4. The Tuition Fees U-Turn
We need to consider the LibDem policy reversal in a little more detail.
There is little doubt that Nick Clegg and his advisors did not expect to have to actually implement their ‘no fees’ policy. It’s safe to assume the LibDems weren’t exactly ‘preparing for government’ as they went into the election.
Entering the Coalition with the Conservatives changed all that. As we have heard many times since, this heralded the need for compromise.
Sadly, the pre-election tuition fees policy was a casualty of that compromise, which itself was (as we are also repeatedly told) for the greater good of the country.
The clarity of this message has been diminished a little by claims from some senior LibDems (Business Secretary Vince Cable most notably) that the pre-election policy was simply ‘wrong’ and that it would be irresponsible to stay faithful to it, given the public spending deficit now faced by the Coalition.
No matter which version is the more accurate: the real ‘game-changer’ in all this was the LibDem decision to be part of the Coalition.
Put crudely, the availability of a power-share with the Conservatives made the tuition fees policy (and some others) a liability. Clegg and his team were essentially challenged to consider whether it was in their interests to gain seats at the cabinet table at the expense of breaking some of their election pledges.
They duly bartered their policy pledges for a share of power. In doing so, they no doubt considered how the main stakeholders in their key policies would react to those policies being watered down, or even abandoned.
Obviously, they felt any adverse reaction was a price worth paying. LibDem voters had a ‘right to expect performance’, but this was weighed in the balance against high office and access to power: the scales clearly didn’t tip in favour of the election obligation to voters and students.