Thursday, 9 December 2010

Matthew Offord and tuition fees

Post-script on Friday 10 December 2010: Matthew Offord did indeed vote with the Coalition Government on tuition fees yesterday. Whether there was ever any truth to Newsnight's speculation otherwise, we shall never know...

I have a confession to make. I have always rather liked Matthew Offord, Hendon's Conservative MP, on a personal level. I don't know him all that well, but I've known him in passing for many years, and, during the General Election campaign, he showed me, his Liberal Democrat opponent, nothing but courtesy and good humour. Anyway, I was intrigued, watching last night's Newsnight, to see Matthew's name listed by Michael Crick as one of the Tory MPs who might rebel on tuition fees. Is Mr Crick right? Google provides me with no sign of Matthew having campaigned on this, and the Hendon Times has this report of what he said at a recent meeting:
that the change would be “fairer” for more students and claimed more people would value the course they were studying. He said: “Over a lifetime students who go to University will earn a substantial amount more money than those who don't, and will be paying the money back. They are likely to be in a better position before they reach the £21,000 threshold. If we don't do this we will have a brain drain.”
I broadly agree with him and I hope he'll be in the Government lobby later today voting for the Coalition's proposals. I think that most people who voted Conservative in Hendon at the General Election would agree with the Government's proposals on university funding and would want Matthew to vote for them. But it's obviously his decision.


  1. Sadly, I live in Hendon. Sadly, I voted for the Liberal Demorcrats. Your position is interesting. Does this mean you were against Clegg when he spoke vociferously against student fees? I do not remember you taking that particular stance in your campaign. Sadly, you do not seem to know all of your constituents that well either. Hendon is the site of a large University campus. I watched today as many hundreds of our students, most of who reside in Hendon marched. Does their vote not count?
    I am lucky. I grew up in a council Estate with free school meals and had the right to a free education. When the time came this meant I could take a loan for my MA because I wasn't already burdened with debt. My MA led to a scholarship for my PhD. Shame on you for supporting (figuratively) a motion denying the opportunity which you yourself enjoyed. When the students who have taken huge loans to study medicine move to the Gulf, to the US, anywhere at all, to avoid paying back the huge loans they have been forced to take, then, then we will have a brain drain. I don't want to publish my details for all to see but am happy to share them with interested and relevant parties if you give me a private method of doing so. I will not be voting Lib Dem in the future and I will be campaigning actively against the coalition in the months to come.

  2. Apologies for being fooled by your parties supposed 'promises' and voting for you. I will make an effort not to make such a stupid mistake again in the future.

  3. Thanks for these comments. Yes, I supported Nick Clegg when he campaigned against tuition fees. I campaigned on a manifesto commitment to phase fees out over a period of six years; I also signed the NUS pledge to vote against any rise in fees if elected as an MP. I understand everything that you say; indeed, I appreciate that there are many students in Hendon, not only studying in the constituency, but also living in the constituency while studying at universities elsewhere.

    Hendon Constituency comprises seven wards: Hendon itself, West Hendon, Edgware, Mill Hill, Burnt Oak, Hale and Colindale. So although the Middlesex University site is very important to the Hendon Central area, most people in the constituency are not students and have nothing to do with the university.

    Students' votes do indeed count, but I am fully entitled to disagree with (most) students on this issue - and then they don't have to vote for me if they don't want to. I'm not going to pretend to believe in things that I don't believe in, in pursuit of students' votes or anyone else's.

    And what I believe is this: the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives negotiated a deal based on their respective manifestos. They had to do this because there was a hung Parliament and the only way to have a majority government was for two parties to work together (Labour and Lib Dems added together do not have a majority, so it had to be the Conservatives).

    This meant that we and the Conservatives had to compromise with each other. We Lib Dems have got a lot of our policies through, but not all of them. We've had to compromise on university funding. The Conservatives have compromised by giving us a package that will make university funding much fairer for students - despite the rise in fees. We've compromised by accepting the rise in fees. The end result is that the Government has introduced a package that will improve the situation compared to how things were under Labour - so I support it.

    Remember, Labour and the Conservatives both went into the General Election committed to keeping student fees and implementing the recommendations of the Browne Report. Between them, those two parties won an overwhelming majority of seats at the General Election. They also (Labour and Conservative) won roughly 66% of the vote nationwide. The Lib Dems, with our policy of opposing tuition fees, got 23% of the vote. In other words, we did not win a mandate for our policy of opposing fees. What proof is there that a majority of the electorate opposes fees, given that most voters voted for pro-fees parties?

    The biggest promise that the Lib Dems made at the General Election was to behave contructively if there was a hung Parliament, so that the country could have a government. We have delivered on that promise and there is a solid Coalition Government. I am sorry that, in the process of doing this, we have had to abandon our pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees - but I don't see what alternative was open to us, in the circumstances?

    I would also ask:

    1. Will Labour really go into the 2015 General Election pledged to abolish fees, or reverse this latest rise in fees? I bet they won't.

    2. What is the alternative to fees? If a graduate tax, then surely that would raise some of the same brain drain issues as fees, as people would move abroad to avoid the tax? If general taxation, then would it be possible to fund the ongoing increase in student numbers?

    3. Were the Coalition not doing what it is doing or something like it, where would the money be coming from for university funding?

  4. I struggle to understand how you can remind us of your signing of the NUS pledge, then write "I'm not going to pretend to believe in things that I don't believe in, in pursuit of students' votes or anyone else's".

    Surely if you support the Coalition's education cuts, you should never have signed the pledge in the first place, unless the very intention was to pursue the student vote? To me, this seems like the same political language that the Lib Dems claimed they would fight against in favour of 'new politics'

    I do not believe that Labour will call for a change to the fees in their next election campaign. However, this is besides the point. If they say nothing about fees, and I choose to vote Labour in 2015, I will do so understanding this. I voted for you and your party expecting otherwise.

    If there truly is no alternative, and if the rise to fees is as clearly unavoidable as you claim, then abolishing fees should never have been part of the party's manifesto, as if this is so a Lib Dem majority would do no different to the Coalition! Even when the Coalition was formed, I remained somewhat hopeful that our government would have some kind of progressive voice. That hope to me is lost. Interesting how the main Lib Dem policy that we have seen surviving the Coalition is the referendum on electoral reform, which at this point seems the only way the Lib Dems will hold any power after 2015.

    My point is this - regardless of if there is no real alternative, what won the Lib Dems enough votes to win them their place in a coalition government is a promise that - from what you are saying - would always be broken. That is what this generation will remember when they think of the Liberal Democrats.

  5. You argue your points well. I have nothing further to add, except this: I campaigned against tuition fees in good faith. I still want to see them phased out - but with what are we going to replace them? That is the question that the Lib Dems would have to answer if they won a General Election and implemented our policy of phasing out fees over six years. If not a graduate tax, or a rise in general taxation, then what? I am sorry that some people who voted for me, or for any other Lib Dem candidate, are now disappointed by what has happened on fees. I wish that the Coalition Government had been able to come up with a package of measures that included no rise in fees. But they were not so able, so we're left with the package that they are implementing - which includes lots of good things and will make things fairer for students overall, despite the rise in fees. So, if I was an MP, I would have voted for the package - and the rise in fees. That's my position. People are obviously entitled to object and to disagree. But that's what I think.