Tuition fees rebellion sparks coalition crisis

While the voting day on tuition fees is fast approaching, a substantial number of Lib Dem MPs have not yet declared their hand. Journalist Tom Griffin has compiled a list of all the Liberal MPs, indicating how they are likely to vote on Thursday.
Tom Griffin
5 December 2010

Out of idle curiosity as much as anything I have been taking a look at how individual Lib Dem MPs are likely to vote on tuition fees next Thursday. Looking at all the indications available, I concluded that the MPs fell into four loose categories. I have listed 14 likely rebels, 14 waverers, 8 of no stated position, and 3 backbenchers who are likely to support the Government. The full list, including the payroll vote, can be found here, on my blog The Green Ribbon.The best source on this is the blog of Tim Starkey, a Lib Dem councillor who is co-ordinating the rebels.

Starkey wrote last Thursday:

Be in no doubt - the lobbying efforts are working. Over the next week it is vital that students, parents and all those who care about widening access to university education write to their MPs and let their feelings be known. As I’ve said before, don’t just target Lib Dems. There are four Tories on the government benches who signed the pledge too ( Bob Blackman - Harrow East, Stephen Mosley - City of Chester, Lee Scott - Ilford South, Ben Wallace - Wye and Preston).

If one takes Michael Crick's narrowest definition of '26 plain backbenchers', more than half of Lib Dem backbenchers have already said they will vote against the Government. It is still almost half if one includes spokesmen and 'party whips' who are not members of the government. This in itself would be a major blow to the legitimacy of the tuition fees hike.

As things stand, it would need something of the order of 42 Lib Dems to vote against the Government to defeat it, roughly the entire Lib Dem backbench, plus PPS's. That number could be lower if Lib Dem ministers or Conservatives move into the No lobby.

The most likely scenario at this stage is the one outlined by Peter Oborne:

After six months in office, far sooner than anyone could have expected, the Coalition is in crisis – and the crisis will reach a climax next Thursday, when Parliament votes on tuition fees.

While it remains highly likely that the Coalition will get its business through, victory will come at the cost of permanent ill-feeling. Many Lib Dems feel unable to go back on their very public pre-election pledge to abolish tuition fees. Last night there was talk of a ministerial resignation, with Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone favourite to quit.

Yet there are signs that the Government sees a real danger of an outright defeat. It is this that has put paid to the prospect that the Lib Dems would collectively abstain, as the FT reported yesterday:

The desire for consensus also has to be married with the realities of getting the vote through parliament. The party has been warned by the whips that giving backbenchers too much leeway could make the vote perilously tight, particularly if there was a loss of confidence among a handful of Tory MPs.

“If a lot of Lib Dems vote against, some will have to vote for to ensure it goes through,” the senior Lib Dem said.

Another sign may be the date of the vote itself, as the Times Higher Education Supplement reports:

Some observers believe that by holding the vote on a Thursday, when many Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies, the government may reduce its chances of a defeat.

Given this consideration, it may be worth constituents lobbying the DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Alliance and Lady Sylvia Hermon (perhaps via WritetoThem).

A substantial number of Lib Dem MPs have yet to declare their hand. They may be planning to quietly support the government, but they include some MPs who have already rebelled in the current parliament. Here, on my blog The Green Ribbon, is my list of Lib Dem MPs with the best indication I have been able to find of how they are likely to vote. Where no other source is mentioned, I have relied on Tim Starkey.

This piece was originally published on Tim Griffin's blog The Green Ribbon

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