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The long route to fair funding of Higher Education

October 24, 2010

I spent over four years as the Liberal Democrat shadow minister for higher education and skills.  Ming Campbell appointed me to the role when he became leader and Nick Clegg promoted me to our shadow cabinet when he took over.   Externally, in Parliament and around the country the job was hugely enjoyable.  Inside the Lib Dems it was always a challenge and sometimes infuriating.

The party had rightly opposed Blair’s introduction of tuition fees in 1997.  I was a young councillor then in Bristol and went on the NUS march in the city.  Fees gave the Lib Dems the first major policy difference with an otherwise popular New Labour government and provided a useful clear dividing line for campaigns.  A decade on when I tried to steer the Lib Dems in a different direction the dividing line had become more important than the policy to many colleagues.

In 2004 Labour legislated for top up fees.  From 2006 fees would triple to £3,000 but more crucially they would no longer be paid by students while studying.  Instead they would pay back a debt via a tax on their earnings.  It would be a graduate tax, albeit a very crude one. The first graduates under this regime would emerge in the summer of 2009 and start their payments in April 2010.  My challenge from 2006 was to give the Lib Dems a policy that made sense to the students and graduates of 2010, probably coinciding with a general election.

There were several elements to this challenge.  First, the policy was a bit of a one club in the caddy of our adult education policy.  Most people don’t go to university, nor should they and we had rejected Labour’s 50% participation target.  So we needed to have something to say to adults who wanted to study in FE Colleges, become apprentices or take up another vocational or even leisure course.  As for those who did go to university, about 40% of undergraduates studied part time.  They still paid their fees up front but the Lib Dems had no manifesto pledge to help.  Our policies for adult learners needed to be more inclusive.

Secondly, what was the point of maintaining outright opposition to fees?  I certainly always felt that expecting students to pay while studying was wrong in principle, even though there was help for many of those from poor backgrounds.  But the new regime from 2006 did away with up front payment in favour of a graduate pay back scheme.  To me, this was nowhere near as toxic as a fee.  I could see the mood change among my own (very large) student electorate in Bristol West.  The NUS began to shift ground too.   If the policy of fee abolition was to have any justification then it would have to be a demonstration that even a deferred fee was narrowing the pool of people going to university or frustrating fair access to our best universities.  On neither ground was the evidence compelling.

All my political career I have championed social mobility and the need to tackle inequality.  In 21st century Britain we have too many people destined to stay in the poverty trap that held back their parents.  The best escape ladder is education.  But there are shocking levels of low attainment in many communities, with over half of children leaving school at 16 without even the basic level of 5 good GCSEs including maths and English.  This is the real education problem that needs to be solved.  If we are to widen participation at university level then we have to drive up standards at school.

In the last Parliament the Lib Dems found the right answer to helping children from poor backgrounds – the pupil premium.  This policy is now being implemented by Liberal Democrats in government.  I tried three times to change our university fees policy.  I got my way on some issues – on part time students, a greater role for FE and growth in apprentices. But on fees for full time undergraduates different parts of the party proved to be remarkably stubborn.  In 2008 and 2009 I tried to get my fellow MPs to accept that abolition of deferred fees was not the right policy.  Instead we could do more on maintenance for students, give fee bursaries and write offs for poor students or those who took shortage subjects and then have a much more progressive repayment regime for graduates.

Eventually the package was vetoed by the party’s Federal Policy Committee.  In late 2009 I made one last effort – we could maintain the language of abolishing fees but would instead have a graduate contribution scheme.  This would put us on essentially the same ground as the NUS.  My colleagues endorsed this (though a minority were still wedded to a simple message of no fees at all) and together with the party’s former Shadow Education Secretary from the 2001 Parliament, Phil Willis, I tried again to persuade the FPC to change but they wouldn’t have it.  So our 2010 manifesto kept the pledge to abolish fees, over a 6 year phase out.  It was clearly a downgraded policy and gave wriggle room for an alternative.

It was against that background that I spoke in November 2009 at the House of Commons launch of the NUS pledge to resist higher fees and to work for a fairer system.  I signed the pledge believing that the Lib Dems would in the new Parliament surely come up with just such a “fairer system”, in my mind with many of the elements I had been proposing for the previous three years.  At the same time, the Labour government had asked Lord John Browne to report on the future funding of HE.  This was widely expected to produce a justification for removing the cap on fees.  I met Browne and urged him to look at a “graduate tax” and a wide range of other issues.

In the autumn of 2010 we now have the Browne Review.  His report has some of the policies that I tried to get the Lib Dems to adopt, most notably the higher repayment threshold and fair treatment for part timers.  I have been in discussions with both Vince Cable and David Willetts on how the government can develop a package of proposals that is fair to the graduates of the future and smoothes the path to university for children from poor backgrounds.

I would like to see an approach that joins up our pupil premium with advice and mentoring for poor children, followed by adequate maintenance at university and a fee bursary. Our top universities must do more to have an intake that is a socially balanced group of the brightest and best.  The repayment regime must be progressive for all graduates.  If the essence of such a package emerges in the government’s response to Browne, then I will support the government.

I spent much of the last Parliament walking a tightrope between most of the leading members of the Lib Dem shadow cabinet who wanted to ditch the anti-fees policy in its entirety and the MPs and activists who preferred the pure and simple language of abolition.  Mario Cuomo told the US Democrats that “campaigning is poetry and government is prose.” In government now, the Liberal Democrats are discovering just how hard that prose can be to write.

147 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2010 6:47 pm

    Your best blog entry so far. Context is missing from many of these difficult budgetary decisions.

    I still don’t get why taxpayers should be forced to fund Art History degrees.

    • Carly permalink
      December 3, 2010 2:13 am

      Dave, do you not feel that education is a public service? Most of the people making these decisions received their degrees free of charge, and too right in my opinion! As a country with such a large GDP why do we spend a much smaller proportion of it on education than other european countries? How is it that coutries such as Sweden have been able to provide free university education to anyone from the EU up until now? I would like to note that Sweden has near 100% literacy rates and most people are bilingual.

      I’m not happy that my tax money is being spent on an expensive war or bailing out an unregulated, untaxed banking system. Why should taxpayers fund arts degrees? I beleive they should because it is our right to persue an education in any subject we desire. Society needs thinkers all fields, not just those that are profitable!

      I don’t know whether you had to pay fees at university but as a student that currently is can say that having to weigh up the viability of my subject based on the current job market, having to think about employability and learn how to manage debt were not the things I wanted to get from my education.

  2. October 25, 2010 12:25 am

    Anyone wanting a brief history of how Mr. Williams got elected in 2005 by promising to oppose all tuition fee and 2010 by pledging to oppose increases (including copies of his campaign literature) please follow the link:

    I know Cllr Alex Woodman has previously been tasked with removing links “advertising” other sites but I’m sure he’s since learned that it is perfectly normal in blogging to share links to opposing or complimentary ideas. Or we can hope at least

    • October 25, 2010 8:34 am

      Actually Darren (Bristol Labour party candidate for those who don’t know him) my account above is a brief history of events from 2005 to 2010, setting out why policies relevant in 2005 were not as relevant in 2010. The Labour party is now engaged in telling us all that its policies from May 2010 became irrelevant within weeks…

  3. October 25, 2010 7:01 am

    Such a long winded self justification how about a summary:

    I enjoyed jumping on electoral bandwagons, I then tried unsuccessly to ditch the policy which I plastered all over my leaflets, having lied to voters for 5 years I am now going to vote in the opposite way to how I promised voters and students. I’ve got their votes in two general elections but so what I’ve got a £60,000 job.

    • October 25, 2010 8:37 am

      Anyone would think you were bitter about receiving one of the biggest thrashings for Labour in the country. You put in all your leaflets that I was reviewing Lib Dem policy. You got Labour activists at the student union to attack me for it on Facebook and in the student newspaper. You brought it up yourself at every hustings. So please stop the fake shocked outrage!

      • BenS permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:43 am

        Either you know fuck all about electoral statistics or you are scraping the barrel a bit here. If you think your re-election in 2010 was some sort of astounding success given the national political context you are very mistaken and need to start reflecting very quickly on how many people you have disappointed – not just from doing the opposite of what you have always campaigned against on tuition fees ; but also doing the opposite of what you said on the economy and more or less selling out each of your party’s principles systematically to prop up a Tory government. I’d be bricking it if I were you sunshine.

        And what was the purpose of this? To watch Cleggie ride around in a limo? You know, there is a Bruce Springsteen quote about limos – ‘The first time you ride in one it’s a big thrill, but after that it’s just another dumb car’. Maybe your party will reach a similar realisation when you get decimated in the elections next May.

      • October 25, 2010 10:21 am

        Yes I did raise it on leaflets and at some of the hustings that you were saying one thing in leaflets and another within the Lib Dem party about tuition fees. You did sign the pledge to fight any increases in the fees and you did successfully gain votes by lying to the voters. Clearly it is up to them to give their judgement on your tactics to promise to promise one thing seeking votes and do the opposite when elected at the next election.

  4. October 25, 2010 8:13 am

    A simpler summary is “I made a promise. I broke it by trying to change my party policy. I made another promise. I’m going to break it again.”

    Don’t you think you owe citizens of Bristol West an apology?

    • October 25, 2010 8:39 am

      keep your boring court room banter for your day job.

      • October 25, 2010 9:21 am

        This is embarrassing conduct from an elected official.

        Your hissy fit is not the rational response Bristol West Citizens deserve.

      • Patrick Andrews permalink
        October 29, 2010 11:39 am

        Absolutely disgraceful conduct from a party that made a pledge – you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    • Chucklebutty permalink
      October 25, 2010 2:38 pm

      Ahh… but is it really fair to blame Mr Williams personally for this volte-face?

