Nick Clegg’s mea culpa over tuition fees is yet another PR disaster for the Liberal Democrats

Before the last UK general election the Liberal Democrats signed a ‘pledge’ not to increase student tuition fees. And then promptly agreed to them being tripled followed a Labour-instigated review by the ludicrous Lord Browne, former head of BP who was nixed after lying about his homosexual lover.

Now Clegg has chosen a rare party political broadcast opportunity to say sorry – not for tripling tuition fees (the point at issue) but making a promise he couldn’t keep. This is known as digging your own grave. Here’s an amended version of his broadcast courtesy of satirists The Poke.

The British higher education system used to be one of the best in the world but then Labour PM Tony Blair brought in tuition fees after listening to former GSK boss Sir Richard Sykes, another ‘meritocrat’ like Browne, who was then head of a London University college. Sykes’ reputation has since been trashed after he got too involved in a dodgy Congo mining company.

Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, who opposed tuition fees in the first place but then bottled out, then asked Browne to review them, surely knowing what the answer would be.

Clegg and key associates like business secretary Vince Cable then sought to justify the vast increase, which makes Britain’s higher education system far more elitist (only rich boys and girls can easily afford £9,000 a year) by saying that students didn’t have to pay back until they’d got a job (not an easy thing in the UK economy as it is now).

Which means that fewer young people from the lower orders are applying to university. And the payback regime is so tortuous that it probably won’t bring in any more money anyway.

Clegg has to face his party conference next week. At the moment it looks as though the Lib Dems, partners in the coalition government, might be wiped out entirely at the next election in 2015.

Clegg should be given his marching orders. At the moment it looks as though Conservative PM David Cameron is far more likely to lose his job at the hands of the mad right-wingers in his party. And Cameron, whatever you think of his policies or lack of them, is a far more capable politician than the hapless Clegg.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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