I interviewed a teenage Liberal Democrat activist in February, for a piece on youth apathy.
He told me that when out canvassing, the party’s stance on university fees was a real vote winner. It set them apart; it suggested they were fighting the students’ corner.
Now let’s recall what was said by Nick Clegg before the election:
“The Liberal Democrats are different. Not only will we oppose any raising of the cap, we will scrap tuition fees for good, including for part-time students.
“Students can make the difference in countless seats in this election. Use your vote to block those unfair tuition fees and get them scrapped once and for all.”
“Only the Liberal Democrats are committed to scrapping tuitions fees altogether and oppose any attempt to raise them.”
“Despite the huge financial strain fees already place on Britain’s young people, it is clear both Labour and the Conservatives want to lift the cap on fees. If fees rise to £7,000 a year, as many rumours suggest they would, within five years some students will be leaving university up to £44,000 in debt. That would be a disaster.”
Lovely words from the deputy prime minister there. All the lovelier for the news that, as the BBC reports:
“Lord Browne’s review is expected to recommend scrapping the upper limit on tuition fees in England.”
It was always unlikely that the costs of university education would survive unchanged as the Government seeks to cut costs. Before the election, it became increasingly clear that this was a possibility under whoever got in – Labour or the Conservatives.
But it was a major plank of Lib Dem policy agenda before the election. They campaigned on it, they threw mud at their opponents on it.
Sure, they don’t seem too happy about going back on their promise. Plenty have promised to rebel, and it’s likely any rise will happen without a fight from the party faithful.
But it will probably be a fight for nothing. Clegg is in the coalition, and however bitter this defeat is it’s unlikely he’ll be willing to sacrifice his position to prevent it.
When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the Democrat president is said to have sighed:
“There goes the South for a generation.”
With this reversal (for it can only be called that), how many generations of the “yoof vote” will the Lib Dems be kissing goodbye to?