      As I have previously pointed out, the Great Sage of the Liberal Democrats, Mr John Vincent Cable himself, said on the 13th October, Channel 4 News, when asked about this very same subject “If I ever knew I would actually have to be in government I would never have signed it”. Given this, maybe Mr Williams is merely following the lead of his elders, and as he doubtless perceives them, his betters… I mean, what relatively junior Lib DemMP, still wet behind the ears, would care to disagree with such an esteemed figure and renowned economic expert as the Rt. Honourable Mr John Vincent Cable?

      I put it to you that Mr Williams is merely following orders… what’s that? Following orders isn’t an acceptable defence anymore? Since when? Oh all right then!

  5. Mary permalink
    October 25, 2010 8:34 am

    Apologise you turncoat!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • October 25, 2010 8:39 am

      define “turncoat” please. Oh and while you’re at it – who are you?

      • harryT permalink
        October 25, 2010 12:00 pm

        Definition from Wiki

        A turncoat – is a person who shifts allegiance from one loyalty or ideal to another, betraying or deserting an original cause by switching to the opposing side or party

  6. Noneofurbusiness permalink
    October 25, 2010 9:51 am

    You know what I had most in the world is someone like you mr Williams I even had a meeting with you and you were even talking about the tutions fees and how scrapping them was your idea loads of students in Bristol west vote for you and you are a complete let down if it wasn’t for the labour party I would of not be able to go to uni but now my younger siblings can’t go you are a let down to your consituantes you should be sacked

    • Andrew H. permalink
      September 20, 2012 7:26 am

      Amazing how illiterate some university students are these day.

  7. October 25, 2010 10:32 am

    Stephen you shouldn’t have signed the pledge if you didn’t plan to keep it. Now the Lib Dems are in government it looks like opportunism of the very worst kind. None of the defences wash – It is not as if the Lib Dems were not aware of the state of the economy before the election. If the policy wasn’t costed what credibility do the Lib Dems have as a political party!

    You’ve really betrayed the students in your constituency. Not even the hint of an apology here! This policy could have been defeated if the Lib Dems hadn’t decided to prop up a Tory goverernment. Think about the effect on widening participation that fees of ₤7,000 a year will have on universities like Bristol before you cast your vote in Parliament.

  8. woodsy permalink
    October 25, 2010 10:57 am

    All my political career I have championed social mobility…

    When politicians talk of social mobility, they only seem to see upwards social mobility.

    Are you an even-handed champion of social mobility and support downwards social mobility too?

    • October 25, 2010 5:21 pm

      logically, yes. As we’re supposed to be debating higher education access here, it is undoubtedly true that there are some people going to university today who don’t need to but go there as some social right of passage. It is not right that in some schools 100% of people go to HE and in others hardly anyone. The issue of fair access (not the same as widening participation) to top institutions is also highly relevant – some well coached but dumb youngsters from rich backgrounds crowd out bright but socially not so confident children from poor backgrounds. These are the issues I’ve always wanted to tackle.

  9. Gus Baker permalink
    October 25, 2010 10:58 am

    Hi Stephen,

    Before the election you made a promise that was crystal clear. You pledged, specifically, to vote against any increase in fees.

    As you rightly wrote on Bristol’s Lib Dem website:
    “In a market, which is what fees will eventually create, the rich will always have an advantage and the poor, those who could see their lives changed by access to education, will lose out.”

    I agree with you 100%.

    Do you plan to keep your promise?

    • October 25, 2010 5:22 pm

      Gus – I am keeping to my oft stated aim (said both on the hustings in Bristol and many times in Parliament) of working for a system that is fairer than that left to us by the last government, in which in particular potential students from poor backgrounds are helped.

  10. Malcolm Armsteen permalink
    October 25, 2010 11:07 am

    My, what an arrogant MP you have in Bristol! Not content with flip-flopping like a fish on a riverbank to explain his mendacity, he insults commenters as well. Such excellent behaviour…

  11. AH Gillett permalink
    October 25, 2010 11:23 am

    It’s far too easy to describe the natural shifts that come with arriving at a rational, circumspect decision as a U-turn or a lie. But the decision that comes from the gut untempered by a bit of rationality and pragmatism is the real danger. Put simply, education policy is quite complicated, and there isn’t a simple off-the-shelf ideology that can comprehensively argue any angle.

    If these commenters think that a principle is eternal, ask them if the previous government’s plan for higher education was timeless and principled, or if the exclusion of many due to extreme cost to the government was fair before that, or if the continual narrowing of inclusion and progressive funding backwards through history was right. There has been no golden age for higher education, only waves of elitism and debt. So continue to imagine one if you like, and attack Mr. Williams’s reasoned progress towards a resolution, but you’ll be standing on a pretty rotten soapbox.

    • October 25, 2010 11:40 am

      It’s a very easy and honest criticism to make when Mr. Williams seems to oppose tuition fees/increased charges at election time and support them once he’s in power.

      In 05 he promised to oppose them in 08 he took the lead in tying to reverse Lib Dem policy. In 09/10 he opposed increases now after the election he seems to be laying the ground to support them.

      IMO this is not reasoned analysis this is opportunism

      To fail to wholeheartedly say sorry will further demonstrate that an assurance from him is worth nothing

    • BenS permalink
      October 25, 2010 11:53 am

      There is nothing reasoned about Williams’ position except the reasoned pursuit of lining his own pocket.

      He is a bloody big liar. If he wasn’t going to vote against tuition fee rises, he shouldn’t have signed the NUS pledge saying he would and he shouldn’t have campaigned against them at the election. Education policy hasn’t got any more complicated since the election except for the fact the Tories are making massive cuts to it – but then Williams can hardly moan about that either when he supports the governments’ spending review. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on and I hope he gets punished at the next general election – and I hope his party do too next May and they realise they need to back out of this lunatic coalition. They can end this government in a matter of hours if they wanted but they lack the principle and are instead too motivated by their own elavated position to actually do it. Scumbags, as bad as the Tories.

    • October 25, 2010 5:26 pm

      Thanks, though despite what the Labour activists on here are saying, I have not performed a U turn. I have said in probably hundreds of speeches on HE (I would have been on the record more so than any other Lib Dem MP) that my primary concern was potential students from poor backgrounds and my secondary concern was to design a progressive contribution scheme for graduates.

      • Peter permalink
        October 26, 2010 11:40 am

        Is it not a U-Turn having signed a pledge opposing tuition fee rises, and then backing it after the election? If it hadn’t been for not having to find £1k a year out of thin air, I wouldn’t have gone to uni as I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I think 3k a year was too high, but that option to not have to find the money upfront was very handy.

        Not only have you lied to the electorate, you are now being down right offensive to your consituents too! It isn’t fair to hit the poorest hardest, like the CSR is doing, and its not fair to to lie to your constituents. You may wish to have a look in the dictionary to find out the word. I for one will never vote for you again, after your despicable behavior.

  12. Josh permalink
    October 25, 2010 12:14 pm

    I’m looking forward to further ‘long routes’ – how do you justify to extending the use of control orders? How will you justify voting for powers to monitor British citizens’ internet use without their knowledge or consent?

    On the economy, Lib Dems have performed a u-turn.
    On university funding, Lib Dems have performed a u-turn.
    On civil liberties, I’m betting Lib Dems will perform a u-turn.

    For all the ‘new politics’ rhetoric, Lib Dem MPs (sadly tarring their own dedicated activists with the same brush) do nothing but exemplify the worst of the old politics – saying one thing and doing another.

    You have broken pledges to your constituents, betrayed those who campaigned for you, and damaged the public’s limited trust in politics. If I were you, I’d start looking for a job ahead of the next election.

  13. Rory permalink
    October 25, 2010 12:15 pm

    The Lib Dems were virtually a 1 policy party on the issue of tuition fee’s.

    We all know so many young people that voted for you as a radical alternative to phase out tuition fee’s and make higher education more affordable across the board.

    You lied to the electorate to get voted in and you owe them an apology.

    • October 25, 2010 5:27 pm

      Accusing someone of lying is not something to be done lightly.

      • October 26, 2010 10:30 am

        With regard to an individual as brazen as yourself sir, I think the burden will be borne without great effort or distress.

        I’m hoping they had some nice photos of what you were prepared to tell your electorate before you so thoroughly stitched them up.


      • October 26, 2010 10:46 am

        Yes we have photos.

        Stephen pledges to vote against any increase in fees

        See here:

  14. Fraser Nesbitt permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:01 pm

    So, about half of the Bristol Labour executive committee are annoyed at the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West. Shocker. Someone call the Guardian.

    Meanwhile, they conveniently forget the huge Labour betrayal on fees. Or the Labour 2010 manifesto pledge to carry out 20% cuts across the board to Westminster departments, including Local Government. Quelle Surprise.

    • October 25, 2010 1:09 pm

      This is the usual Lib Dem tactic of getting their students to attack constituents making a valid point and politely asking questions.

      To the best of my knowledge I am the only “Bristol Labour Executive Committee” member posting on here. The rest are people of differing political affiliations and none. All of them don’t think promises should be broken.

      Most think Stephen should sincerely apologise for his seemingly cynical actions.

      Do you support the tuition fees flip flop Fraser?

      Do you support all of the savage cuts agenda?

      • October 25, 2010 5:29 pm

        I laughed at your “politely” claim.
        If the 19% cuts are “savage”, how would you describe Labour’s suggestion of 20%, when they thought the govt was really going for a cut in the 25 – 40% range????

      • Tom permalink
        October 26, 2010 11:27 am

        As you said, accusing someone of lying is not something to be done lightly. Nonetheless, if you’re claiming that the 19% cuts are less than Labour planned: you’re a liar. The FT makes it clear here ( that that suggestion is utterly spurious, comparing apples and oranges.

        It also conveniently glosses over that the 19% figure was achieved only thanks to massive cuts in welfare. Savagery, plain and simple.

    • BenS permalink
      October 25, 2010 1:14 pm

      I’ll have you know that I actually voted for the Lib Dems in 2005 specifically because of their policy on tuition fees. Thank fuck I didn’t vote for them this time!

