Lib Dems warned they will be 'ousted' over broken pledges and cuts

By staff writers
November 15, 2010

Anti-cuts campaigns are threatening to oust Liberal Democrat MPs over their broken election promises and backing for public spending choices that hit the poorest.

This weekend the National Union of Students (NUS), which jointly organised the huge 50,000 London protest against a massive hike in student fees, was the first to publicly state that they would employ the same targetted electoral 'decapitation' strategy against specific Lib Dem parliamentarians as the party itself has boasted of using in its own electioneering.

The move aims to build on growing anger about coalition policies in Lib Dem-held constituencies with large student populations. Students are furious that Deputy PM Nick Clegg has done a complete U-turn on his public pledge to oppose increases in student fees - which they say will plunge millions into the debt that the government claims to be seeking to reduce.

Key targets will be Mr Clegg in Sheffield Hallam, Simon Wright MP in Norwich South, Stephen Williams MP in Bristol West and Don Foster MP in Bath, reports The Observer newspaper.

The Liberal Democrat activist Dr Evan Harris, who lost his own seat on 6 May, has dismissed the campaign as a "partisan stunt".

But community organisations and campaigns against government policy, which is to make the poorest pay most for the economic problems created by the wealthiest, say that the party is "living in a bubble" and seems not to have grasped the depth and strength of anger about their betrayal of progressive claims and specific manifesto promises.

Caroline Dowd, Sheffield Hallam University's student union president, told the Observer her members were "livid".

"We could not get [Nick Clegg] out of our union before the general election," she said. "He came and spoke about how MPs should not make promises and then break them, about how fees were wrong."

The NUS, which has itself come under fire for tarring all the protesters who occupied Conservative Party HQ last week with the same 'violence' brush, says that 1,000 students in Sheffield will take to the streets to gather names for a petition calling for Mr Clegg's removal, as well as organising a protest outside his constituency office.

The coalition has said that it may introduce legislation giving the public powers of 'recall' against MPs if ten per cent of the electorate demand it, but some Liberal Democrats are likely to be uncertain about this if they believe it will be used to oust them.

Other anti-cuts activists are known to be monitoring the situation with interest.

Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper has unveiled secret documents showing that Mr Clegg and senior Liberal Democrats were preparing two months before the May election to drop their promise on student fees in the event of a coalition - in spite of public promises that they would hold firm.

The NUS point out that every Liberal Democrat MP signed the “Vote for Students” pledge in the run-up to the general election.

In doing so, they all promised to “vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”.

The Liberal Democrats say that the current policy is fairer, because the the poorest 25 per cent of graduates will pay less, but students, lecturers and education campaigners say that this is "window dressing" for a strategy which will actually treble costs overall and dissuade those from a poorer background from entering higher education.

During the campaign, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, warned of the dangers of debt for young people. His party promised to oppose an increase in fees, with the target of reducing and eventually abolishing them.

When Mr Clegg spoke to students in Cambridge in May 2010, he argued that “Labour and the Conservatives have been trying to keep tuition fees out of this election campaign”. He urged students to vote Liberal Democrat to “block those unfair tuition fees and get them scrapped once and for all”.

He is now accused of being dishonest and "lacking all credibility" by those he persuaded to support him.


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