Lib Dems give increasing tuition fees another go: Liberal Democrat Newswire #102

Liberal Democrat Newswire #102 came out last week, taking a look at the new Lib Dem approach to tuition fees in Wales, when Tim Farron decided to resign and more.

You can now read it in full below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.


With Theresa May still in 10 Downing Street and Vince Cable almost certain to be announced the next Liberal Democrat leader on Thursday [update – he was], it is just possible that I’ll finally be able to return to the normal monthly schedule for Lib Dem Newswire. At least for a month. Let’s see…

Congratulations to Ben Holkham who won the election prediction competition, getting the Lib Dem seat tally spot on and coming within 1% of the actual Lib Dem vote share. A copy of the currently precariously named Prime Minister Corbyn and other things that never happened is on its way to you Ben.

Best wishes,


In this edition:

Read the pamphlet which started the core votes strategy debate >>>

Tim Farron - photo courtesy of the Lib Dems CC BY-ND 2.0

Tim Farron confirms: I’d decided to stand down before polling day

In an interview with the BBC, Tim Farron has confirmed what had previously been said by multiple sources ‘close to the leader’ as the conventional vocabulary goes – that before general election polling day he had already made the decision to stand down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The reason was the repeated pressure he felt under over his religious beliefs. Controversies over advertising standards for claims about the power of prayer and a religious interns scheme before he became leader had led to him apologising and changing tack. But the level of scrutiny and pressure was of a different standard once he was leader – and perhaps also on topics where responding by once again deciding to take a different course in future was rather harder for him to countenance.

The contrast between the at times convoluted answers he gave to media questions on faith and sexuality during the election campaign and those Theresa May – someone with a far worse voting record on the matter – gave to similar questions had certainly been marked. Here, for example, was Theresa May’s answer early on in the campaign to being asked whether she thought gay sex was a sin: “No”. Tim Farron only reached a similar directness – he too said, “I don’t believe gay sex is a sin” – after first repeatedly giving more complicated and indirect replies.

At best, that was a basic mistake – if you want to kill an issue you have to give a clear, direct answer. Or perhaps the reason that he found it so difficult to give a short direct answer of the sort that came so readily from Theresa May is that he felt a tension between his religious views and such simple directness. Whatever the reason, the repeated advice to him since 2015 from many members of the party that he needed to address these issues and close them off, and also the advice he was given in practice sessions ahead of the big media moments in the general election, didn’t translate into those sorts of answers until the questions had been repeatedly posed.

As he told his local paper afterwards he felt that, “in the end I’ve either got to compromise in a way that is just wrong or I’ve got to make a choice and give up – you can’t serve two masters”. It is a credit to Tim Farron that the experience of such pressures during a general election campaign caused him to resolve to take clear, decisive action to resolve them rather than simply hope they would go away.

What should Lib Dem policy be on Brexit now? Special survey for party members to take part in >>>

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Kirsty Williams, Lib Dem minister in Wales

Right, let’s give increasing tuition fees another go…

It’s pretty foolish for a political party to leave aside politics, but bear with me for a moment.

When it comes to post-18 education policy, there’s a very strong case for putting the level of tuition fees a long way down your list of priorities. For those who go to university, the absence of much in the way of support for living costs is a huge problem for those not blessed with parents with income to spare. Then there are post-graduates, increasingly important for a high productivity economy that can produce the wealth to provide us all with high-quality public services. Except support for them is similarly threadbare. As it is too for those who wish to be part-time students, even though part-time study is a crucial route to opening up opportunities to more people, especially those with caring responsibilities.

So a policy that provides maintenance grants, post-grad support and treats part-time support as more worthy of support has much to commend it. But politically, there’s no doubt that the simple headline of ‘scrap tuition fees’ is the line that worked well for the Lib Dems pre-2010 and for Labour in 2017.

Which makes the recent move by Kirsty Williams, education minister in the otherwise Labour Welsh administration, both good and somewhat of a gamble. She’s unveiled a policy which does all of those good things, but also increases tuition fees:

The new support package in Wales [means] every student will be entitled to support equivalent to the national living wage. This means that eligible full-time students will receive maintenance support of £11,250 if they study in London and £9,000 per year elsewhere if they live away from home.