    • October 25, 2010 1:14 pm

      is this the same Fraser Nesbitt who was advocating riots and civil unrest to fight the coalition government’s cuts last week on twitter? Are there two of you?

    • Joe permalink
      October 25, 2010 2:41 pm

      Fraser, you really need to grow up.

      The Lib Dems entered the elections with this massive song and dance, procaliming to be different, and keeping their promises. Then, as soon as they have government jobs, they start fucking everyone they can. Its disgraceful!

      • October 25, 2010 5:30 pm

        profanities are best kept for the pub.

      • Joe permalink
        October 25, 2010 10:30 pm

        “profanities are best kept for the pub.”

        Nice way to side-step the fact that you, and every Lib Dem MP, were elected by selling yourself as ‘different’, when in actual fact you are WORSE! Do you have any principles that you won’t willingly sell down the river for a whiff of power? Students, Nuclear Power, CUTS, Trident – is nothing sacred?

        And don’t patronise me with your usual Labour-bogeyman retort – you’ll be lucky to hang on to your seat at this rate.

  15. Aidan permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:15 pm

    Labour trolls are upset that the smaller party in a coalition aren’t doing what they promised? You were in power for thirteen years, the u-turns you employed as a single party government with huge majorities were breathtaking.

    You buggered the economy, you buggered our civil liberties (#twitterjoketrial anyone?) and don’t even get me started on Iraq. That’s just the tip of the iceberg sadly.

    Rather than attempting to hijack blogs, why don’t you look at why you lost, why don’t you try to become a credible opposition with actual policies and alternatives?


    • October 25, 2010 1:22 pm

      It’s nice to see Lib Dem student & activists using exactly the same language as Cameron. Peddling the same old nonsense as the Tories. You are both above that.

      I am a long term Bristol West resident. I’d like to hear why just a few months ago Stephen was promising one thing and now he’s elected he’s doing another.

      Trying to turn the question and attack us is cheap.

      You just don’t like the question… because you know you won’t like the answer.

      This is not unreasonable. This is not hijacking. It’s democracy.

    • BenS permalink
      October 25, 2010 1:23 pm

      It is one thing raising civil liberties Aidan but if you are serious about the comment about the economy then you are only exposing yourself as a Lib Dem partisan as opposed to an unaligned progressive. The deficit is a sympthom of our economic problems not the other way around. If you seriously believe that Labour mucked up the economy then tell me why other countries suffered at the same time? Some sort of coincidence? I think not. Either you have an incredibly short memory or you are trying to re-write history like this lunatic coalition. You might also want to explain why the Lib Dems supported Labour’s economic policy right up to the election only to U-turn and back the biggest roll-back of the state in post-war politics – did it have anything to do with money and power – I for one suspect it did.

      • Aidan permalink
        October 25, 2010 1:45 pm

        Post 2007, it’s completely understandable what happened, we went towards a recession and Keynesian spending was the way forward to halt the decline. Basic economics.

        But that’s not what I’m referring to, between 2002 and 2007 the government were deficit spending all the way, as if recessions were a thing of the past. The interest repayments we now face and will face for the next few years are all a result of that foolishness. If you earned £20,000 a year but was spending £25,000 a year, you wouldn’t maintain it for five years in a row, would you? We’re paying out £40 odd billion this year in interest, in a couple of years it will be £60 odd billion. What a way to burn money.

        ‘The deficit is a symptom of our economic problems’ – Incorrect, it was no doubt aided by it but the interest repayments were going to be hefty either way, stupid way to go about governing. Given the distinct lack of alternatives to current plans laid out, a silly way of shadowing as well.

        ‘I am a long term Bristol West resident’ – A bitter resident with a vested interest, firing the same ideological nonsense, yeah.

        Who was it who said that post election cuts would be worse than thatcher? Alistair Darling. Who said there was no doubts these cuts would be painful? Ed Miliband. You talk of Lib Dems trying to erase history, you don’t even know what key members of the Labour party were saying just six months ago.

        Get brainstorming, give the people alternatives. Lurking around on your opponents blog waiting for a chance to fire at him is no way to do it.

      • BenS permalink
        October 25, 2010 2:06 pm


        Regardless of Labour’s overspending (or undertaxing as is actually the case), Britain’s debt is not and was not anywhere near as critical as you make out.

        And don’t patronise people with this crap about household spending. This is macro-economics and these cuts are going to put people out of work (decreasing tax receipts and increasing benefit payments) and at best stagnate economic growth for years to come (and at worst cause a double-dip). Osbourne’s 2.5 million private sector jobs that are going to be created is pure fantasy. In this scenerio paying back debt is going to remain incredibly difficult it is just that you are making the poor pay for it rather than waiting a few years for economic growth to properly recover and gaining the extra icome that way.

        Exactly what vision does the coalition have for future jobs growth? The wisest thing to do would have been to concentrate on job creation in new sectors (as the Lib Dems actually supported until they got a sniff of power). Instead, they are sucking demand out of the economy. And before you say the public finances were worse than you expected, this is simply not the case. Darling’s windfall tax on bonuses actually brought in MORE revenue than expected, so in reality public finances were better than expected.

        You could do with looking at what we did after the second world war. We had far worse debt then than now and yet we invested rather than engaged in a sado-masichist frenzy of cuts.

      • Aidan permalink
        October 25, 2010 2:30 pm

        ‘Regardless of Labour’s overspending (or undertaxing as is actually the case), Britain’s debt is not and was not anywhere near as critical as you make out.’

        Every week, we’ll be paying roughly a billion pounds in interest. That’s pushing towards £20 per person per week. Not critical?

        You trumpet events after WWII, what did that lead onto? Ah yes, Heath and she who must not be named.

        ‘The wisest thing to do would have been to concentrate on job creation in new sectors (as the Lib Dems actually supported until they got a sniff of power)’

        So a Green Investment Bank isn’t boosting new sectors?

        I didn’t come here to debate the thoughts of Gideon and co, I saw a defeated election candidate and a couple of buddies ‘being democratic’ or as I see it, hijacking a blog with silly point scoring.

        I’d expect far better conduct from an election candidate, and I’d hope that in future he could behave in a better manner than he has done here.

      • BenS permalink
        October 25, 2010 3:15 pm


        ‘Every week, we’ll be paying roughly a billion pounds in interest. That’s pushing towards £20 per person per week. Not critical?’

        Not compared to losing your job – and then only actually getting £50-65 a week in the firstplace. No.

        ‘You trumpet events after WWII, what did that lead onto? Ah yes, Heath and she who must not be named.’

        It led to the NHS and the biggest council house building projects seen in British history. Not did it provide for people’s needs, it kept people in work. It was Heath and Thatcher that moved away from this – several decades later. History not your strongpoint is it?

        ‘So a Green Investment Bank isn’t boosting new sectors?’

        The coalition have totally neutered the Green Investment Bank by massively slashing its funding. Not to mention scrapping completely things like Low Carbon Buildings Programme. So no, they are taking away from the development of new sectors.

        ‘I didn’t come here to debate the thoughts of Gideon and co’

        Don’t defend them then

        ‘I saw a defeated election candidate and a couple of buddies ‘being democratic’ or as I see it, hijacking a blog with silly point scoring.’

        Williams has ditched most of the policies he stood on at the general election. Not only is it undemocratic, but the policies he has traded them in for are morally reprehensible. I couldn’t care less if Labour figures want to stick the boot in. They should. So should everyone. Maybe Lib Dems will realise what they have done and stop propping up this mentalist Tory government before they do more damage.

        ‘I’d expect far better conduct from an election candidate, and I’d hope that in future he could behave in a better manner than he has done here.’

        I’d expect far better conduct than betraying the electorate from an elected representative but clearly I’m holding people to a unachievable moral standard…

      • Peter permalink
        October 26, 2010 11:53 am

        @Aiden from 42% GDP to 36% of GDP debt ratio between 1997 and 2008. You may wish to look at the data and not just peddle the tory rhetoric any more… It was only when the recession hit was there a change in the medium term reduction of debt… In 2002 debt was at a trough, and capital projects were started – like schools and hospitals – personally I much prefer having schools which aren’t falling down, and hospitals which are fit for purpose compared to the last tory government. And now with the Yellow tories too, we have seen school building projects scrapped, proposed hospital sites scrapped and are set to see £millions shipped off to american companies if the tories get their way and give all control to the GPs who aren’t specialists in the majority of areas involved…

    • October 26, 2010 10:33 am

      “Labour trolls are upset that the smaller party in a coalition aren’t doing what they promised? ”

      Yes. I am. We’re the official opposition. Are you a bit slow?

      We’re a bigger party than the Lib Dems, and we didn’t go into coalition with the Tories or break our most key electoral promise.

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

      • October 26, 2010 2:49 pm

        and your policies are???

      • Joe permalink
        October 27, 2010 9:51 am

        We would tell you, but we’ve only had a leader for a few weeks. We would hate to rashly make all sorts of promises and break them…

  16. harryT permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:22 pm

    Can I just make clear that I think all 3 major parties are a disgrace and interested in nothing but their own election. All 3 parties agreed (a) to give our money to the banks (b) to fight wars and hide the evidence of killing and torture (c) to recoup the costs of (a) and (b) from the people. Labour just propose to do it slightly differently so they could spin that they are on the peoples’ side.

    However, as a Bristol West constituant, I was foolishly hoodwinked by a series of pledges and promises by Stephen Williams prior to the last election. He obtained my vote by what is now apparent to be a fraud. Tuition fees, environmentalism, green spaces – all a lie.

    I should be too old to believe a politician but the last few years has seen all 3 parties take the matter to a ridiculous position.

    • BenS permalink
      October 25, 2010 1:26 pm

      It wasn’t bailing the banks out that was the problem – it is now sacrificing our public services to pay for it that it instead of waiting till we have the economic growth to pay for it.

