor. This misconception must be tackled, because if potential students incorrectly perceive they can't afford to go, they won't, and social mobility will be entrenched. It is our duty to promote at every opportunity how the Coalition's policy will improve access to Higher Education. If you back the wrong policy, you inadvertently back everything you've stood against.

3. Even if you disagree with the analysis above, we realistically can't stop tuition fees from going up. To do so would mean all our Ministers voting against the government, thus ending the Coalition, and bringing on a Tory minority government or a general election. We can't let a single issue jeopardise the 91 other Lib Dem policies that can be achieved as part of the Coalition.

Backing the Coalition's policy is the right thing to do, but means breaking a promise, and when you break a promise, you apologise. It will hurt, it may cost us support, but it's right.

* I encourage you to read Ewan Hoyle's excellent blogpost for more on this.


Ewan Hoyle said...

Very well put Duncan, and without resorting to ****ing ****s like myself :)

It does basically boil down to doing the right thing by your constituents or doing the right thing by your majority.

I think if you loudly do the right thing by your constituents your majority looks after itself.

Liberal Neil said...

How are you defining 'progressive' Duncan?

Duncan Stott said...

Progressive in the economic sense, i.e. funded according to an individual's ability to pay.

Liberal Neil said...

The usual meaning of 'progressive' when applied to taxation is that the higher your income, the higher proportion of it you pay.

The Government's scheme doesn't achieve this. It is the case that those on higher incomes will pay more in cash terms, but that isn't the same thing.

The Government's proposals are also unfair because future graduates will pay but most existing graduates will pay little or nothing in comparison.

Barry Platt said...

I am tending towards the conclusion that the proposals are indeed reasonably fair, if you accept that the recipient of HE should pay the cost of providing that education. I continue to believe that HE fees should be covered out of central taxation, but if there isn't the will to commit the money for that and graduates are going to have to repay fees I am warming to the proposed mechanism. I'd still prefer to see government spending priorities shift back towards the idea of central taxation funding HE in future, but this feels to me like the least bad way of charging graduates directly.

Liberal Neil: As far as I can tell this proposal is also progressive by the generally accepted definition because the "repayments" are taken as a percentage of income over £21k and because no repayments are made below that amount. As I understand it in a given year a graduate earning £25k would repay £360 per year (or 1.44% of income), while an individual on £50k would repay £2,610 per year (or 5.22% of income). This progression continues as earnings increase.

Without having modelled the numbers properly, it seems to me that it only ceases to be progressive at the higher end once loans are repaid in full. Paradoxically, as Ewan was pointing out, it appears it actually becomes more progressive in the absence of a cap.

Duncan Stott said...

Barry, apologies that your comment got stuck in the moderation queue for so long.