Turkeys vote for Christmas

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The tuition fees cap will increase to £9,000 from 2012, after the controversial passing of the government’s proposals on Thursday, December 9 2010.

The fees hike came after Lord Browne’s report on Higher Education, delivered to Parliament earlier this year. The vote was only on the fees charged, and other aspects of the report will be voted on in a White Paper to be put forward in 2011.

The bill passed with a 21 person majority – 323 MPs voted in favour, with 302 voting against. 25 MPs are thought to have abstained or been absent from the vote, leaving a controversial low majority to pass the proposal.

The vote came in the middle of a backlash against the Liberal Democrats, who are thought by many to have betrayed students in the forming of the coalition government with the Conservative Party. All Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge by the National Union of Students, which declared that they would oppose any increase in fees.

28 Liberal Democrat MPs voted in favour of the change, meaning more than half abstained or voted against them. Among those voting against were former Liberal Democrats leaders, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell. The current Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg voted in favour of the rise, as did Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

Surprisingly, six Conservative MPs also voted against the change, with two abstaining. David Davis MP, who stood against David Cameron in the Conservative Party leadership election in 2005, was among those who voted against the fees increase. Three ministerial aides – two Liberal Democrats, and one Conservative – resigned due to their abstentions after a three-line whip was enforced on the government.

Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, met with representatives from LUSU and University of Cumbria Students’ Union before the vote, and took on their concerns. He did, however, vote in favour of the fees increase.

Three of the LUSU Full Time Officers – President Robbie Pickles, Vice President (Academic) Robin Hughes and Vice President (Media & Communications) Lizzie Houghton – journeyed to London on the morning of the vote, to speak with MPs in Paliament.

Pickles explained: “We went down to Parliament and we lobbied three or four MPs to vote against the increase and to fight for a fairer system of funding. I think it’s fair to say that we failed to convince the vote entirely but I still think it was worthwhile us going down.

“I think in particular we will have influenced MPs voting next year on implementing, not the rise, but the system which will come into place in 2011 that hasn’t been voted on yet. I think we’ve influenced ministers quite well on that, and I’m hoping we’ll get quite a good result in the new year,” he added.

At the demonstration in London on November 10, the NUS and University and College Union drew attention to the promises made by the Liberal Democrats during the general election in May of this year. Most of the anger on the day was directed towards the Conservative offices in Millbank Tower, and more violence was anticipated on the day of the actual vote.

The police had anticipated 20,000 protestors and prepared for this accordingly. However, the Metropolitan Police Force has come under fire from many people for claims of brutality and being under prepared for the day’s events. Many protestors were kettled – some for as long as 10 hours – while the demonstrations were going on, and many reported witnessing unnecessary violence by the police.

[info width=”42.5%”]

How they voted

28 Lib Dem MPs voted yes

21 Lib Dem MPS voted no

8 Lib Dem MPS either abstained or were absent

6 Conservative MPs voted no

2 Conservative MPs abstained

253 Labour MPs voted no

Nationalist parties also voted no

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The protestors, however, caused a great deal of damage across London, with Oxford Street and the Treasury being among the targets. A great deal of the action took place in Parliament Square, with people defacing the statue of Winston Churchill with graffiti and climbing on the cenotaph.
At 3pm, people inside Parliament were being cautioned not to go outside due to the protests. People were also not allowed to leave the kettle in Parliament Square until much later in the evening, when they were released one-by-one.

Pickles, who was kept inside Parliament for three hours, also spoke about the violence. “I think the police used extremely brutal tactics, but we should accept that it was an extremely difficult situation for everybody involved. I think that the protestors were extremely violent; I think that’s clear.”

He added: “I think that I would personally not use violence in those situations but I can see why people were angry, I can see that people felt that democracy was not working for them and that there was no choice other than recourse to violence… I think we need to be very careful about how we condemn those students […] their voice was not listened to, the Liberal Democrats did betray them and they did the only thing that they felt that they could to have their voice heard.”

Scotland Yard told the BBC 12 police officers had been injured, with six being taken to hospital. 43 protestors also required treatment. In total, 33 arrests were made, with two being for arson.

The following day, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out against the violence. He told The Independent: “There were quite a lot of people who were hell bent on violence and destroying property… It is not acceptable, it is against the law to smash property, to behave in that way, to attack police officers, and I want to make sure that they feel the full force of the law.”

This came at a time when the NUS announced that Cameron was “playing fast a loose with the facts on fees”, claiming that the Office for Budget Responsibility does not support the theory that the fees increase will reduce the deficit, and that despite claims no students will have to pay upfront fees many part time students will not be eligible for loans.

Pickles also spoke out against the hike: “We absolutely condemn a rise to £9,000 fees. You can put statistics and facts out the window, I’m going to deal on gut feelings here – and my gut feeling is that poor students will be put off university… While some poor people will take that plunge, many poor people will refuse to do so. This is not socially progressive and we absolutely condemn it.”

NUS President Aaron Porter spoke of the events of the day on the union’s website: “We’ve taken to the streets in our thousands, won the arguments and the battle for public opinion. We have lost in the House of Commons today only because MPs have broken their promises. We are incredibly disappointed and angry with the politicians who have let us down so badly. They have voted for a policy they know is unfair, unnecessary and wrong.”

He continued: “But this is not the end, and our protests and our work have sparked a new wave of activism which will grow stronger by the day. As they come for the education maintenance allowance, as they seek to raise interest rates on our loans and as they peddle lies about fairness we will expose their betrayal. I am incredibly proud of the student movement today and we stand ready to fight the next stage of this campaign together. Our future is at stake.”

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