Blair Blair: a response to the NUS' 'Liar Liar' campaign | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Blair Blair: a response to the NUS’ ‘Liar Liar’ campaign

Liberal Democrat member, Sarah Dougherty, criticises the NUS for their short memory on tuition fees.

You probably missed it, but the National Union of Students made the news. Not for an increase in the maintenance grant, something students struggle everyday with, nor to challenge the renting market, which prices students out of acceptable houses, but for something decidedly more backwards looking. Yes, we’re still talking about tuition fees.

The NUS thinks a campaign to attack the Liberal Democrats for 'their betrayal' is meaningful, and moreover, what students want.
Despite the fact that the largest ever national demonstration of students was ignored in 2010 and despite the fact that no party with any chance of being in government proposes to abolish tuition fees, the NUS thinks a campaign to attack the Liberal Democrats for “their betrayal” is meaningful, and moreover, what students want. But facts aren't in the NUS's favour, so let’s take a look at them.

The NUS is focusing on 31 Liberal Democrat seats - a noble goal, if 20 of them weren't Tory facing and if such campaigning wasn't probable, in the unlikely event that the campaign achieves momentum, to return Conservative MPs instead. An example includes Sheffield Hallam, the seat of Nick Clegg, which was staunchly Conservative until 1997 and has been staunchly Liberal Democrat since. Labour have only ever been a distant and forgettable third in Hallam, and wishful thinking won’t change that. The Conservative policy is, of course, to fully implement the Browne review, which proposed an unlimited cap. Which is a lot more than £9,000.

Among those 31 Lib Dems are 3 who weren’t present. Martin Horwood and Chris Huhne were at an international climate change summit, representing Britain’s fight against global warming, and Sir Robert Smith was also absent. 7 more abstained, which is different to a “betrayal”, but these 3 in particular are being condemned by the NUS for not being able to be in two places at once. There are also a couple of token Tories included, but as the Conservatives might actually form a government, and 20 of the seats that are being condemned will return a Tory if not a Liberal Democrat, it’s probably not in the NUS’s interest to make anything more of that.

116 of the Labour MPs who voted to treble tuition fees were still sitting in the House in 2010 and a significant number of them will be standing again in 2015
It’s also not in the NUS’s interest to tell you about Labour, who are much worse. I’ve already written in Redbrick about how Tony Blair was elected with a landslide majority in 1997, promising to keep university free for everyone, and then autonomously decided to establish and introduce fees paid by students for the first time in 1999. At the next election, in 2001, a similar fiasco unfolded – a pledge not to top up tuition fees, followed by a trebling in 2004 under another majority Labour government. Far be it from me to speculate why the NUS doesn’t criticise the Labour Party, and admittedly Blair has now been chased out (with debateable success), but 116 of the MPs who voted to treble tuition fees were still sitting in the House in 2010 and a significant number of them will be standing again in 2015. But there’s no pressure on them, because they didn’t get a majority and didn’t get to form a government, unlike the Lib Dems, who didn’t get a majority and didn’t get to form a government.

The billboard being put up in London, Sheffield and Manchester

The billboard being put up in London, Sheffield and Manchester

Of course, it’s little surprise when one time NUS President and current leader of Scottish Labour, Jim Murphy, suspended his NUS National Executive Committee (NEC) Vice President for supporting the Campaign for Free Education in 1996. Short memories are perhaps understandable, but hypocrisy is not excusable. Tuition Fees aren't only bad when the Liberal Democrats are involved. Even Labour aren’t proposing a return to £3,000 – a tax cut for high earning graduates is on the cards, as they’d reduce fees to £6,000, meaning those with high incomes can pay back their loans while lower income graduates remain tied to them for even longer. Labour’s policy is, impressively, worse than £9000. The NUS supposedly aims for free education, but the leadership seems to have no aspirations in attaining it, because the NEC voted against Conference in recognising its own commitment to it in 2014. Indeed, NUS President Toni Pearce spoke against making education free at the last national conference – making her statement that the Lib Dems “trade lies for power” nothing less than farcical.

It’s no coincidence that Toni Pearce is herself a member of Labour.
Of course, links between the NUS and Labour are well known, and it’s no coincidence that Toni Pearce is herself a member of Labour. The Liberal Democrats propose discount bus travel for under 21s, have raised the personal allowance which allows students to have a part time job without paying tax on their earnings, and are fighting to modernise mental healthcare – which, when 25% of students suffer a mental illness at university, is a crucial development. The Liberal Democrats offer more to students than headline grabbing statements with no substance behind them, and are at the very least more deserving of attention than the NUS.

Sarah Dougherty is an LGBTQ Guild Councillor and a third year Politics and Philosophy student. She contributes primarily about the Guild. (@Sduob)



Published

19th April 2015 at 12:37 pm



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