St Vince Loses His Halo

Pity poor Vince Cable. An intelligent man, once able to command universal respect for authoritative economic pronouncements that could never expect to be tested in the cold light of real decision making, he now faces the nightmare of any politician in danger of wielding real power - the need to row back from rash promises. It must have seemed a great idea for the Liberal Democrats, in opposition, to demand the removal of university tuition fees. After all, it not only differentiated them neatly - and positively - from both main parties, but their pre-election expectations would hardly have indicated that they might ever need to actually deliver on such a generous promise. Alas, the turn of events that has given Clegg and Cable ministerial cars has also given them the thorny economic realities of higher education funding.

At least Vince is not alone in his need to retract an unthinkingly generous promise. I seem to remember a buoyant Labour Party under Tony Blair declaring their opposition to tuition fees. The Tory governments of Thatcher and Major never dared to introduce them, fearing the opprobrium that would be heaped upon them if they did so. Blair, on the other hand, had no problem as a new Labour Prime Minister in finally breaking the protective barrier between university students and tuition fees. Vince Cable should thus at least disregard current Labour criticisms of his actions - he is only carrying on where they left off.


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