Let's not forget Clegg's betrayal

On the day that the London School of Economics warns that the Government has pushed tuition fees past the acceptable threshold for many prospective students and will likely see university applications drop by around 7% from 2013 onward I’m reminded of the dastardly work of Nick Clegg during the formation of the coalition government.

Clegg and his Liberal Democrat party courted the student vote intensely. Their centre-left manifesto put them in-line with many young people’s aspirations and the headline-grabbing (though always unfeasible) promise to scrap tuition fees was a cherry on the top, designed with the express intent of woo-ing young people, many of whom were voting for the first time, to vote for him and his party.

I watched as Clegg visited my university town of Newport where I was passionately campaigning for the fine socially liberally-minded Labour MP Paul Flynn. I remember seeing university friends of mine rushing down to see this politician who promised to be different from the old two parties who had dominated UK politics since the 1930s. So many students fell for his charms and fell for his promises.

Yet Clegg, with all the power of kingmaker, with Cameron flailing on the ropes, desperate for power following his inability to secure a majority against a deeply unpopular Prime Minister didn’t deem those students’ votes worth fighting for once they were cast, instead these votes and the opinions behind them were cast aside. The tuition fee policy was never considered as one of Clegg’s 'red lines'. Electoral reform, an important issue but one which was tellingly destroyed (most probably because of its pathetically small change from our present system) back in May’s referendum, was put as a priority ahead of the policy to which each Lib Dem MP signed a personal pledge and publicly courted student votes on the back of.

So did Clegg just brush off students’ concerns in exchange for power (and to be fair, a few Lib Dem policies being implemented)? Well not that that is particularly excusable but actually its worse. Documents unveiled by the Guardian in November last year showed that Clegg, Cable and others within the party’s senior ranks knew the pledge to abolish tuition fees was completely unfeasible 2 months prior to the General Election campaign. Clegg knew if, by some miracle he won enough seats to form a Lib Dem majority government he still wouldn’t be able to scrap tuition fees, yet he signed the pledge and took the photo opportunity with the then NUS President Wes Streeting, he toured the university towns and cities and swept up student votes on the back of deceit.

Remember this is the same Clegg who campaigned on cutting the deficit in half by 2014 (the same as the Labour plan) and then swung behind massive cuts to public spending once in Government – thus all those who voted Labour and Lib Dem on the basis of a slower and less socially painful pace of deficit reduction were also discarded in favour of the minority (37%) Conservative vote who wanted slash and burn economics to rule the roost.

By suger coating the Tories with the odd ‘nice’ policy I worry Clegg is now not building credibility for his party as he hopes (any one but the deluded Clegg can see they’ve lost any real hope of that) but instead he is continuing Cameron’s policy of detoxifying the Tory party. Clegg’s legacy could therefore be to help put a Tory majority government in power in 2015 to cut further, to privatise the schools system (something Clegg himself notes that Michael Gove wants to do and something the people of Chile have been out on the streets en masse protesting against happening in their own country) and privatising more of the NHS too.

Clegg took the hopes of a young generation, young people who wouldn’t have normally voted, excited by the prospect of genuine change and then threw it back in their faces. I thoroughly hope Clegg gets what he deserves in 2015 – to be booted out of his constituency seat by the student vote and other disgruntled former supporters, never to be seen again anywhere in politics beyond the bargain autobiographies section of the book store.