Huppert Gagged by Party on Tuition Fees?

Saturday, November 20th, 2010. 1:53am

Julian Huppert MP

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert

Earlier this evening I listened to Cambridge MP Julian Huppert speaking on the subject of : “The future of science in Parliament” at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

During his speech Mr Huppert stated that he had agreed with his chief whip not to talk about tuition fees in public.

I tweeted this breaking news live from the event however Mr Huppert has since tweeted back saying he was only joking.

The joke Mr Huppert made was to say that while he was banned, by his chief whip, from speaking on tuition fees there was nothing stopping him segueing directly from the subject of tuition fees to the UK’s nuclear deterrence policy; Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

That’s what he said, and that’s what will be on the video, if it is published by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy who were filming the event. I’ll leave it up to readers to make their own judgement as to where the facts end and the joke begins.

I think that the role of an MP is not only to represent the views of his constituents; and to do was promised prior to the election, but to work to try and persuade other MPs to vote alongside them. If Mr Huppert has done a deal with his party allowing him to vote against the party position on tuition fees, but which involves banning him from campaigning openly on the issue, then I think he has betrayed those who voted for him. Voting against isn’t enough; we need him to be speaking out in favour of a university education, free at the point of use, which is what he has said he believes in.

Once Mr Huppert had clearly re-stated his own personal commitment to voting against an increase in the tuition fee cap student leaders in the city very quickly moved to asking him what he was planning to do to get others to join him. That’s the key current question. If the answer is he’s allowed himself to be silenced that’s an important story which needs reporting to the electorate; and I think it’s worthy of front page news in the national press.

All MPs get exemptions from their party whips for one or two issues which particularly affect their chances of re-election in their constituencies. They get allowed to vote against their party in the full knowledge that their other party members will more than cover for them. It’s one of the mechanisms through which the political parties, and those who are members of them, maintain control of UK politics.

We, as the people of Cambridge, have elected a party politician to represent us; so inevitably we have someone who is prepared to balance their principles against party political aims.

Notably Mr Huppert also revealed during his speech that all political parties are struggling to find people to stand for them. The era of party politics is ending; but the UK doesn’t do overnight revolutions, and the 2010 general election didn’t see party politicians booted out of Parliament in the numbers some predicted.

On an number of previous occasions I, and others, have asked Mr Huppert, if he has done a deal on tuition fees ; tonight he has again stated categorically that no such deal has been done:

@RTaylorUK no

Will Mr Huppert still be a Liberal Democrat at the end of the Parliament? If he isn’t he might well get my vote; he’s a good guy and one of the best MPs we’ve got, but as long has he’s constrained by his party he’s only slightly more useful than a chocolate teapot or OldHoborn would have been.

My View

My own view on undergraduate tuition fees for UK students is simple: I oppose them, as I explain in this YouTube video.

26 comments/updates on “Huppert Gagged by Party on Tuition Fees?

  1. Kevin

    There is no way someone who isn’t a party politican could get elected in Cambridge. I would say it is very few, and much much smaller places that can make that change in political representation.

    As he has said explicitly he would not vote for tuition fees if he does then I think the people of Cambridge would have the right to see if he can be removed. But I cannot believe he would vote for it. Now all Lib Dem politicans can tell us to support the idea, they can tell us all the reasons why they should be increased whether that be because their whips or their leaders say so or their mind has changed doesn’t matter to me but as long as they don’t go against what they explicitly said they would do I don’t mind. It is a case of the greater good and realism and costs etc but when you make an explicit promise (I will not versus I support an alternative) MP’s should have to stick to it.

    Not like a few Lib Dems voting the ‘right’ way will make a difference anyway would it?

    Personally I think there should be some element of tuition fees. It is a cost incurred when you are earning enough to repay it. It took me 11 years to get to the salary level where I would have to pay it back if the new system was in place when I went to uni.

