Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is Tom Harris Jealous of a Party with a Principled Stance on Education

Now I know Tom Harris is a Doctor Who fan, a fan of reality TV shows, but his recent blog post contains the phrase "back in the real world". The post in question is about the Lib Dems pledge to keep our promise to axe tuition fees for students.

In a fit of Kerry McCarthy-esque pique he is saying that the Lib Dems are keeping a meaningless pledge as he says we will not be able to enact it in the next parliament. Strangely his own party therefore have made meaningful pledges in each of the last three General Elections and have yet to "honour them" by his own standards. We still have hereditary peers in the Lords. We still haven't eradicated child poverty. As for the pledge before the first Labour win it was all about education, education, education.

Sadly in England and Wales our students find it is all about finding the money, finding the money, finding the money to pay their tuition fees. Back in their real world the failure of the Student Loans Company to provide many with money this last term is horrendous. University hardship funds are having to cover students that they should not normally have to. If students turn to them later this year with genuine hardship issues the funds will be lower than anticipated.

Harris goes on to say that the only way to fund such a pledge is by reducing drastically the number of people entering further education. Strangely his colleagues in Holyrood didn't take that attitude when they did agree to follow through the Lib Dem policy here. See we hadn't been the largest party in the Scottish Parliament but we were able to follow through on our pledges to some extent over eight years. Also there hasn't been a reduction in the number of people in Scotland doing further education since the dropping of tuition fees, what there has been has been a fall in the proportion who drop out because they can no longer afford to attend.

Who knows what the outcome of the next Westminster Election will be? It appears that Tom Harris has stopped fighting to win. Even with a little effort from Labour there may be a hung Parliament, which could mean, oh wait, some party may have to negotiate with another to form a workable Government. If that were the case surely certain of their pledges would end up being meaningful.

So if Tom Harris is saying that the Lib Dems should not form pledges to put before the electorate, what does that mean if his party is well behind in the polls from now until May? Does that mean that his party will not have to bother issuing a manifesto as it will be full of pledges they have no chance of keeping or honouring? Of course not.

What Tom Harris cannot stand is that the Lib Dems are remaining true to a long held education policy when over the last 12 years of Labour Government there have been 12 different Education Bills following the shifting sands and a thirteenth was included in the last Queen's speech.

So maybe Tom should look at the "real world" where everything isn't so Red and Blue. Latest opinion polls are showing once again that over 20% are going to vote Lib Dems and in the run up to previous elections that proportion has gone up. In some of those same polls Labour has been within a margin of error ahead of the Lib Dems. As for students I'm glad to see that Tom Harris takes their concerns, their issues so lightly, in the long run they are the people that he will need to re-elect him. Indeed it may be sooner than he anticipates.

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