My Phone Call with Chris Huhne MP
After much insistence, this afternoon I was presented with the opportunity to speak with Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh (just north of Southampton). During the general election, Chris signed the NUS pledge to not increase tuition fees. As a member of the cabinet (he is minister for energy and climate change) it has been speculated that he may not uphold the pledge he made.
I directly challenged Chris on whether or not he would uphold his pledge. He said he was upholding his pledge to give students a fair financial deal in the circumstances. Only when pressed did he admit he would not uphold his pledge to increase fees.
I challenged Mr Huhne about his reasoning as to why he was breaking his pledge. He responded arguing that we have the largest peace time budget deficit ever and cuts are necessary. I acknowledged his point but questioned why higher cuts (of up to 80%) were to occur in higher education and how he could justify backing the proposition of an increased financial burden on students as a result of this, in light of the pledge that he made. In my opinion, Mr Huhne failed to do so. I also questioned why the Lib Dems ‘did not know how bad things were’ (as freely admitted by their leader and deputy leader) before joining the coalition Government and why, if tuition fee increases were absolutely necessary, had he not apologised to his constituents.
In attempting to justify why he intends to break his pledge to students, Mr Huhne referred multiple times to the ‘bargaining position’ that he believes the Lib Dems are in. I challenged this directly, stating that I did not believe the Liberal Democrats had even begun to bargain on the proposition of higher fees, and if they had it was certainly not transparent.
I told Mr Huhne that in my opinion, his party made a clear promise to students; this was not on a whim, rather on a clear basis of policy stretching back at least 5 years. It should not be a case of ‘bargaining’- his party should be fighting for what they have promised (and directly pledged to students) for a number of years now. Mr Huhne responded by alleging that the 57 Lib Dem MPs in Parliament would no effect on the eventual vote on this issue (the House of Commons has a total of around 650 seats). I responded that his party most probably would not be alone in opposing fees and should be fighting for what they told the electorate they believed in, rather than bowing to Conservative proposals because they were worried they could lose power; they should not enter office and then immediately forget about who put them there. He rubbished my suggestion.
I find it wholly distressing that the Liberal Democrat party can withdraw their flagship policy following a successful election. The only hope I see from this is that if the Nick Clegg-backed proposals for constituents to have right of recall for their MP are passed, the electorate will finally be able to hold those who mislead the electorate to account.
I was deeply disappointed by Mr Huhne’s manner and even more disappointed by what he had to say. I am, however, very grateful that he had the decency to return my calls personally (our only local MP to do so as of yet) and that I am now able to convey what he said to our student body.
20/11/2010 at 7:00 pm Permalink
On a point of fact:
Liberal Democrat Policy has not changed. To change Liberal Democrat Policy a vote is needed at a conference by the rank and file membership. What is happening is a small proportion of Liberal Democrat MPs who were chosen to be part of a Conservative minority government have decided to break with their own pledges, and the official party line. Of course those few Liberal Democrat MPs who accepted ministerial positions were probably those MPs who’s own views most closely matched the Conservative position.
If you want to truly look at what the Liberal Democrats believe you should look at the recent election of Tim Farron as President of the party. To generalise about the Liberal Democrats so extravagantly is a massive disservice to the thousands of students and grassroots activists of all ages and backgrounds mobilising within the party to hold that small minority of MPs to account.
It is obvious that you have not done much research as you have throughout your entry lumped all Liberal Democrats together. Which is extremely naive. Of course every party contains a spectrum of views, and what makes your article so insulting is that you have taken a minority view within that party and applied it to the whole. If you had, say, made a similar comment generalising Islamic extremists as all Muslims, you’d probably have to resign (I exaggerate, but the fundamental point still stands).
I think Mr Stanning you should ammend your comments, not only because in my view have insulted those students, who you were elected to represent, that have taken the highly-stigmatized step in this day and age of not only choosing to align themselves with a political party but trying make that party stand by their promises from within.
20/11/2010 at 7:32 pm Permalink
Good job getting to him, somewhat disappointed by his predictable response. I can’t envisage the next election being much fun, with a choice now of cut-happy Tories, hollow-promised Lib Dems, and country-bankrupting Labour. Time to move abroad!
26/11/2010 at 10:10 am Permalink
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27/11/2010 at 12:48 am Permalink
Nice article…..i am struggling to grasp is that this Govt. is trying its best not to be re elected…..now the fundemental question is why have are they trying their best to alienate every segment of the middle and lower class of this nation…..they hardly have any representation in N.Ireland, Scotland or Wales…..so my next question is again….do they truly represent the United Kingdom of Norther Ireland, Enalnd, Scotland and Wales?????