This will be delivered through a mix of loans and grants, unlike in England where zero maintenance grants are available. Very small, limited grants are available in Scotland, but they too are currently reviewing the system. Welsh students from the lowest household income will receive the highest grant…

However, potentially the most radical element of our reforms is to provide equivalent support for part-time and postgraduate students. Wales will be the first in Europe to achieve this. For the first time, part-time undergraduates will receive similar support for maintenance, pro-rata to their full-time counterparts…

My party, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, have been consistent in our view that high living costs, not fees, are the greatest barrier for students. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also argued that governments should focus on maintenance costs rather than fees. It’s what most benefits students and society. I am proud to put those principles into practice…

It’s true that tuition fees in Wales will be linked to inflation from 2018/19 – just as they are in England and Scotland. Inflationary pressures should be shared between the student, university and the state, with the important caveat that it is graduates not students that repay these costs.

What do you think of this policy? Join the discussion on the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page >>>

Vince Cable on a skateboard - photo mockup courtesy of Jack Holroyde

Three things to read about Vince Cable

With or without a skateboard (the photo above, alas, is a montage from Jack Holroyde rather than the real deal), Vince Cable will almost certainly become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats this week.

Although neither Jo Swinson nor Norman Lamb ran for leader, they did find another contest in which to battle it between them – for chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Lamb won out by 343-222 in a ballot of all MPs.

For long-time Lib Dem members, Vince Cable is a familiar figure, but for two-thirds of the party’s members even something as recent as Vince’s time in Cabinet predates their membership of the party.

So here’s a quick three-part introduction to his views on key issues:

William Gladstone's Cabinet of 1868

History marches at our back

Duncan Brack of the Liberal Democrat History Group introduces a newly updated pamphlet about the party’s history.

During the general election, the Liberal Democrat membership topped 100,000. Our new members are joining a party with a glorious history – not just the twenty-nine years since the Liberal Democrats were founded in 1988, but the records of its predecessors, the short-lived Social Democratic Party and the three centuries’ old Liberal Party.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Three hundred years ago our political ancestors the Whigs fought for freedom of conscience and thought and religion, for equality before the law. Two hundred years ago the Victorian Liberal Party extended the franchise, brought in free trade, led the assault on privilege: the great cause of Cobden and Bright, Russell and Gladstone.

A hundred years ago the New Liberalism of the twentieth century – the social liberalism of Asquith and Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge – laid the foundations of the British welfare state, aiming to create the conditions for freedom for all.

Fifty years ago, the Liberal Party committed itself to help organise people in communities to take and to use power. It became the first major party to develop an environmental policy.

Forty years ago Liberals and Social Democrats joined forces to campaign for Britain’s place in the European Community. Steel and Jenkins led the Liberal-SDP Alliance that so nearly broke the mould of British politics.

These causes, this history, march at our back.

And if you’re a new member and want to know more about this history – or if you’re a local party officer looking for something to give your new members – the Liberal Democrat History Group has just the thing for you: a new edition of our booklet, Liberal History: A Concise History of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats.

This is designed as a comprehensive but concise summary of Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat history for readers wanting more detail than they can find on the party website, but less than a full book. We produced the booklet originally in 2005, and we’ve revised it on three occasions since; this edition is up to date as of March 2017.

Liberal History can be bought for only £3 a copy (£2.40 for subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History) from our website, plus postage. We also offer a 50 per cent discount for bulk orders (40 or more copies) – a number of local parties have already bought large numbers to give to their new members. If you’re interested in a bulk order, please contact me at journal@liberalhistory.org.uk.

D66 campaigners in Holland

Learning from Holland: how D66 recovered from under 2%

It is fitting that an internationalist party such as the Liberal Democrats should be willing to look at lessons from its sister parties around the world. I’ve previously covered lessons from Holland and Canada. This time it’s back to Holland with an exclusive piece from D66’s Annelou van Egmond. As ever, the inclusion of such a piece doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with all its recommendations, but it certainly gives all Lib Dems good food for thought.

I strongly believe we liberals, Liberal Democrats or social liberals have to inspire each other to expand the liberal footprint in our respective communities, cities, counties and countries and, collectively, in our continent as well. Sharing knowledge and experiences are step one in this inspiration process surely.