    There is also the issue of people who are doing degrees who would be better off not doing one atall (in that uni isn’t right for them, the Labour idea that everyone should go to uni is wrong in my mind), or people doing degrees that are really nothing more than vanity projects with only the idea of ‘a’ degree being the end result rather than what you do it in.

    If I was a student now I would be much more worried about the immediate debt of massive student loans for just living rather than tuition fees. I think that is a much more important side of things to get sorted and it is a different funding issue.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Kevin, thanks for your comment.

    1. All constituencies, with two exceptions, are to have approximately the same number electors soon. In terms of geography Cambridge is very dense and the constituency only ten minutes’ cycle across. I am not sure these factors are really related to the chances of a constancy rejecting party politics. Cambridge historically has no engrained party allegiance; with support switching between Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour in recent decades. My own view of the current Lib Dem vote is that it is part support for civil liberties, justice and due process and transparency (All things the local Lib Dems in power at the city fail miserably at – With their CCTV Cameras, Support for S.59 and love of secret meetings and closed consultations.) In terms of electing an MP I think voting LibDem is for many a “none of the above” option used by those wanting to vote for a moderate.

    2. I don’t think there is much danger that Julian Huppert will do anything but vote against a rise in tuition fees; that’s not the question I’m raising. If MPs want to justify going against their principles to please their party they’re welcome to try – I doubt they’re going to get very far though.

    3. The Lib Dems hold the balance of power in this; which they vote will matter.

    4. Tuition fee debt affects people even if they are not paying it back; they may find it harder to get loans to buy a house or start a business.

    5. Costs related to the cost of living are different, because the cost is more under individual control.

    6. I completely agree that there are people doing degrees (or courses that aren’t worthy of being called degrees) for whom (and for the country) the exercise is a waste of time and money. I think we should focus our resources on excellence and not on chasing mass-participation.

  3. Frugal Dougal

    I agree with your view, but on the other hand the acts of a few NUS activists, and a larger number who knew what was in the pipeline and facilitated it, make it difficult for politicians to appear to agree with extremists.

  4. Edward

    You keep saying that the era of party politics is drawing to a close, but you’ve never produced any convincing evidence of this.

    Where are the independent councillors being elected? There are a few in rural areas, of course, but no more than there used to be, arguably fewer as with the Tories and Lib Dems both going for rural votes their raison d’etre has been squeezed. In urban areas, you only get the occasional Residents Association councillor and even then mostly only when the parties on the council actively ignore that particular area.

    The reason for this is simple – political parties might have fewer members than they used to, but they still have an organisation, and that’s what wins elections. An independent may make a very good councillor, but they’re unlikely to know two dozen people in their ward who’ll deliver 200 leaflets each twice in six weeks, they’re unlikely to be able to reliably pin down half a dozen people to come canvassing with them several times a week and it’s distinctly unlikely they’ll know somebody with experience of producing election leaflets or managing election expenses.

    Even if they have all these, they’re particularly unlikely to be able to get 30 people out on polling day to remind their supporters to vote.

    Political parties can do this, and that’s why they keep winning. And this only applies more at a parliamentary level. Membership will have to fall a lot further before these advantages stop being felt.

    The only way round that is for independents to build their own organisations. The problem is that this becomes functionally indistinguishable form a party as soon as two people in the same organisation both decide to stand.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I am not saying party politics has disappeared from councils I’m saying it is disappearing from wider society. The evidence for this is the drop in party membership.

    I estimate about a quarter to a half of our local libdems are either councillors, the MP, their staff and families. I don’t think that’s healthy. We have a city of a hundred thousand run by a clique of a couple of hundred.

    I would not call a residents association councillor an independent. They, like a lib/lab/con councillor, would be representing a minority special interest.

    If you do something which captures others’ imagination people come together and help if there is a formally constituted organisation in place or not.

  6. Phil Rodgers

    “I estimate about a quarter to a half of our local libdems are either councillors, the MP, their staff and families”

    The Lib Dem membership in the Cambridge constituency is somewhere between 350 and 400. There are 36 councillors (26 city and 10 county, excluding Queen Edith’s) and 1 MP, who has a staff of approximately 6, some of whom are based in London.

