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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unfounded fuss on Cable's e-mail

The problem with the internet and sites like Twitter is that when people get an idea into their head there is no shaking them back to a more rational point of view. That is true of the newspapers as well of course, but at least you can use them to wrap up your fish and chips.

Thus the spin about Vince Cable's e-mail to party members yesterday was not just over-the-top but downright judgemental about something that has not been decided on and was not even in the e-mail. In his missive, Vince explains why he is not considering a Graduate Tax to replace tuition fees. He says:

There are a number of objections to such a tax – which is why the Labour government rejected it – including:

First, since a graduate tax is open-ended, some graduates would unfairly find themselves paying many times the cost of their course. This is not fair.

Second, foreign students could end up paying less than some UK graduates, because taxes cannot be collected from people living in other countries. This is not fair either.

Third, a graduate tax would do nothing to reduce the deficit over the next five years. Indeed, it would add many billions to public spending, meaning that further cuts would be needed in other areas of government spending. We have looked hard at possible ways of bringing forward tax revenue from graduate tax revenues – but they don’t work.

Some people are treating that as a betrayal of Liberal Democrat policy. It is not. The Liberal Democrats have never advocated a Graduate Tax and certainly did not include it in our manifesto. In fact as Andrew Hinton says here, Vince did not advocate such a solution either, so this is hardly a u-turn on his part.

The media and much of the internet have interpreted the rejection of a graduate tax as an acceptance of tuition fees and the expected doubling of that charge once the Browne Review reports and yet Vince neither said he would do that nor did he even hint at it. What he did say is:

'As I have said on previous occasions, I am entirely committed to a progressive system of graduate contributions, the details of which we will be able to confirm shortly. And I have been open-minded about the possibility of a pure graduate tax. But it is clearly not the right vehicle. We can do better – and we will.'

In other words the Government has not made up its mind on what system of student finance to adopt, it will consider the outcome of the Browne Review in its own time and will hopefully come up with something better than the present tuition fee system that is fairer and proportionate, and takes account of how much graduates earn.

That falls far short of the sort of betrayal that the Liberal Democrats are being accused of by Labour hacks in the NUS and elsewhere and actually may produce a solution that comes within the spirit of the Liberal Democrats' manifesto commitment, if not the letter.

Clearly, whilst the Liberal Democrats fail on their own account to command a majority in the House of Commons they are not in a position to put into effect their manifesto pledges without agreement from other parties. In this respect compromise is inevitable. However, the coalition agreement is itself vague on a way forward on this issue and so there is room for negotiation.

If at the end of the day the Government does promote a straight forward doubling of tuition fees without any attempt to change and improve the system so as to tackle the fundamental weaknesses inherent in it, then I will be one of the first to condemn it and expect Liberal Democrat MPs to honour their pledge to vote against it. However, we are not at that point yet, far from it, and so we still need to give the government the benefit of the doubt. Let's judge them by what they do, not by what their enemies claim they will do.
I agree with you, but its a love and hate relationship for me. What you tend to find is a furore from the initial 'knee-jerk' reaction then after a few days, people have thought about it and discuss the issue more rationally.

Both the Child Benefit policy change and Vince's e-mail have demonstrated this. The NUS have organised a demonstration against fees and taxes (although I don't know if this was organised before Vince's e-mail). If it has been organised as a response to it, organising a demo before we even know about what it is being demonstrated against summarises the matter quite nicely.

I sometimes find it useful to bounce off ideas and helps to come to a conclusion about something, but in fairly equal measures get frustrated that this issues get picked up and then blown up out of all proportion with many not trying to find out the full story and others trying to take advantage of the situation.
I kind of like Vince Cable, he's a pragmatist and speaks his mind. Too good virtues! Boom Boom!
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