      I agree with your point on foreign wars though.

      • David Gould permalink
        November 3, 2010 5:24 pm

        Going back to 2006 levels of public spending (and fully funded instead of on the never-never) … spending going up in nominal terms every year…
        Hardly a massive sacrifice in the context of things like the recession, Iraq etc etc.

        The point about how much growth is worth sacrificing the public finances for remains open. I do not blame the Coalition for trying to do it before the the 2015 election. That is a consequence of our electoral system.

    • October 25, 2010 5:34 pm

      Harry – all 3 parties did NOT support the Iraq war. Liberal Democrats quite clearly opposed it, you can’t rewrite history on that issue.
      On environmentalism – how can you be so sure so soon? The spending review announced a Green Investment Bank with initial £1billion capital. The Dept of Energy and Climate change has got a big increase. On a local level my colleagues who run Bristol City Council have a fantastic record on sustainability issues.

      • speedy permalink
        October 25, 2010 7:41 pm

        The £1billion announced for the green investment back is a tiny figure compared to what was planned under Darling’s budget. The coalition have neutered it – don’t try and take the credit for it. Other things

        like the Low Carbon Buildings Programme were abolished completely in Osbourne’s emergency budget. This is not a pro-environment government.

    • October 26, 2010 12:08 pm

      Harry, I’d get involved with your local Greens. On tuition fees we’ve worked with the SNP (and, ironically, the Lib Dems) to abolish them in Scotland, we are actually against the war (the Lib Dems were provisionally against it pending a second resolution, not against it on principle), and we favour progressive taxation not the Coalition’s aggressive targeting of the poor.

  17. Fraser Nesbitt permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:25 pm

    “Their student” also happens to be a Bristol resident turningbristolred (AKA Darren Lewis), so don’t even attempt to spin that one.

    Including yourself, I see a former Labour PPC for Bristol West (who actually managed to lose quite a big chunk of the vote for Labour in 2010), the current chair of Bristol University Labour Students, a member of the Labour NEC (Or whatever you call it), and a long time Bristol Labour activist. I think that kind of proves my point.

    This is Stephens blog, not mine. If you want my personal views on any issue you’re welcome to ask me elsewhere. As you already have done today via Twitter on the very subjects you mentioned.

    And Paul, I never mentioned the words civil unrest or riots. Once again, fact check.

    • BenS permalink
      October 25, 2010 1:36 pm

      I can’t believe you are saying this crap or why you would try and defend this.

      Do you think any reader gives a toss if Williams is getting attacked by Labourites? I’m glad the Labour Party are standing up to this coalition of numpties. I voted Lib Dem in 2005, thankful that I didn’t in 2010 and sure as hell not voting for them again.

      The coalition’s policies are genuinely mental. I didn’t like a lot of things Labour did in power but they never did anything remotely like these cuts and if they are going to oppose them then they have my vote.

    • Gus Baker permalink
      October 25, 2010 1:36 pm

      How would you like Stephen to vote on fees Fraser? Forget party affiliations- do you think students should have to pay £10k+ a year, and do you think variable fees will hurt UWE disproportionately?

    • Joe permalink
      October 25, 2010 2:43 pm

      “Their student” also happens to be a former-Liberal Youth member of the NUS NEC.

      See, Fraser – we can do that, too!

  18. Chucklebutty permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:36 pm

    I’m a great fan of higher education. Universities teach all kinds of useful subjects such as law – including how it relates to town green applications, ethics – whether or not it is right and proper to place corporate interests above the concerns for wildlife and ordinary people, ecology – understanding the value of land in terms other than simply the financial… any chance of an answer to the points raised by StillWaters at the bottom of your “My week in Wesminster” thread, or are you just going to try and bury them and hope that we all forget about it?

    • October 25, 2010 5:37 pm

      I try to answer all serious points, when I find them among the fog of Labour spin. But I am an MP who blogs, not a blogger who does some MP work. Most of my day is spent away from a computer in commitees, the chamber or meetings.

      • Chucklebutty permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:13 pm

        It’s easy to find – it’s the bottom comment… but to make it easy for you here’s a permalink.

      • Chucklebutty permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:14 pm

        It’s in the word “permalink” btw.

      • Chucklebutty permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:22 pm

        Oh yeah, and while I’m frothing in front of my laptop, might I respectfully suggest that you do a little research on blogging, it stops it turning into a car crash. I don’t mean much, just spend a couple of hours one evening looking at Kerry McCarthy’s blog would help you a lot… she might be as mad as a box of frogs, and someone who has been known to disregard the niceties of electoral legislation, but, and it pains me to say this, she’s not a bad blogger.

  19. Chucklebutty permalink
    October 25, 2010 1:38 pm

    Oh and by the way, before you cast aspersions again, I have never been a member of any political party or similar group. I am that rare beast on political blogs – a member of the public.

  20. Cat permalink
    October 25, 2010 3:10 pm

    However you care to rationalise it, the fact of the matter is you signed a pledge and campaigned on that pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. You have *no* mandate to do anything other than vote against any increase, either vote against or resign and go back to the people of Bristol West for a mandate to increase tuition fees.

    • October 25, 2010 5:41 pm

      I campaigned for and against a whole range of issues, not just one. Now in government some of the things I campaigned FOR (pupil premium, income tax cut for the low paid, green investment and constitutional reform were always the lead four) are being delivered and others that I campaigned AGAINST (ID cards, Heathrow 3rd runway) are being stopped by the coalition.

      • Cat permalink
        October 25, 2010 9:25 pm

        So? You signed a pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees, if you vote for it or abstain your breaking that pledge. Your’ll never be believed about anything again.

  21. Joe permalink
    October 25, 2010 6:33 pm

    If I read you essay correctly (and I suspect that many readers will not bother) you indicate that….

    Your policy on 1997 was based on finding a “useful clear dividing line” but ten years later you “tried to steer the Lib Dems in a different direction” ie towards that policy. What exactly had changed for you but not your colleagues?

    “Most people don’t go to university, nor should they” – what do you think is a sensible percentage? More than the US? More than Canada, Japan, or South Korea? Or less?

    “Leading members of the Lib Dem shadow cabinet … wanted to ditch the anti-fees policy in its entirety” before the election, so why did they all, without exception, sign the NUS pledge?

    The problem you have is that the USP for Lib Dems like you is that voters could believe your promises, as you’d never had a chance before to break them.

    Oh and I am a Labour voter, and I have spent the last few years listening to you, Steve Webb and Don Foster (I get around) telling me how much better it would be if I voted for you.

    Not going to happen now is it?

  22. Ex Lib Dem voter permalink
    October 25, 2010 8:24 pm

    It’s hard to believe you’re a real MP

    “keep your boring court room banter for your day job.” and “Oh and while you’re at it – who are you?”

    I await your childish response

  23. Mike Vella permalink
    October 25, 2010 9:12 pm

    I feel betrayed.

  24. October 26, 2010 9:38 am

    Mr Williams,

    Thank you for succinctly giving us a summary of the various policies and positions you have held since 2005 on the issue of Tuition Fees.

    In 2005 I voted, and campaigned for you in Bristol West as I was disappointed by the decision of the incumbent MP, Valerie Davey to abstain from voting on Tuition Fees despite being member for a constituency containing 1 large university and the majority of students from a second. As a hot-headed 21yr old I thought this was the most despicable thing that she could have done, and was a complete betrayal of “representing her constituents”. I was cheered greatly when I attended your nomination meeting at the Quaker Meeting House in Redland and you spoke at length about your opponent and her decisions. I felt that your stance mirrored my own. I went well out of my way to campaign for you and was ecstatic when at somewhere just past 3am you were elected as MP for Bristol West.

    Now, I must confess, I slipped out of touch with what you were doing in the intervening 5 years, and your blog post has been most enlightening.

    However, a quick perusal of your website does uncover a perhaps slightly embarrassing photograph…

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that sign say “No Tuition Fees”. It’s you (front row 1st L), Cllr Mark Wright (back row 1st L), Tom Paul (back row 1st R), who I believe is involved in LibDem policy making at Cowley Street (and at the very least writes for the LibDem Voice site) and the now Cllr Alex Woodman (front row 1st R), who was then my counterpart at Bristol University Lib Dem Soc.

    I know that the message from this picture will have been deliberately simplified as no newspaper or blogger would really want a message that says “We would like a fair system for determining the fees paid by students who attend Higher Education in England and Wales”. For a start it’s a lot of ink and paper if you’re concerned about the environment.

    However, all these light-hearted moments aside, you have rather committed yourself there to a stance of “No Tuition Fees” (it’s the sign – stupid). I could be very unfair here, and refer you to Hansard (in particular 16 Mar 2010, Column 812) but photos and signs have a much better message don’t you think? Suffice to say, you have as recently as 2 months prior to the election committed both yourself and your party to a “No Tuition Fees” stance. Suddenly we find that in October of the same year, a mere 7 months down the line, a massive reversal of policy position, and to compound matters (and probably leave a lot of your student voters slightly miffed) this came AFTER signing the NUS pledge to remove fees.

    I must say, it’s certainly a marvellous bit of politicking to write a policy in your General Election Manifesto that “gave wriggle room” (that’s your quote – not mine) so that you can appeal to the student electorate, which, as previously stated is VERY large in Bristol West and have yourself returned as the member for Bristol West. It’s also a brilliant about face to align yourself with the Conservatives and use the Browne Review as a way of scrapping that pledge and frankly throwing it back in the faces of all those students (and the wider electorate of Bristol West) who voted for you because of the policy position on this and many other issues.
    So far in the life of this parliament we have seen huge policy reversals from the Lib Dems on Nuclear Power (I remember when Chris Huhne stood for party leader in 2006, when you were his agent, he was touted as the “greener” candidate) which is a massive turnabout from “Mr Green” Chris Huhne; Trident, Nick Clegg had always been in favour of the 50% option though; and Tuition Fees.