    Labour’s membership in Cambridge, incidentally, is around 700-750 – I don’t know about the Conservatives.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I think Phil Rodgers’ numbers are compatible with my estimate.

    Mr Rodgers is a LibDem activist and one of the things he does in that role is challenge me in the comments here on my website :-)

    The LibDems got a couple of hundred people, including teenage children, mainly of party activists, to vote in their Parliamentary candidate selection. This was significantly better than the Conservatives who were only able to manage to interest about 30-40 of their members and a handful of interested local residents.

  8. Nick Hillman

    Richard, Are you sure that’s a fair comparison between the LD and Tory selections? To attend ours, you had to be present for an entire morning – so that you could see each of six candidates present themselves and be interviewed. If I remember correctly, which I may not, the Lib Dems did not have to be present but could send their vote in. And, irrespective of numbers, at least ours was genuinely open to all local residents (admittedly only to those willing to make the big time commitment).

  9. Phil Rodgers

    “the Lib Dems did not have to be present but could send their vote in.” – this is correct (indeed I did so myself due to family commitments), though most of those who voted in the selection did also attend the hustings.

  10. Sarah Whitebread

    Phil, next time you post on here I think you should call yourself ‘Lib Dem activist Phil Rodgers’ to save Richard the bother…

  11. Phil Rodgers (Lib De

    I’m shocked to discover that the Name box is limited to 20 characters, which makes it impossible to do so. Clearly this is outrageous discrimination against people called (for example) Chathuranga Pararajasingham. I’ll just have to continue to disguise my party affiliation by mentioning it on the Twitter page that my name is linked to.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    Today the BBC have been reporting that Lib Dem MPs have been asked to keep a low profile on the subject of tuition fees.

  13. Kevin

    Rather difficult for Julian to keep a low profile when he is in the main photo they use to show Nick Clegg’s signed pledge!

    I cannot see how any minority candidate can ever get enough support apart from in smaller areas where single policy issues are at the fore (eg closing a hospital). In most areas that sort of thing isn’t going to have an impact, whatever the size of the constituency. I know it’s not really a thought in peoples mind when voting but if you do not have a power base of a party then you won’t get anything done. Not that being in a party guarantees it but without help you can’t get anywhere.
    On the council level from everything I’ve heard is that if you are elected on a platform on something like planning permissions you can’t actually represent your voters in meetings talking about those subjects, or rather can’t vote on them.

    “I estimate about a quarter to a half of our local libdems are either councillors, the MP, their staff and families”

    This assumes that only people who are registered members of a party are supporters of that party. Obviously untrue. And without those unsigned supporters voting those people wouldn’t have power. That would be the case if there was 5 of them or 500.

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    I wouldn’t describe anyone who votes LibDem, or who supports them, as a LibDem.

    As for councillors not being able to do what they’ve been elected to, that’s something I think needs to change. I’d like to see Cambridge elect an MP who wants to strengthen the role of local councillors.

  15. Andrew Bower

    That’s certainly true. The Lib Dems’ number one strategic fear in Cambridge is for Conservative-minded voters to stop voting for them and vote Conservative, hence the almost hysterical repetition of the “Tories can’t win here: vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out” line in their campaign. They didn’t want that line undermined by us coming second, which we did.

    On your other point, Cambridge Lib Dems were certainly dismissive of Tory localism plans before the general election – ‘we need housing targets so that we can be told what to do’ and all that nonsense. Fortunately they seem to have been a bit more sensible since they found themselves in coalition nationally.

    It is going to be more important to elect good quality local councillors in future as they will have more power.

  16. Sarah Whitebread

    “I wouldn’t describe anyone who votes LibDem, or who supports them, as a LibDem.”

    Richard is this your view for all political parties or just for Lib Dems?

    I think in Julian we do have an MP who wants local councillors to have more power. Part of my concerns with the brand of localism that the Conservatives seem to favour is that much of it is about taking power away from local authorities – their education proposals for example.

