UK Politics

Tuition fees: Where do Lib Dems stand on tuition fees

Liberal Democrat MPs are wringing their hands and trying to duck the brickbats being hurled in their direction.

Having run a high-profile campaign at the General Election to oppose any rise in tuition fees, the party now stands accused of betrayal by students and some Liberal Democrat activists.

Demonstrators have staged sit-ins at Lib Dem constituency offices; effigies of Nick Clegg have been burned on the streets of London; and the architect of the new system which allows fees to rise, is none other than the Lib Dem Cabinet minister Vince Cable.

Now he's declared he may not vote in favour of his own policy for the sake of party unity.

The problem is that the party leadership wants to try and present a united front on the issue and the suggestion is that all MPs abstain together as a sign of solidarity - even though some are in favour and some against.

Behind the scenes Lib Dem ministers are trying to limit the number on their own benches who might vote against government policy.

They feel voting against could cause problems with the Conservatives, whereas abstention is acceptable because the coalition deal negotiated in May allows Lib Dems that opt-out.

Image caption Nick Clegg has faced student anger over tuition fees

But a "team approach" as suggested by Vince Cable on Tuesday seems a pretty forlorn hope given that so many MPs have made their views public.

There seems little or no chance of former leaders Charles Kennedy (Rector of Glasgow University) and Sir Menzies Campbell (Chancellor of the University of St Andrews) being persuaded to drop their opposition to the plans.

Around a dozen have indicated publicly that they might vote against the Bill when it comes to the Commons before Christmas.

The indecision is a gift to Labour. They may not have a clear policy on university funding themselves, but opposition MPs are at their most chirpy when they can jeer at Nick Clegg at the Despatch Box.

One thing Lib Dem MPs do all like is a nice long meeting where everyone gets their say (last week's get together to discuss tuition fees went on for the best part of 3 hours).

But as things stand the most likely outcome is that the Parliamentary Party splits three ways.

What ministers really fear is momentum building behind a "no vote". The Coalition has a healthy majority to ensure this policy is passed but a large number of Lib Dem rebels could cause bad feeling within government ranks.