    Is it true what they say that “Power Corrupts”?

    • October 26, 2010 2:57 pm

      James – the photo you refer to was from 6 years ago. Policies change over time but principles should not. I am still committed to making sure that everyone who has the intellectual capacity to benefit from university should be able to go, without being deterred by cost. I am still working with ministers to address this.
      And once again – the NUS pledge in November 2009 was to work for a fairer system – that work is certainly happening.

      • BenS permalink
        October 29, 2010 3:39 pm

        I’m pretty sure the pledge was to vote against increases in tuition fees AND work towards a fairer system…

        You seem to be doing neither and even if we believed your convuluted assertion that we are somehow on the way to a fairer system (which is incredibly hard to believe with this essentially being a Tory government) – then you still aren’t doing what you said in the pledge and you shouldn’t have signed the damn thing.

        Of course, you could make this a lot easier on yourself and indeed do the democratic thing and just vote against the increases…maybe all these people ranting on your blog might change their opinion of you

  25. October 26, 2010 11:02 am

    So you’ve turned on moderation for your comment?

    If you have any courage Stephen you will publish that last entry!

  26. faye permalink
    October 26, 2010 12:13 pm

    I feel so angry I voted for you Mr Williams; I was going to vote for labour but was persuaded by your arguments. How wrong I was. I would like to know how you and the coalition Government plan to allow those from poorer backgrounds to be able to go to university. The decision to allow no cap on tuition fees will mean my sisters are denied the chance to go to university because we are from a poor family. The Government has basically decided that those who are privileged are going to be able to go to the better universities regardless of whether they are smart enough (though if I think about it this is just the same as Eton etc, full of rich idiots). What are YOU as our MP going to do in order to help those from poorer backgrounds or are you planning on turning your back on everyone apart from the Tory toffs?!

    • October 26, 2010 2:59 pm

      Faye – NO decisions have been made yet! All we have is a report that was actually commissioned by the last Labour government.
      No decisions have been made on fees, whether there will be a cap and what will be done for poorer students or low paid graduates.

      • October 26, 2010 3:42 pm

        What Stephen isn’t telling you Faye is that before the election he pledged to oppose any increase in fees and now says “well we’ll have to wait and see”

        (See the link on my blog to Radio 4 interview)

        Stephen can make his life easier and stop all this concern from constituents and students by answering unequivocally and regardless of the Government’s plan:

        1. Will you or will you not vote against an increase in fees?

        2. Will you or will you not vote for an increase in the overall contribution of students to HE funding?

        I wonder if we’ll get a clear answer?

    • Cllr Jon Rogers permalink
      October 26, 2010 7:06 pm

      Faye, I would suggest that you reserve judgement.

      Labour set up the Browne report as a device to defer decisions on this tricky situation of funding higher education until after the General Election.

      As Labour activists are pointing out in comments on this blog, Stephen and his colleague Liberal Democrat MPs are in a position to influence (but not decide) the Coalition Government response to the Browne report.

      We do not, unfortunately, have a Liberal Democrat government, and this issue was identified in the Coalition agreement as one that the Liberal Democrat MPs could abstain on.

      Stephen is a man of integrity. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that capable people should be able to go to University irrespective of their background. My expectation is that he is using his wisdom and skill to argue for improvements to the Coalition response.

      I guess that Labour activists are responding with such animosity because University funding is such a sore point for them. If you recall, the Labour manifesto promised: “We have no plans to introduce University top-up fees, and have legislated to prevent their introduction.” They promptly reneged even though they had an outright majority.

      • harryT permalink
        October 26, 2010 8:10 pm

        I am not labour activist. But Jon Rogers, this is bull.

        He has turncoated, uturned, flipflopped and, lets say it plainly, lied his way into office.

        You should be ashamed of him, only you would do the same to get into power.

        A plaque on all the parties houses. none of you are fit to govern. You con votes out of us and then serve nothing but the demands of the city.

  27. a6rulednotebook permalink
    October 26, 2010 12:13 pm

    i know nothing about you but was alerted to your way of engaging on here via twitter. they were right it is sort of funny. i don’t know if this will ever see the light of day but hey ho.

    to my shame i voted libdem at the last election, and post-election i was in the fair votes demo in smith square, you know – the one nick clegg came and talked to?

    i am now completely unable to believe a single word that any of the libdem government spokesmen and their defenders say. without exception. they appear on my tv and say lies out loud. i watch their mouths moving and i hear the sounds and it’s fascinating if a little depressing. obviously i’ll never vote libdem again. like, i suspect, many others i am a completely lost cause for you electorally (and that includes the AV referendum btw). i know that if i wanted to try to use my vote to influence your party i should leave you some room to succeed but, seriously i don’t see how i can ever engage with anything you say. and that’s all i’ve really got to go on.

    so imagine i’m like a little focus group or something. the take home message is: shut up, pray for a miracle with the economy, and hope that the conservatives still let you play.

  28. October 26, 2010 5:41 pm

    With respect, you’ve ignored my refernce to Hansard. While that photograph may have been from 6 years ago your comments to Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) made on the 16th March this year are very fresh in the memory.

    Or at least they are if one simply “googles” ‘Stephen Williams Tuition Fees’.

    I referred to it in the post above, for context, it might be worth reading column 810 in addition to the crux of the issue at columns 811 and 812.

    For the benefit of my fellow constituents who might not wish to bother consulting Hansard you stated;

    “it remains the position of the Liberal Democrats that the current tuition fees model for part-financing higher education is bust, and should not form part of the long-term future of funding higher education. We also specifically reject any moves for full variability in tuition fees. The theoretical ability to vary tuition fees exists at the moment, but if the cap were to come off or were to be gradually lifted, it would lead to a market in the cost of higher education, and that is a vision of the future that we simply do not share.
    Although he is not listening at the moment, I congratulate the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on using one of his brains to study the blogosphere very carefully. He obviously spends far more time on these matters than I do, whether it is blogs from my own side or from his, or from the Labour side of the Chamber. I am happy to confirm to him that scrapping tuition fees remains the position of my party. We have a six-year proposal to achieve that objective. It is fully costed and will be set out in our manifesto. In year 1, 2010-11, it will cost £595 million, and at the end of year 6 it will, on current figures, cost just under £3 billion. We will, as always, be identifying the sources of those funds.
    Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has just confirmed that the Liberal Democrat policy is to abolish tuition fees over a six-year period. Can he now give a commitment- [Interruption.] That is right, isn’t it?
    Stephen Williams: Absolutely.
    Mr. Burns: The hon. Gentleman has just reconfirmed it.

    That to me seems pretty categorical of your personal, and the Liberal Democrat policy over Tuition Fees as recently as March 2010. Is it the case that you misled the Commons over what constituted Liberal Democrat policy?

    Given that you expressed such indignation at the Labour party and Mr Lewis stating that “The Labour party is now engaged in telling us all that its policies from May 2010 became irrelevant within weeks…” can we as constituents now express the same level of indignation over the obvious fact that you’re now telling us that Liberal Democrat policies from before the general election immediately became obsolete as soon as the Coalition took office?

    Given that the majority of students would much prefer “pre-election Stephen” to “post-election Stephen”, could you perhaps settle this argument once and for all, and give an open answer to whether you will oppose any proposed increase in Tuition Fees.

    Is this going to be another Valerie Davey moment where another group of student voters feel immensely betrayed as constituents as you will have failed to represent the very people who voted for you to represent them?

    • October 26, 2010 10:03 pm

      Yes James – but the neither the Lib Dems nor any party won a majority of seats at the election. I wish that there were over 326 Lib Dem MPs here, but despite the 24% of the GB vote that we achieved we have only 57 MPs. We are in a coalition. This means that some of the policies (in fact rather more than our seat share merits) will now be enacted in government. Many will not. This is political reality.

      The last Labour government was a single party govt with large seat majorities…yet it didn’t deliver all that it promised in 1997, 2001 and 2005. In fact it did the opposite in many cases despite its political advantage and at least from 1997 to 2007/8 a favourable economic background.

      We are simply not in a position to deliver all of our manifesto in year one of a coalition that is struggling with a truly awful economic inheritance. But in 2015 I am confident I will be able to point to many changes for the better that have happened because the Lib Dems are taking part in government, rather than being stuck in opposition.

  29. Faye permalink
    October 26, 2010 5:50 pm

    Stephen, you have not actually given me a direct answer. Please refrain from using capital letters as that could be construed as you shouting at me. I am confused as to why this an issue as the Liberal Democrats have always opposed tuition fees. You say you are going to help poorer students and lower paid graduates (like myself) but how are you going to do this? I feel I am being penalised for everything believe in.

    • October 26, 2010 10:05 pm

      Faye – please wait until the actual government proposals are announced. In your own case if you are already a graduate then the changes are highly unlikely to directly affect you.

  30. Ben permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:57 am


    The theme of your blog appears to be that it’s OK to campaign on a principle, to win public support and gain political capital; but once elected to then look at the detail and change your view.

    It’s not clear whether you have changed your view because you are in a coalition and your hands are tied, or you actually believe your new direction.

    It’s also not explained why you have entered a coalition if it means sacrificing your key and most precious principles (if they were indeed).

    Further to that, I would be interested to know how you reconcile clearly breaking of a signed pledge within a few months of gaining power with building trust in politics and gaining the support of voters in the future.

    If you believe that your new direction is better, then you had made a terrible misjudgement before the election. If you believe you are just being forced into compromise then how do voters trust your promises in the future? Where does that leave democracy if the commitments and promises are re-written without any say from the public?

    My niece voted for you. She is a University student. She believed in the so-called new direction in politics. This was her first general election vote and she was very proud to take part. Subsequently she has been horrified by the actions of your leader and the MPs who support him. No doubt she, like many millions feel betrayed and let down by the absence of democratic process. The public had no say in the coalition agreement – an after-the-fact manifesto.

