Tuition fees rebellion sparks coalition crisis

Out of idle curiosity as much as anything I have been taking a look at how individual Lib Dem MPs are likely to vote on tuition fees next Thursday. A full list follows at the end of this post. The best source on this is the blog of Tim Starkey, a Lib Dem councillor who is co-ordinating the rebels.

Starkey wrote yesterday:

Be in no doubt – the lobbying efforts are working. Over the next week it is vital that students, parents and all those who care about widening access to university education write to their MPs and let their feelings be known. As I’ve said before, don’t just target Lib Dems. There are 4 Tories on the government benches who signed the pledge too ( Bob Blackman - Harrow East, Stephen Mosley - City of Chester, Lee Scott - Ilford South, Ben Wallace - Wye and Preston).

If one takes Michael Crick's narrowest definition of '26 plain backbenchers', more than half of Lib Dem backbenchers have already said they will vote against the Government. It is still almost half if one includes spokesmen and 'party whips' who are not members of the Government. This in itself would be a major blow to the legitimacy of the tuition fees hike.

As things stand, it would need something of the order of 42 Lib Dems to vote against the Government to defeat it, roughly the entire Lib Dem backbench, plus PPS's. That number could be lower if Lib Dem Ministers or Conservatives vote against the bill.

The most likely scenario at this stage is the one outlined by Peter Oborne:

After six months in office, far sooner than anyone could have expected, the Coalition is in crisis – and the crisis will reach a climax next Thursday, when Parliament votes on tuition fees.

While it remains highly likely that the Coalition will get its business through, victory will come at the cost of permanent ill-feeling. Many Lib Dems feel unable to go back on their very public pre-election pledge to abolish tuition fees. Last night there was talk of a ministerial resignation, with Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone favourite to quit.

Yet there are signs that the Government sees a real danger of an outright defeat. It is this that has put paid to the prospect that the Lib Dems would collectively abstain, as the FT reported yesterday:

The desire for consensus also has to be married with the realities of getting the vote through parliament. The party has been warned by the whips that giving backbenchers too much leeway could make the vote perilously tight, particularly if there was a loss of confidence among a handful of Tory MPs.

“If a lot of Lib Dems vote against, some will have to vote for to ensure it goes through,” the senior Lib Dem said.

Another sign may be the date of the vote itself, as the Times Higher Education Supplement reports:

Some observers believe that by holding the vote on a Thursday, when many Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies, the government may reduce its chances of a defeat.

Given this consideration, it may be worth constiruents lobbying the DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Alliance and Lady Sylvia Hermon (perhaps via WritetoThem).

A substantial number of Lib Dem MPs have yet to declare their hand. They maybe planning to quietly support the government, but they include some MPs who have already rebelled in the current parliament. Below is a list of Lib Dem MPs with the best indication I have been able to find of how they are likely to vote. Where no other source is mentioned, I have relied on Tim Starkey.

Likely rebels

1 Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

2 Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) "told the Commons he could not ‘go along with this particular direction of travel’."  (4 Nov)

3 Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) – "having signed this campaign pledge, then I feel obliged to keep to it." (6 Nov)

4 Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) " 'It's a big step in the right direction but the government hasn't done enough to make me vote for it and I won't. " (5 Nov)

5 Bob Russell (Colchester) "pledged to vote against" (28 Nov)

6 Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) - said ‘an increase in fees’ is ‘something that I cannot and will not accept’. (4 Nov)

7 John Pugh (Southport) – "I will vote against any rise in tuition fees, unless a rabbit is pulled out of the hat – and there is no sign of that." (4 Nov)

8 Mark Williams (Ceredigion)

9 Roger Williams - (Brecon and Radnorshir)

10 Julian Huppert (Cambridge) – "I made a promise to the students that I would never support a rise in tuition fees and I have reaffirmed that promise today. " (13 Oct)

11 John Leech (Manchester Withington)  - "I again publicly state that I will vote against an increase in tuition fees." (2 Dec)

12 Ian Swales (Redcar) – "I can't support raising the fee cap up to £9,000 per year. (25 November)

13 Simon Wright (Norwich South)


Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) "Mr Horwood said he would not support the bill but was weighing up the consequences of voting 'no'." (1 Dec) However, as Gareth Epps notes below, Horwood may miss the vote as he is attending the Cancún Climate summit.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) "“I will not support a rise in tuition fees. I will decide whether I am going to vote against or abstain on the final vote, depending on what is in the motion." (3 Dec)

Lorely Burt (Solihull) – "told activists in Solihull yesterday that she would not vote in favour of the rise." (21 Nov) "has said she will probably abstain" (5 Dec)

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and Poole North) – "told the Politics Show South that she will either vote against or abstain." (28 Nov)

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) "He is expected to make a decision after the a meeting of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party on Tuesday" (3 Dec)

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) ""I will either not vote – abstain – or I will vote against the government. I have not decided yet." (3 Dec)

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) "It is fair enough to criticise our policy, with which many of us are not entirely comfortable." (30 Nov)

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) – "Last night there was talk of a ministerial resignation, with Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone favourite to quit." (2 Dec)

Norman Baker (Lewes) ""Or voting against. There are three options and, to be honest with you, I genuinely haven't decided." (6 Dec)

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) – Defended policy in meeting with students but added "I haven’t made my mind up about the vote." (26 Nov)

Tessa Munt (Wells)  - "I know that I couldn't vote for the Browne recommendations; what remains to be seen is the detail of what is actually proposed by the Government and to listen to the debate." (29 Nov)

Don Foster (Bath) "told the Guardian he had not yet made up his mind how he would vote on the fees issue" (16 Nov)

Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) – "would assess the position once he had seen all the government proposals – a view echoed by Alan Reid" (28 Nov)

Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) "would assess the position once he had seen all the government proposals – a view echoed by Alan Reid and by Robert Smith"  (28 Nov)

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne and Willingdon) "is also staying firmly on the fence" (28 Nov)

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) "Deliberating whether to abstain; no consideration of voting against." (5 Dec)

Mike Crockhart (Edinburgh West) – "He definitely won't be voting in favour. But he is not going to decide whether to abstain or whether to vote against (which would involve resigning as a parliamentary aide to Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary) until he has had further conversations with his colleagues later this week." (6 Dec)

Note that its possible that some of those considering abstention may only do so if there is a party-wide deal.

