UK Politics

Do the Sums

The opposition to the Governments proposed reforms to higher education is characterised by windbaggery on the part of Labour ‘rebels’ and Liberal Democrats.

So thinks David Aaranovitch. I agree.

His article in today’s Observer explains the high stakes involved

In the absence of another proposition (and the rebels do not have one), it is actually something much bigger – a test of the Labour Party’s fitness to govern. If the Clarke Bill fails because, despite having lost the argument the rebels win the vote, then it is over. Not the PM – the party.

Watching them on television and reading their articles in newspapers I’m struck by the emptiness of the position of those who argue against the government, especially now, as Aaranovitch puts it that

Clarke has shot the hardship fox

If we are to maintain the quality of our universities at the same time as increasing the number of students attending them more money has got to be found. It’s as simple as that. Instead of focusing on the best source of that money by studying how other countries have expanded education and paid for it many of the Labour rebels have taken the superficially attractive but deeply cynical path of ignoring the practicalities of the debate and are using the education debate for their own personal purposes.

This rebellion is significant. Some of it is being maintained out of a desire to see the Prime Minister depart and be replaced by someone better or simply more able to comprehend the Ministerial potential of the rebel; some out of a desire to move the party back to its roots in squeezing pips and enduring economic failure; some out of a desire to be able to say ‘Oh yes, I so agree, isn’t it awful?’ to the angry vested interests and pressure groups encountered. Not least the advantaged middle classes who these measures may most affect. Little of it is now about universities.

The Liberal Democrat position is different

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson may tell you, in January 2004, that he is gung-ho for raising taxes on the rich to fund universities, but you know that he will be gone by election time and his replacement will be telling you (should you even ask) that that was then and this is now, and things have changed – and you won’t mind. Government, however, is different

It’s true. Government is different. If the Labour backbenchers who vote against the party do so for reasons other than real disagreement with the proposals and don’t have strong logical arguments why their alternative would be better then they should sit down and consider the full implications of what they are about to do. They should also ask themselves if they would prefer not to be involved in deciding policy at all because neither they or the Labour Party will be doing so in future if they make the wrong decision.