Nick Clegg has made an abject apology to the nation for his broken promise on university tuition fees in a final attempt to stop his U-turn haunting his leadership.
Almost two years after the Coalition agreed to treble fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year, the Liberal Democrat leader admitted he was wrong to fight the 2010 election on a pledge not to raise them.
In a party political broadcast to be screened on Monday, Mr Clegg says: "There is no easy way to say this: we made a pledge. We didn't stick to it – and for that I am sorry. When you've made a mistake you should apologise." He adds: "I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it."
The Deputy Prime Minister's move is a huge gamble. His critics will see it as a sign of weakness amid speculation that his party may replace him with Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, before the next election.
Mr Clegg hopes his unprecedented "mea culpa" will finally cast off the millstone that has hung around his neck since the rise in fees was announced. He insists that the policy was right – but admits he was wrong to sign the National Union of Students' pledge not to raise fees because his party could only share power with the Conservatives or Labour, both of whom were committed to higher charges.
He decided to "fess up" to the country during his summer holiday in Spain – and refused to be talked out of it when some aides doubted his strategy. He admits in the broadcast that it will not be enough for everyone, saying: "I owe you to be up front about it. And I don't believe it should cast a shadow over everything else the Liberal Democrats are achieving in Government."
Mr Clegg's dramatic move comes ahead of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton starting on Saturday, where his leadership will be in the spotlight as he tries to reassure his party that he is the right man to lead it into the 2015 election. His personal ratings have sunk to an all-time low, according to an Ipsos Mori survey, showing that 66 per cent of people are dissatisfied with his performance.
Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, said: "Instead of crying crocodile tears he should vote with Labour to bring these tuition fees down. If Nick Clegg does not back his words with action he is just weak."Reuse content