    I am a Labour supporter, proud to say so. But it doesn’t make any difference whether I am red, green or blue though. First and foremost I believe in democracy and the integrity of a political voting system. It is sad that this country’s democratic process has been so shamefully overlooked.

    • October 27, 2010 9:26 am

      Ben – coalition government is new to Westminster so I understand why some people are finding it difficult to adjust. In the next 5 years I will be able to deliver some of my election pledges, but not all of them. This is better than another 5 years in opposition delivering warm words.

      I think it is fair for me to push back to you and other Labour supporters and ask whether you would also be accusing the Lib Dems of selling out if a coalition had been agreed with Labour. The real irony, given that this blog post is about HE, is that Labour commissioned the Browne Report and were intent on raising fees. There was no better alternative on offer in May and now their policy appears to be in complete chaos.

      • harryT permalink
        October 27, 2010 9:49 am

        But that is exactly the point Mr Williams.

        The reason why so many labour voters switched to you is BECAUSE you made your pledge on tuition fees, whilst labour was clearly going to raise fees.

        That is why so many people are so angry. It was an empty, false promise designed to win votes. Stop distracting the issue into a row about labour. It is a row about your pledge.

      • Ben permalink
        October 28, 2010 7:16 am


        The point here is that you gave a clear commitment, a much publicised signed pledge, saying no to tuition fees.

        Many people voted for you on that basis and you have done a complete U-Turn, and almost appear to be claiming you didn’t believe in the policy in the first place.

        Please don’t patronise the public by saying we are finding it difficult to adjust to coalition politics. It is the breach of trust we are reacting to.

        The LibDems did have an option to support a minority Tory government and this would have given you the opportunity to push the policies people voted for you on, and reject the ones that you oppose. That would have been honourable and democratic. The excuse of the ‘markets reaction’ was clearly false and in any case is irrelevant now.

        I put the point to Nick Clegg that he had no mandate from Lib-Dem voters to push through these Tory policies and I make that point to you too. He said I had an ‘axe to grind’ – what is your response?

  31. October 27, 2010 11:17 am

    Mr Williams,

    Can we assume then that this is the closest to a straight answer we as constituents will get on the issue?

    “We are simply not in a position to deliver all of our manifesto in year one of a coalition that is struggling with a truly awful economic inheritance”. Does this mean that the Liberal Democrats will systematically be ditching every one of their policies now that they are part of a coalition?

    Are these going to be the two arguments trotted out over the life of this parliament?
    1. We inherited this state from the last government
    2. We’re in a coalition, so we can’t do what we’d like

    Surely a coalition is about sharing the best policies of the two (or more) parties involved in the coalition, not one party deciding the policy and the other meekly agreeing. That to my eyes is not a coalition, it is simply crossing the floor albeit by another name.

    You are right, the political reality of the 57 Liberal Democrat MP’s in parliament means that many of your policies won’t be enacted. The number stated above is perhaps more akin to an annoying group of back-bench dissenters rather than a coalition party. All that the Lib Dems have done in this situation is provided enough MP’s to allow the Conservatives an effective majority for five years, and the price for this appears so far to be an abandonment of the policies written in the General Election manifesto.

    Anyway, you have managed to neatly sidestep the issue at hand. Do you still believe that tuition fees should not form part of a “fair funding structure” for Higher Education? Let me pose you a more personal question (and I apologise in advance if you feel it too difficult to answer);

    As a young 18yr old about to finish at Mountain Ash Comprehensive, if you had been faced with the prospect of having to pay tuition fees, potentially uncapped fees, would you have re-considered going to University? Would you have been financially able to support yourself at University when burdened with this level of debt?

    I understand that “nothing has been agreed”, as you and your colleague have both stated here, but I would be interested in whether or not you would personally have felt able to study at University if (in a hypothetical situation) the fees were as high as is being reported currently in the press. All that your constituents (and a great many of them are students, who while may not be directly affected by these proposals, are still generally interested in politics and the system of Higher Education funding in this country) would like to know is whether you plan to represent their views and opinions in the house and vote against a rise in tuition fees.

    • woodsy permalink
      October 27, 2010 12:30 pm

      As a young 18yr old about to finish at Mountain Ash Comprehensive, if you had been faced with the prospect of having to pay tuition fees, potentially uncapped fees, would you have re-considered going to University? Would you have been financially able to support yourself at University when burdened with this level of debt?

      @ James I’ll give you my answer, but first a bit of background…

      My parents divorced in 1971 when I was 16. Times were tight with my mother trying to bring up 3 teenage children on an unskilled manual worker’s wages. Indeed times were so tight, she admitted to me years later that she actually considered asking me to give up my education and go out to work to help support my brother and sister. Fortunately, this did not come to pass.

      I went to university and did a modern languages degree. The fact that I’m still working as a translator some 35 years after graduating. In all those years I have spent just 2 weeks on the dole.

      There are 2 reasons why I, a working class kid, was able to do my degree: firstly, a full maintenance grant; and secondly, no tuition fees.

      Were I a working class kid in the 6th form today, there’s no way I would even consider going to university and saddling myself with all that debt.

      Mr Williams claims to support social mobility. However, the fact that working class kids going to university is still a rarity three and a half decades after I did so shows how little previous governments have done in respect of social mobility; and the present government’s ideas about tuition fees won’t help social mobility one iota.

      • Jermel permalink
        October 27, 2010 12:58 pm

        What does your parent’s income actually have to do with your ability to pay the debt back? That’s my real question…. Plenty of working class children have gone to University under the current situation….the INCOME of your parents isnt really an indicator of your ability to pay…. no matter what the result is it still wont be fees up front…

      • October 27, 2010 1:01 pm

        I agree that under the last government social mobility went backwards. Under this one I will be working to reverse that trend.

      • Tom permalink
        October 27, 2010 1:09 pm

        “I agree that under the last government social mobility went backwards.”

        Again: liar. Or do you have evidence for that? Because the evidence that the right like to claim shows that social mobility went backwards under the last government doesn’t show anything of the sort:

      • Tom permalink
        October 27, 2010 1:13 pm

        Indeed, if you’re trying to improve social mobility, you may want to consider that what the evidence *does* show is social mobility dropped massively for kids growing up under the Thatcher government.

        Doing the same thing again but expecting the opposite result… isn’t that the famous definition of insanity?

    • October 27, 2010 12:59 pm

      James – no it does not mean that the Lib Dems will systematically ditch every one of our policies. That is absurd. All four of the headline commitments we made in the manifesto and all my leaflets are being delivered in this Parliament:
      1 £10,000 income tax zero rate bracket
      2 A pupil premium worth £2.5billion pa
      3 a raft of green measures
      4 a substantial package of constitutional reform.

      All 4 have made a start and by 2015 will be well embedded.

      • Tom permalink
        October 27, 2010 1:07 pm

        1 £10,000 income tax zero rate bracket

        – a policy that has been shown by multiple researchers to be regressive and help the middle-class and wealthy far more than the poorest.

        2 A pupil premium worth £2.5billion pa

        – coming out of existing money being taken away from schools and welfare, and the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance – NOT new money at all (

        3 a raft of green measures

        – very specific there. Almost like you don’t want to say what they are so you can’t be judged by their success.

        4 a substantial package of constitutional reform.

        – Ditto. So far it’s that ‘miserable little compromise’ of AV, as your leader called it; a reduction in the number of MPs, so less representation at Westminster, and a less proportional electoral system; and some rejigging of the boundaries based on numbers of registered voters that everyone knows underrepresent certain groups.

        If I were in your position, I certainly wouldn’t be proud of those ‘commitments’ as the price for selling out my voters and supporting the most radical and regressive economic settlement in a generation.

      • woodsy permalink
        October 27, 2010 1:13 pm

        Mr Williams

        I would be grateful if you did not misinterpret my remarks: in no way did I say or imply that social mobility went backwards under the last government. I was merely pointing out that, if one uses the proportion of working class kids doing degrees as a measure of social mobility, very little has changed over the decades.

        Please don’t twist my words to suit your own political view of the world.


        Just like Mr Williams, you too seem to have problems of interpreting the English language: I was never implying that the income of my parents had anything to do with ability to pay back a debt. I was giving readers a bit of background: i.e. that I came from a household where every penny counted and where debt was to be avoided. I know there are still plenty of families around like that: not everyone has a blasé attitude to owing money and living life on tick. I know I don’t.

  32. October 27, 2010 2:36 pm

    And the headline issue Mr Williams? The one that for quite a while has (rightly or wrongly) dominated the Liberal Democrat agenda and has been the issue which many votes have been gathered from…

    Scrapping Tuition Fees.

    I don’t see a mention of that in your four “headline” promises.

    I don’t intend to digress from this issue Mr Williams, whether it is right or not, the Liberal Democrats have been defined for at least the period your blog article covers as being the party to champion students and to promise to scrap tuition fees.

    Tom (in reply to my post, and yours) has mirrored my opinions on the “headline” promises so I won’t pursue them further.

    Would you have considered going to university if tuition fees were implemented in the 1980s (which I think I’ve calculated as being when you attended the University of Bristol, apologies if I’ve prematurely aged you)? Will you bear in mind the fact that should tuition fees rise it is likely to prevent many intelligent individuals who have come from poorer backgrounds going to University?

    I think there are many people here who would not have been able to attend university if the fees were higher, I suspect (even if you refuse to admit it in public) that you would have been unable to, just as I would have done.

    If it were me making the decision that you have to make regarding tuition fees and (if an increase is proposed) deciding how I would vote, I would have that fact at the forefront of my mind before thrusting a proposal on a generation who are unable even to vote and defend themselves.