The bad news is there is no one method to recuperate after defeat. What worked and works for us can for sure not be replicated one on one in another context. D66 and the Lib Dems, the UK and The Netherlands – we have different political formal and informal rules and restrictions. So that would make for a short article!

The good news, however, is that it is possible to extract some ‘golden rules’ that can be applied in any context to create your own route to success. These are things we have learned the hard way:

  • Be brutally honest. As long as you still blame ‘the others’ (other parties, the media, other sections of your own party) you will never be able to fix yourself. If you want to be able to say a success is your doing you have to be able to admit this goes for failure too.
  • Stick with the plan. Any plan. It took us almost 10 years and we’re still working at it. Even though we saw the first signs of success after five years or so we knew we still had a long way to go and we did not stray. The plan has to cover all realms of political representation and has to be consistent.
  • Celebrate but don’t become complacent. For everyone to stay enthusiastic and feel part of the progress a long-term goal is essential but not enough. The mid-term celebrations are what makes up the conviction that we’re on the right track, both within the party and with the outside world. And use them not only to mark the progress but also the path ahead.
  • Don’t presume people will know what to do. Teaching and training are essential. Just because we all cherish more or less the same political principles, that is no guarantee that we all communicate the same message and image. In order to make it look easy, you have to work hard and get everyone on board.

These are all suggestions that have to do with how you set up your infrastructure and how you work together. You might have expected me to come up with suggestions regarding your manifesto or ways to attract new voters. But manifestos are not what matters most in the context of working on recovery.

First of all, because our liberal democratic values are solid in good and bad times, as proper values should be, and voters are allergic to political movements wrapped up in their own discussions instead of dealing with the day to day challenges at hand. They know we have principles. Now let’s get on with it.

Second of all, because manifestos are only relevant to your political opponents and the media, not so much to the average voters. They will not read it – and trust somebody else will and get it to them in short hand. And that is exactly what will happen: if you don’t do it yourself somebody else will and run with it.

Therefore my final piece of advice to create a successful political proposition and thus movement is:

  • Define who you are.

Being Lib Dems is not enough even though it’s our common denominator. It’s too aloof for most people who don’t spend all their waking hours thinking about politics. It’s too much a concept or a doctrine and way too easy for your opponents to abuse. If you don’t say exactly who you are, they will and they will frame it to suit their strategy. This is even more true in a country like the UK that has long been a bipolar political landscape. Either you’re Conservative or Labour. Being neither is not a very solid proposition to the voters.

D66 is the Education Party. Once we decided this everything fell into place. And sure enough, we had our share of debates. Members saying “we’re not a one trick pony!’ and ‘we’re so much more; we care about jobs, healthcare, sustainability, innovations, (international) solidarity and democracy.’ We do. And education gives us the opportunity to discuss that with our voters.

Education is the key to the realisation of many of our ideals. We want people to have equal opportunities to become independent. We want individuals who find their interest or talent and use it to better themselves and their circle of dependents, who contribute to society as a whole and who understand the effect their actions have on their own lives and that of others, now and in the future and here or elsewhere. Education is the tool, not the goal.

So there it is. We are the Education Party and we’re proud of it. And more importantly we have decided this ourselves and we have not allowed others to state otherwise. We’ve grown from under 2% in 2006 to now almost 15% of the votes at various elections in the meantime, thus giving us the opportunity to realise our ideals, not just concerning education but also bit by bit as part of coalitions locally, regionally and who knows before long nationally.

Get House of Cards on DVD now

Post-it note - "In case you missed it"

Posts, polls and by-elections

In case you missed them first time round, here’s a reminder of some of my pieces since last time:

With revised methodologies and added humility, political polling has started up again since the general election. Lib Dem poll ratings have ranged from 5% (Opinium, online) to 8% (Survation, online), averaging 6%. You can now get the 2017 Q2 update of PollBase, now including all the general election polls and continuing the data series which dates back to 1943.

More important, however, at this stage are the findings showing some shift in views on Europe:

Meanwhile, council by-elections are up and running once more, featuring some very impressive Lib Dem defences:

You can get the full council by-election results each week by email if you sign up to my blog post digests.


Campaign Manager Bruno Gianelli explains why he wins

In a democracy, it’s the voters who get to choose what is important: wise advice from The West Wing.

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Best wishes and thank you for reading,


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