Lib Dems say they would block Labour from cutting tuition fees in any future coalition

Cabinet minister Ed Davey has said cutting fees for students would be 'stupid'

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The Liberal Democrats would block Labour from cutting university tuition fees to £6,000 if the parties went into coalition after the next election, a senior party figure has indicated.

Lib Dem cabinet minister Ed Davey described Labour's planned fee cut as “stupid” and said he would refuse to back it in government.

“We will stand up for making sure we can get the economy right, get the deficit down, and not wasting money on stupid policies like this latest Miliband policy,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s politics programme on Sunday morning.

Asked whether he would refuse to execute the policy in a future coalition, Mr Davey said: “Yes I would”.

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Ed Davey argues the fee cut is "stupid" and says he wants to focus on the deficit

The Energy Secretary, a former management consultant, claimed the policy would mainly benefit “bankers and hedge fund managers”.

Before the last election the Liberal Democrats said they wanted to abolish university tuition fees completely.

All of the party’s MPs also separately and individually signed up to an NUS pledge to vote against any increase in fees.

The Liberal Democrat leadership and most of its MPs ultimately voted with the Conservatives to treble the student charges from £3,000 to £9,000 per year.

The party’s MPs have said they are bound by coalition to vote for policies they do not support, though the 2010 Coalition Agreement gave them the option of abstaining of the issue of fees.

 

The hard line from the party against Labour’s planned fee cut is in contrast to its approach to Conservative policies in the current coalition.

In recent years the Liberal Democrat conference has voted to instruct the party’s MPs to vote against government policies including the coalition’s NHS reorganisation and free schools programme – edicts which have been ignored.

The last Labour government abolished free education by introducing fees of around £1,000 and then trebled them to £3,000 years later.

Think tanks, including the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, have said that raising fees to £9,000 probably saved the Treasury no money and may have actually cost the Government extra because of changes to the student loan system.

Speaking in Leeds at the launch of Labour's plan to cut fees to £6,000, Ed Miliband said: “Let me say to Britain’s young people: I made you a promise on tuition fees. I will keep my promise. I don’t simply want to build your faith in Labour, I want to restore your faith that change can be believed. I owe it to you. We owe it to our country.”

The party leader said he would pay for the fee cut by reducing pension tax relief for the richest.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times released today found the policy was overwhelmingly popular with the public: it was supported by 64% and opposed by only 20%.

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