    As for your comments about the absurdity of the Liberal Democrats ditching policies, you must admit that you have performed a U-turn (or are at least halfway through doing a three-point turn) on your own opinions regarding tuition fees since becoming a part of the coalition government. It’s clearly written in the two posts I have previously given, even if you have openly admitted that the policy may not be possible because it’s not a majority parliament, then that still amounts to a U-turn on policy.

    If after seven months a political party has made a “policy reversal” then it certainly does not bode well for any future policies that were previously thought sacrosanct.

  33. Matthew Gibson permalink
    October 29, 2010 4:08 am

    I thought your post was extremely interesting and gives a good insight into politics. I have read many of these comments and it is a shame that people take the position they do and cannot see that some people are trying their best to do what is best. There is a lot of learning for the Lib Dems in this issue it seems you have a lot to give to help them learn, so good luck.

    Some advice from reading the comments – you don’t have to reply to the bait. Don’t let them hook you in it serves no one. Better time spent writing more excellent posts.

    Keep up the good work.

  34. October 29, 2010 10:31 am

    But Matthew (LibDem Member?!), I have asked my MP to answer my question, which he has failed to do, dodged the issue and now appears to be ignoring me.

    It certainly does not speak well of someone who campaigned for my vote in May (and won it) and someone whom I campaigned for in 2005. It seems that Mr Williams, when faced with both facts, and perfectly reasonable questions from his constituents would prefer to ignore them and pretend they didn’t happen.

    Unfortunately, that is the nature of a blog: If one doesn’t like what’s being said, then they can ignore it and not have to answer. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t happen in face-to-face conversations. Something which Mr Williams would be advised to remember when this issue comes up again (as it inevitably will).

    • Matthew Gibson permalink
      October 30, 2010 1:56 am

      I understand that there are some genuine questions to be answered but I hope you understand that there seems to be some questions which are not questions and serve only to enter into an unproductive argument. It does not matter what someone says if the other person has already made their mind up.

      • BenS permalink
        October 30, 2010 2:40 pm

        Of course it matters what is said.

        He is an elective representative. His constituents have a right to know what way he will vote on issues. As I said at some point above – he wouldn’t have all these people ranting at him if he did the right thing and voted the way he said he was going to when he was trying to get people’s votes. People have asked Stephen Williams this question directly and he has refused to answer – indeed he has generally responded either by avoiding the question completely or making assertions about the people making the questions – or both.

    • Chucklebutty permalink
      October 30, 2010 4:30 pm

      Indeed JamesB. Mr Williams, along with many other MP’s of different parties seemed to think that blogging was a good idea, and that it would allow them to “get their messsage across”. They seemed to forget that it also gave us, the constituents a chance to ask questions of our MP’s, and that if they can’t / won’t / don’t answer, then their blogs serve as a public record of this.

      Over the years I have seen quite a few different styles of blogging. The style espoused by Mr Williams is unique however. It seems to consist of:

      1. When a commentor asks some questions, answer the least difficult question if this can be done easily, if not, simply offer some form of evasion.

      2. If the commentor returns, use their second comment to try and determine whether they are a “friend” or a “foe” – entirely missing the point that they may well be a constituent whose vote is – in theory at any rate – valued.

      He, along with most other MP bloggers also seems to miss the point that the to and fro of debate in the comments is the essence of blogging.

      I am also intrigued with the way in which he seems to believe that those he characterises as his opponents are instinctively thought of as Labour, when the truth is that most of his constituents are probably – by now at any rate – fed up with all the parties.

      Being as so many people in Mr Williams’ constituency have university links, ’twill indeed be interesting to see how this all plays out. Oh well, only 4 years and 6 months to go!

  35. Gus Hoyt permalink
    October 29, 2010 1:06 pm

    It really is quite shocking how the language of the debate has moved to such a right-wing perspective. Students themselves signing their future classmates into incredulous debt? An amazing victory for Cameron and Clegg.

    How can a government who enjoyed the privilege of free education and the higher levels at that. Clegg today on Desert Island Disks admitted to an amazingly privileged education that he understood that would not be available to most.

    I also agree with Paul Smiths synopsis of this desperate, long-winded excuse. And no, I did not vote Labour, but perhaps many more would have if they had a crystal ball at the time. Many promises WERE made.

    I understand you Stephen will be allowed by your party to vote against it, and cabinet ministers only to abstain… At least Vince Cable was honest and, when speaking of the pledge said something along the lines of “If I really thought we’d have a chance to be in Government, I would never have signed the thing (pledge)”.

    • Jermel permalink
      October 30, 2010 12:01 pm

      Gus what does Clegg’s education have to do with this at all?

      Why is it right-wing to make a pragmatic statement?

      Why would voting for Labour have changed anything? They commisioned the brown review, the introduced tuition fees? They didn’t say they would stop any rise?

      This is the result of reality and of compromise, how can you be pro-reform but anti coalition?

      • BenS permalink
        October 30, 2010 2:54 pm

        His education is relevant because despite having a very privleged education, he is denying higher education opportunities from other people. It reeks of elitism. It suggests he believes he deserves certain opportunities and others don’t.

        In what sense is it pragmatic? It is a pragmatic policy in terms of pursuing wealth and power for themselves I guess. It is also a pragmatic policy in terms of pursuing the interests of the rich by having a more unequal society. But pragmatic in terms of any agenda that could be called remotely progressive? Hell no. It is right-wing and regressive. To think anything else is delusional and looking at the Lib Dems poll ratings (try for a regular, detailed and even-handed analysis) it would suggest the electorate aren’t buying these petty excuses either.

        In the immediate sense, voting Labour would have helped because Paul Smith, the Labour candidate for Bristol West also signed the NUS pledge – unlike the Lib Dems, Labour candidates were not exactly encouraged by their party to do so and we can therefore suggest that he did so in good faith. Other than that we can at least say that generally speaking Labour would be nowhere near as mental in government as this coalition.

        I think anyone who is progressive and has half a brain is anti-coalition. It is a Tory government propped up by a bunch of power-hungry muppets. The Lib Dems should end this travesty now and force an election.

      • David Gould permalink
        November 3, 2010 5:41 pm

        Yes, this notion that because many of us over ~25s got some higher education cheap/free that everybody should for the rest of time is clearly nonsensical.

        Remember, these fees aren’t because of cuts (funding is going up in real terms) but because successive governments, wisely or stupidly, are massively increasing the proportion of the population who go to university (ie lowering the entrance requirements).

  36. October 31, 2010 4:01 pm

    whitening brushhead new threads waiting for a nice topic

  37. Jon permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:20 pm

    Here’s the thing: you can give all the backwards justification you like for why you’re voting to increase fees to £9000.

    But you know full well that students have supported the Liberal Democrats because you gave the impression that you were in favour of abolishing tuition fees. You also signed a pledge saying that you wouldn’t increase them. You’re not abolishing them? Whatever, it’s a coalition, you can’t have everything you want. But you’re actively voting to increase them. And not just increase: actually triple them.

    I don’t expect Labour’s leadership would have done much different had they won the election, but at least Labour backbenchers gave their best damn effort to break their own leadership back when tuition fees were actually introduced. The funny thign is I don’t doubt that the Lib Dems would have voted against the proposal, with Labour rebels, had you been in opposition.

    You might say that “that’s politics”. Students should have listened harder, they should have teased through your langauge to discover that you were were only half comitted. They shouldn’t have believed your pledge, those things are three a penny and not worth the paper they’re printed on.

    But you might find that seniment: “that’s politics” echoed right back at you.

    We’re not voting for you again. Enjoy your 9% vote share and electoral oblivion.

  38. Patrick Andrews permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:44 am

    Here is an excelent article by Stefan Collini on these issues

    I think this explains why the Browne report is so mistaken.

    I still think you have to honour your pledge or resign your seat.

  39. Tubes permalink
    November 15, 2010 12:49 am

    Whether or not you believe it’s a good idea to raise the cap isn’t really the issue here is it? Or that you’ve fought for years to remove abolition from LibDem policy.

    The real issue is that you fought an election under false pretences and a promise to actively oppose tuition fee rises.

    I have no problem if you believe in a “progressive” repayment scheme, but that’s not what you campaigned on is it?


    • November 16, 2010 4:51 pm

      We are going round in circles here! I campaigned for the Lib Dem manifesto, with a large number of policies. Like the manifestos of the other parties it sets out what a party would do if it won an election. No one party won the 2010 election. So whether it was a Lib Dem-Tory coalition or a Lib Dem-Labour coalition, deals and compromises would have emerged.

      Are any of the Labour supporters who post in here really saying that Brown, Mandelson and Adonis would have rolled over and allowed the Lib Dems to implement 100% of their manifesto in a coalition?

      And just to make my own position clear again – I am in discussions with Ministers (as I have been since May) about the full HE funding package. Those discussions continue. I have not told anyone how I will use my vote yet because my decision has not yet been made. It will be made at the time of the vote when all the details are on the table.

  40. November 15, 2010 9:04 am

    No new post? Let me deflect some of the uncharitable comments over flip-flopping turncoatery.
    Because I can on good authority confirm that Mr Williams is also nothing less than a Nimby!

    Ah such is life as a blogging MP …you reap what you sow….

  41. Jermel permalink
    November 16, 2010 10:26 am

    But in all seriousness why are you all still posting on this?

    • November 16, 2010 3:42 pm

      Perhaps because Mr Williams (my MP) still has not replied to the questions posed to him by constituents.

      I also wrote to him on Nov 3rd (the day of the fees announcement) asking him what he would be proposing to do when the vote was tabled in the Commons.

      I understand that Mr Williams is under obligation to reply to queries by his constituents, but as yet I have not received any reply.

      Perhaps, Jermel, the constituents of Bristol West feel that our Member of Parliament should at the very least answer the questions posed to him on an issue that has defined most of his, and his party’s election campaign material. An issue that has led to an extremely well attended protest by Students and supporters (including a large number from the two universities that Mr Williams represents the majority of students from) and one that has led to calls from a major union to re-call MPs in constituencies where there is a large student population (such as Bristol West and Mr Clegg’s constituency – Sheffield Hallam).