  17. Andrew Bower

    That’s just typical misleading Lib Dem scaremongering. Just because reserve powers to act in extremis can only be exercised by the minister doesn’t mean powers have been surrendered upwards. The coalition proposals basically push power downwards, giving such schools the independence necessary to get some proper competition going – the only way standards are going to improve when the system is otherwise captured by the producer interest.

  18. Sarah Whitebread

    Andrew I’m sorry but I don’t think my post could be described as ‘scaremongering’. I have legitimate concerns. Why are you so defensive all the time? I think it’s fair to say that proposals, for example, to allow free schools to set up in chip shops without requiring planning consent from local authorities, could be damaging. If you disagree that’s fine, lets have the debate.

  19. Andrew Bower

    OK Sarah, perhaps not scaremongering this time: just looked for the usual sensationalist Lib Dem press release I had imagined but I have to admit I have only found some comments from Peter Downes.

    I am sure there are legitimate issues of concern but we have been primed to expect every aspect of Gove’s reforms to be fought tooth and nail by the establishment who claim “there’s nothing to see here.” So yes, intentionally defensive on this, but I’ll try to watch out for that trait getting out of control :-)

  20. John Ionides


    More disconcerting from my point of view is that you don’t consider transferring power from local authorities to individuals and community groups to be “localism” (or, by implication, a good thing).

    So, take it that when the Lib Dem manifesto says that power should be handed down to the lowest level possible, this doesn’t mean that the people should actually get a say; just that decisions should be made by councils wherever possible?

    And I would love to hear your arguments as to why LEAs should operate monopolies on school provision, and the government should continue to forbid interested parties from setting up their own initiatives.

  21. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve looked at this vote :

    I think an abstention might be on the grounds that rushing the publication of the White Paper isn’t a good idea, and the link between cuts in teaching budgets and the length of repayments is rather odd.

    If the concern is that under the Government plans university will not make people more likely to earn more that should be explicitly stated.

    Why not delay the tuition fees vote until the White Paper is available rather than seek to rush out the White Paper?

    I’m strongly opposed to tuition fees. I may well have abstained on that vote if I had had to choose one way or the other on it.

  22. Martin

    Is it not rather shocking how Cambridge University seem to be saying nothing about the cutbacks in the teaching grant (and its transfer to students directly, through massively inflated fees). Why is it not outrightly condemning such massive funding cutbacks, instead being totally silent?

  23. John Ionides


    I don’t honestly know, although I imagine that it might make life _much_ easier to have an income stream that is independent from government rather than having to put out the begging bowl (and haggle over the various political strings that tend to come attached to government “generosity”).

    And there is a very good argument that Universities will be considerably better off without recent levels of government control / interference (depending on your perspective on such things).

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    In Parliament on the 9th of December 2010 a Government motion was tabled by Liberal Democrat Vince Cable stating:

    That, for the purpose of section 24 of the Higher Education Act 2004, the higher amount should be increased to £9,000, and to £4,500 in the cases described in regulation 5 of the draft regulations in Command Paper Cm 7986, and that the increase should take effect from 1 September 2012.

    Mr Huppert tabled an amendment (which the Speaker decided not to allow a debate/vote on) which said:

    leave out from ‘That’ to end and add ‘this House, being of the opinion that tuition fees should be phased out entirely, resolves that no authorisation under section 26(2)(b)(ii) of the Higher Education Act 2004 to increase the higher amount prescribed by section 24(6) of that Act should be made, and orders that no further such motion to authorise an increase in the higher amounts should be tabled during the remainder of this Parliament.’.


    As well as the above motion a vote is also possible on the approval of The Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations 2010

    The regulations set the “basic amount” under section 24 of the 2004 Higher Education Act at £6,000. That is the maximum fee an institution can charge in the absence of a plan under section 33 of the 2004 Higher Education Act (Such plans look to me like a fairly nominal bit of paperwork and not something which will reform university courses).

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