No stated position

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell & Newquay)

Alan Beith (Berwick on Tweed)

Andrew George (St Ives)

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)

Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Likely Government supporters

John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley) – "I believe we have not only delivered on our pledge of a fairer system, but also delivered substantially on scrapping student tuition fees." (7 Nov)

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) – "This is a completely different system, it's a fair system." (25 Nov)

David Laws (Yeovil) – "We really need to get it out of the way ASAP.‬ The sooner this is over the better!!!." (15 Nov)

David Ward (Bradford East) "“It would become a graduated level where the better off will make bigger contributions which is not the case now or in the past and that should be welcomed.” (13 Oct)

The payroll vote


Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam) – 'I''d like everyone to vote for this. We're no good in coalition if rancour, bitterness, division creep into our ranks." (5 Dec)

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) – "I hope, and I would certainly very much prefer, to vote for it. I have worked very hard on this policy." (3 Dec)

Norman Baker (Lewes) see Waverers

Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane) 

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

Vince Cable (Twickenham) – “Obviously I have a duty as a minister to vote for my own policy – and that is what will happen" (3 Dec)

Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) - "said he could only hold his hands up." (10 Nov)

Lynne Featherstone - see Waverers

David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Nick Harvey (North Devon) – "Given these difficult economic circumstances, the Government's proposals represent the best solution – and reflect a real Liberal Democrat influence." (11 Nov)

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) – As Gareth Epps notes below, Huhne may miss the vote as he is attending the Cancún climate summit. However, the Independent reports: "He is due to return from the climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico, for Thursday's vote but one Liberal Democrat source admitted: "He is maintaining radio silence."" (6 Dec)

Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk)

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Sarah Teather (Brent Central)

Steve Webb (Thornbury and Yate) – "unlikely to rebel since he is piloting landmark legislation."  (4 Nov)

Government whips

Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) – "trying to thrash out a deal which will see backbench Lib Dems abstain and ministers vote in favour of the reforms." (4 Nov)

Mark Hunter (Cheadle)

Parliamentary Private Secretaries

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) – "We have improved the situation for part-time students, poorer students and poorer graduates. That’s a fairer system." (3 Nov)

Jenny Willott - see Waverers

Mike Crockart - see Waverers

Gordon Birtwistle - see Waverers

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) – "Hames was invited to attend the protests but declined to attend as he is in Parliament today." (30 Nov)

Potential Tory rebels

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) – "I am going to vote against this proposal." (6 Dec)

Philip Davies (Shipley) – "the latest to confirm they will vote no." (7 Dec)

Julian Lewis (New Forest East) " the latest to confirm they will vote no." (7 Dec)

Lee Scott (Ilford South) – Signed NUS pledge. "Lee Scott's office confirmed the Ilford North MP would not support the fee rise in Thursday's vote." (7 Dec)

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) – "confirmed that he would not support the fees hike, but had yet to decide whether to abstain or vote against it." (7 Dec)

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) – Signed NUS pledge. "Seems to have gone back on his pledge" (28 Nov)

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) – Signed NUS pledge. " still undecided over whether to vote with the Government or abstain." (7 Dec)

Ben Wallace (Wye and Preston) – Signed NUS pledge – "already U-turned on the issue" (28 Nov)







6 responses to “Tuition fees rebellion sparks coalition crisis”

  1. Gareth Epps avatar

    I understand Chris Huhne and Martin Horwood will be in Cancun for the summit (and therefore not voting).

  2. TomGriffin avatar

    Thanks Gareth,
    I will update accordingly.

  3. Duncan avatar

    All this arithmetic assumes that the Labour party actually wants the bill to fall (why? To have to propose some form of graduate tax which people will oppose because the same people affected by the current bill will pay more in the long run, additional people will pay as well and it will be painfully difficult if not impossible to arrive at a non-loans based system which will be capable of covering those who move abroad?) and so will turn up in large numbers to vote no. Don’t get me wrong; those with a large number of students in their constituencies will definitely show up but those without or with plausible excuses (and sufficient lack of principle) will use those excuses not to turn up because a government bill passing despite widespread LibDem rebellion will benefit them more at the next election than the same bill failing. And if you think no one in the Labour party will have noticed this you’ve never met Charlie Falconer.

  4. TomGriffin avatar

    Hi Duncan,
    I would have thought it was certainly in Ed Miliband’s interests to show that he can marshall his troops to defeat the Government. Of course, that in might be a reason for others to think differently, but at the end of the day, MPs of all parties will have to account for their vote.

  5. Terry Gilbert avatar
    Terry Gilbert

    Andrew Percy – Brigg and Google?
    An MP for Google? Now that’s corporate lobbying….

  6. TomGriffin avatar

    Well spotted Terry, I have corrected the error.

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