      I know it can be difficult in this 24hr news, X-factor generation to sustain one’s interests for more than a week at most, but I suspect that this issue won’t disappear from under Mr Williams, no matter how hard he wishes it to. Jermel, we are still commenting because this is a bit of a big deal…and one that so far, hasn’t really led to any meaningful response.

      • November 16, 2010 4:59 pm

        James – I replied to you on 29 October as above. If you’ve written to me as a constituent you should also have received a reply in the post or by email. I’ve also included an entry on the issue in a Bristol West E News. I’ve also done many media interviews on the issue, including in the last week.

        I will announce my voting intention when discussions with ministers have finished. Announcing it sooner doesn’t exactly strengthen my negotiating position does it. Making policy on a major issue in a coalition govt really is not like the X Factor, to use your analogy.

  42. November 16, 2010 10:20 pm

    Actually Mr Williams, you didn’t reply to any of my questions.

    In summary, I asked you:

    1. Do you plan to vote against the Tuition Fee increase?

    You’ve offered a reply, and I accept that it would be foolhardy of you to reveal “your hand” too soon. However, as constituents who you represent (and therefore you should really be representing our views rather than your own or your party’s) I think we deserve an answer. Other MPs have indicated their intentions.

    2. Would you have considered going to university if you had to pay the fees at the level which is now being proposed?

    3. Did you mislead the House regarding Liberal Democrat policy on 16th March 2010 when detailing the contemporary policy to “scrap tuition fees”?

    In addition, I will ask two further questions;

    Do you accept that given the likelihood of a hung parliament in the immediate run-up to the General Election, it was foolish to base the vast majority of your (and Liberal Democrat in general) election material on the promise to scrap tuition fees?

    Do you understand the frustration of the large number of constituents in Bristol West who voted for you on the issue at hand. These are people who you have effectively misled and gained their votes under false pretences?

    You have both my email address, postal address and of course you can reply here.

    • November 16, 2010 11:15 pm

      I don’t know how many times I need to say this – but I have NOT DECIDED which way to vote yet, as all the facts are not yet known. By all means judge me on that decision when it is made but please stop making erroneous statements about my voting intention or the position of my party when no votes have been cast yet.

      Also your statement about “The vast majority of your election material” being based on the promise to scrap fees is false. It wasn’t even mentioned in several of the leaflets. It was not in the four key policy areas highlighted on the front of the party manifesto, which were included in every single one of my leaflets.

      • November 17, 2010 9:45 am

        If you read my comment Mr Williams, you will notice that I accept your explanation. At least you are (hopefully) carefully weighing up your opinions and deciding how you should vote.

        However, as Ben says, you have already “shown your hand” by signing a pledge. There are many people in Bristol West who feel you should honour that pledge, which was signed in the run-up to a General Election (and therefore would be at the forefront of many people’s minds when they were stood in the polling booth).

        Your mock indignation at being questioned about this does also detract from the fact you haven’t answered ANY of the questions I have posed to you;

        Would you have considered going to university if you had to pay the fees at the level which is now being proposed?

        Did you mislead the House regarding Liberal Democrat policy on 16th March 2010 when detailing the contemporary policy to “scrap tuition fees”?

        Do you understand the frustration of the large number of constituents in Bristol West who voted for you purely based on this issue?


        As for saying “[fees] wasn’t even mentioned in several of the leaflets”, that may be the case, but you cannot hide from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have been defined by the Tuition Fees issue for nearly a decade now. In a lot of cases, it was ALL people knew about your policies.

  43. Ben permalink
    November 17, 2010 7:21 am

    “I don’t know how many times I need to say this – but I have NOT DECIDED which way to vote yet, as all the facts are not yet known.”

    I think the problem Stephen is that you HAD decided which way to vote and publicly signed a pledge that not only said you would vote AGAINST any increase in fees, and would actively campaign against any such increase.

    What you are now saying is that you haven’t decided whether to change your mind or not. However this is confusing as your blog seems to suggest you were actually against your party’s public policy all along. The people who voted for you are understandably feeling duped.

    Having had the election only 6 months ago it does seems odd you don’t know how you want to vote, or what your principles are. Nothing has really changed, and in fact the economic situation is actually better than feared at the time of the election.

    Surely principles are the currency of politicians? Without principles a politician is nothing more than charlatan.

    • Cereza permalink
      November 27, 2010 7:51 am

      Mr Williams,
      I agree with Ben.

  44. Sally Robinson permalink
    December 2, 2010 9:00 pm

    Interesting to note Ming Campbell and certain other Lib Dem MPs say they will stick to their manifesto commitment when it comes to a vote on tuition fees…..

  45. Carly permalink
    December 3, 2010 2:48 am

    Hi Stephen,

    I am one of your constituents that voted for you and your party based on your pledges and manifesto. I agree with many of the comments here regarding the responsibility you have to honour those.

    I am a student now and these fees will not affect me but I can relate to how fees are affecting me currently. A group of concerned students including myself have been actively campaigning and raising awareness about the implications of these fees and cuts. In a meeting we had with our Vice Chancellor, Steve West, we were informed that the government was aware that these measures would lead to many universities failing, consequent mergers and aquistions and that the government was “comfortable with that”.

    I implore you to consider the concerns of all people who have posted here on your blog, the thousands of people who have protested in Bristol in the last few weeks and the students currently in peaceful occupations at UWE and all over the country when you make your decision to vote. Whatever you believe now it should be of no consequence; please respect our wishes, do your job properly and represent us on the 9th.

  46. December 6, 2010 7:56 pm


    Funny how things change so quickly ….

  47. Sally Robinson permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:06 pm

    There is a fascinating FT blog on the Lib Dems and tuition fees, which explains a lot, at

  48. December 9, 2010 5:51 pm

    shame on your party!

  49. Tracy permalink
    December 9, 2010 6:50 pm

    Shame on you & shame on your party.

    By act or omission, you have allowed the free market to enter wholesale into higher level education. Universities will close, and the most affluent members of society will benefit from higher education and the higher paid jobs that come with it.

    A generation of young people will not forget the betrayal of your party Mr Williams, and given the volume of students and families with children who aspire to a University education in your constituency, you should consider your time as an MP as limited. I for one will never a believe a word you or your party leader will say ever again.

    Shame on you.

  50. David martyn permalink
    December 9, 2010 7:47 pm

    If you did not have any belief or commitment to the lib dem education policies before the election, and the signing of the pledge to vote against fees was not party policy then why in God’s name did you pledge to vote AGAINST fees when, from reading above you had zero intention of holding that pledge.

    As one of the electorate who voted for you I think your lack of commitment to the foundations of your personal election campaign is disgraceful. If you were a company I would be taking you to court for wrongful advertising. You fraud.

  51. December 9, 2010 8:51 pm

    Well Mr Williams, you’ve followed your predecessor in abstaining on an issue that directly affects a majority of your constituents…those people you represent remember?

    We’ll now have to wait until the next General Election to see whether history will repeat itself again in Bristol West.

    I’m thinking of starting a new pledge for your constituents…it reads:

    I pledge to not to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the next General Election and will encourage my fellow constituents to look for an alternative MP.

    Is that text quite familiar to you? I borrowed (with apologies to the NUS) it from a pledge you signed.

    Anyone else in Bristol West want to sign it too?

    • Carly permalink
      December 10, 2010 3:09 pm

      I’ll sign this pledge and unlike Mr. Williams I’m quite sure I’ll keep to my promise. It is a travesty that an MP is able to make a promise, be voted in on that promise and then not fufill it with no repercussions. We should have the right to recall. I voted for you Stephen and I want my vote back! Is this democracy? So many young people have taken more of an interest in politics recently and this is the system we have to show them. I didn’t see a large number of Stephen’s constituents lobbying him last Friday asking him to abstain from voting on such an important issue, they were asking him to do his job. You have abused your postion of power, Stephen Williams and acted against the wishes and interests of those that chose you to represent them. What do you have to say for yourself?

  52. December 10, 2010 6:02 pm

    before and after

    What did Stephen Williams say before he was an MP about abstaining on tuition fees? Lib Dem leaflets reveal all

  53. Cereza permalink
    December 10, 2010 7:00 pm

    Thank you for the explanation of your present way of thinking that has arrived in the form of a long email today. What surprises me is that, after arguing so eloquently in favour of the raised university fees, you did not show the courage of your convictions and you abstained. Why? Perhaps no courage? Perhaps no convictions, even… How sad.

  54. Ed W permalink
    December 10, 2010 10:44 pm

    Stephen – thank you for your honest account. I only wish I’d known about your shadow cabinet’s feelings before the last election. I voted Lib Dem in 2001, 2005 and 2010, but I can’t in good conscience do so again after seeing so many MPs breaking their tuition fees pledges.

    The final straw for me was the excuse Clegg and Cable have been using to justify the U-turn, namely the idea that this has been forced upon you by the need to make cuts. A question for you – are you aware that according to the OBR this policy will actually increase net government debt over this parliament? This is because the increase in loans the government makes to students will initially outweigh the cuts to university budgets. Any savings will only start to materialise after the end of this CSR period, when the deficit will (hopefully) no longer be an issue.

    So every time I hear Clegg and Cable talk about “financial constraints” or “difficult choices”, I wonder whether they’re ignorant of their own policy or just lying.

  55. September 28, 2014 3:04 am

    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be
    ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new

  56. October 5, 2014 5:54 am

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  1. University Fees will be Capped, Says Cable | News Watchers
  2. Money for education, and its direction of travel before and after the Browne review « the red rock
  3. I got love for you « Turning Bristol Red
  4. Chancellor delivers autumn statement on economy
  5. Why I abstained in the tuition fees vote « Stephen Williams' Blog
  6. Politics live blog – Monday 29 November 2010 - Low Interest Student Loan Consolidation

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