There’s an interesting set of e-mails we have seen between a member of the public and his MP. It concerns a query the constituent had about the growing volume of speeding road traffic near his home, located on a road by a bay in a quiet corner of the country.
His suggested solution? Why not simply erect a road bridge spanning the entire bay, thereby negating the need for anyone to drive past his house.
“It would save on carbon emissions,” he claimed, trying to twig the public spirit antennae of his parliamentarian..
I don’t know if the MP took much time to consider the impact building a 2 kilometre bridge would have on the wider public purse simply to satisfy his constituent, but he quickly endorsed the idea.
After all, nothing to lose really, what with him being in opposition, so why not? Traffic bad. Bridges good and, you know, could create some jobs an’ stuff.
It was the sort of thing he could sign up to on the basis of ‘standing up’ for his rural community which “London,” with its seemingly endless plethora of bridges, cruelly ignored. This MP was a self-styled community champion, because it’s easier to campaign as one of these than it is a Liberal Democrat when most people won’t know what one of these is.
The fiasco the party has now found itself in over tuition fees has of course highlighted the downside of this practice. Rather than tell the NUS that their pledges were shallow, naive, self serving and not in the best long term interests of students or the country at large, Liberal Democrat MPs heartily signed up to it.
Norman Lamb now says he is embarrassed that he did, and that he wishes he hadn’t signed it. So why did he? This is no less than the right hand man to the Deputy Prime Minister. Was his judgement so lacking only weeks before his appointment?
Vince Cable offered the explanation that the state of the public finances is much worse than he expected and necessitates a turnaround, but again, wasn’t he only months ago the font of all economic knowledge? I must have missed his pre-election statement that the Lib Dem policy to scrap tuition fees could not, realistically, be afforded in the current economic climate.
The answer almost everyone will come to is that it was electorally convenient to pursue this policy in opposition but being in government changes all that. And in doing so, for those people, undermines a lot of what the Liberal Democrats said before the election.
Norman Lamb says that the new arrangements will be progressive, and better than before. He’s right of course: it will be fairer, and the Coalition should be applauded for a policy which can be both fair and economically realistic in the current climate.
There is no such thing as free education, and that we have to ask who should pay for University is because of how many more people go there than before: do we want only an elite go to University and have it paid by the taxpayer, or for a lot more people to go and have them pay for some of their tuition if they can afford to do so upon graduation?
The evidence suggests fees haven’t impacted against poorer kids going to University. Students *get* that fees will be paid by a loan. They make the smart economic judgement that they are going to be better off in the long term following a successful graduation; even with loan repayments.
Of course none of this solves the real problem in that the intelligent and capable young people in the UK are funnelled into the University system without any real alternative.
Potential undergraduates need to be given a choice beyond academia, or Golf Studies. Something which could lead to as great rewards as University and end the current culture we have where a lack of a degree equals failure, and success without a degree notable as some sort of win against the odds.
Having an alternative and direct route into the business and manufacturing sectors provides the Universities charging fees necessary competition; provides high achieving would-be undergraduates with another option to further their talents, provides our manufacturing base with some much needed fresh blood and an answer to its question about how it addresses its skills gap.
Result: wider skill base, less reliance on the City, and cheaper degree courses – which would be populated by people who actually wanted to read History, not by people who were vaguely good at it at ‘A’ level and have no option but to stay on the education conveyor belt.
Not a bad idea. In fact it’s Lib Dem policy, or at least it was before the election.
So we don’t have this, but we probably have a fairer deal for both students and the taxpayer. Students from families with less than £25,000 income per year will be eligible for better grants. Graduates pay nothing back until they earn more than £21,000, and graduates lucky enough to earn super money won’t be able to duck out of paying their fair share.
It’s not the stuff of West Wing, but it is proper government making an improvement on what was before in difficult circumstances. And it won’t be popular. And because of this, if they were in opposition, the urge within the Liberal Democrats would have been to oppose it.