Nick Clegg, John Hemming and apologies

John Hemming

Nick Clegg’s ‘apology’ regarding tuition fees appears to be a bit of a talking point, and as the Mambo always has it’s finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist (you know it’s true) I’ll say a few words about it, but from a slightly different angle.

I won’t dwell on the fact that Clegg was only apologizing for making the pledge in the first place and not apologizing for failing to stick to it, as of course you’ve all observed that. I don’t want a situation where politicians make no promises, rather I want them to stick to the ones they do make. However this is Nick Clegg we are talking about, so expecting better is probably a bit naïve.

Instead I want to point you to a discussion on a local Midlands discussion forum featuring Lib Dem MP John Hemming (who at one time, many moons ago, was considered a bit of a dangerous left-wing renegade for his vocal opposition to Birmingham City Council’s attempts at ‘stock transfer’ of the City’s council housing…how things change……), who not uncoincidentally appears to be taking it for granted that he will be losing his seat at the next election. He has been arguing for some time now that the Lib Dems did in fact keep the tuition fee pledge:

There is an alternative perspective on the pledge. If the government had paid all of the fees for all students out of general taxation I presume no-one would have thought that this broke the pledge

If then the amount of fees was increased so that the universities got more money. I presume that similarly no-one would have thought that this broke the pledge.

The new system involves the government paying some of the fees for almost 3/4 of the graduates. For 29% of the graduates the government pays more of the fees than was the case under the old system.

Why does that break the pledge?

Incidentally Labour’s proposals on fees (that the government pays the fees over 6k) only benefits graduates in the almost half of top earners. It does not benefit the lower earning graduates.

It remains that my analysis of the pledge is based entirely on the impact on students/graduates. That has to be the right way of looking at things. 

When I’ve asked him about why Nick Clegg is apologizing if he apparently has nothing to apologize for, needless he say he can’t answer aside from telling me that his leader is wrong.

A couple of things to bear in mind here:

Naturally, Hemming is talking rubbish and his attempts to place what the government is doing within the framework of a clear, unambiguous pre-election pledge is pure sophistry. The pledge was quite specific and his party broke it. End of discussion. Even Nick Clegg now acknowledges that. Read the thread and make your own mind up however, both sides of the debate are clearly fleshed out.

I’m sure it must have been acutely embarrassing for Hemming to have found himself arguing that his party has in fact kept to their pledge literally days, if not hours before his own leader apologized for not doing so (or rather making the pledge in the first place). It can only be childish stubbornness, fear of losing face and the knowledge that he will be slaughtered at the next election that is compelling him to openly defy his leader.

Would he have done so if he was in a safe seat or in with a shout of a ministerial car? Somehow I doubt it.

I suppose it is encouraging that he Hemming is willing to come out and say that his leader is completely wrong, I’m a big fan of open, honest debate. It’s just a shame that his reasons for doing so are so shabby and self-indulgent.

The wider political issue is of course that the Lib Dems are in a serious mess. I presume the apology was a damage limitation exercise and it may work with a few Lib Dem voters. Clegg made the point that his party won’t make promises they can’t keep again. Fair enough. But if that is the case then the party’s raison d’être will be gone. They are nothing more than an opportunistic vote-hoovering operation that reverts to Tory type when they win any power. Without vaguely left-wing cause célèbres to attach themselves to periodically, what is the point of voters opting for them and not the Tories?

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