Tuition Fees Demonstration (courtesy of Flickr)

The toughest task for a government is to deliver on its election promises. An election manifesto is usually pretty true to the principals of the party in order to appeal to those who are politically aligned. There will be some watering down so as not to isolate themselves from everyone else, but essentially it will reflect the policies the prospective government would want to implement. The problem is that when you are in government you are expected to fulfil the promises your election campaign was founded on, when you fail to do so you are seen to be failing. This has been made abundantly clear in the recent Lib Deb tuition fees fall out. But is that fair? And is that right?

I am a sceptic but I do believe that when one enters politics, whilst there are numerous other benefits, one does so to make a difference and is, at least at first, ideologically motivated. Ideology is at the core of a politician, without it they stand for nothing. How much it takes to force a politician to admit that they are wrong has been seen again and again by a Labour government that refused to use the word “sorry” or admit wrongdoing as though to accept it would be to condemn them to death. So when so many of the Liberal Democrats make a u-turn as significant as the one they have made recently, are they to be castigated or commended?

We know why free tuition is unworkable, we understand that higher education needs increased funding in a time of budget cuts; we generally accept that budget cuts need to be made, yet as soon as it happens these practical realities seem to be cast aside in the name of ideology. “HOW COULD YOU GO BACK ON YOUR WORD!” roar the student protestors whose political interest was revitalised by a third option not yet tarred by the brush of political scepticism. Whilst the Tories and Labour parties are perennially mistrusted and demonised, the Liberals were seen as white knights coming to clean up parliament with good faith and honesty. There was a definite sense of fresh optimism during the election as the Liberals were seen as having a chance. Polls saw them as making giant leaps, Nick Clegg was the undisputed king of the television debates. And then, by hook or by crook, they were involved in a coalition government and they were in a position to make a difference.

However, suddenly problems arose. The party that rode on the crest of a wave of student votes had to appease their vital supply of support. The key issue for the lifeblood of Liberal politics would of course be tuition fees which for so many students appears to have been the sole cause for voting. Apparently, aside from that one policy, the entirety of the Liberal Democrat manifesto could have been thrown out and it would still have satisfied the tens of thousands who have marched and protested.

Free tuition is not viable. I’m not saying that because of the current economic climate, I’m saying that because of the bloated nature of higher education in this country. Whilst Labour was commendable in pushing more and more people into university, it has resulted in a great deal of unsustainable institutions wholly dependent on government funding. Wiping out tuition fees would put even greater stress on a government that is already slashing its budgets across all departments. So why are people upset that this unworkable and frankly ridiculous pledge is not coming to fruition? Because they said they would. The idea appears to be that the Liberal Democrats should ignore context and practical issues and push for free education simply because they pledged to do so. It’s almost as though Clegg and Vince Cable wanted to screw over their supporters. It must be the hardest decision in the world to sacrifice your party credibility in order to serve the government and the country, yet the protestors reject this. It seems to have been taken as a personal attack rather than a sign of competent governing.

So were the Liberal Democrats wrong to promise something they could never have delivered? Of course they were, but is it not better that they have admitted their mistake and progressed in another direction, rather than refusing to give up on its policies and desperately flog a severely dead horse. Labour wouldn’t have admitted they were wrong they would have delayed the implementation of the policy until the next election. When they were elected, they campaigned on welfare and making society fairer. It was thrown more and more money and grew and grew until it was a massive inefficient black hole of public spending. Yet rather than admitting it was bloated and failing, they threw more money at it. Wars were started on false pretences and apologies or admissions of guilt were hardly forthcoming.

Is it not refreshing that the likes of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are showing that unlike their predecessors, they can admit when they were wrong and are practical enough to look at another solution? Those who feel deeply wronged are acting as a child who was promised a new bike but only got an apple. “Sorry son, but Daddy isn’t that well off at the moment”. Unfortunately in this country it appears that to admit guilt is worse than to blindly deny it and as a result the Liberal Democrat party would do very well to recover from the tuition fees debacle.

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