Revenge will be served cold at the ballot box

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Indy Politics

Apart from their leader, not a single Liberal Democrat MP representing a university seat voted in favour of raising tuition fees yesterday.

But their rebellion may not be enough to save them at the ballot box.

Across Liberal Democrat constituencies, councillors and activists fear that the "great Clegg betrayal" will be what voters remember in 2015 – and not the votes of individual MPs against the whip of their party leadership.

Liberal Democrats are particularly vulnerable in three key university seats: Norwich South, Manchester Withington and Cambridge.

In Norwich, the Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Wright won a surprising victory in May to win the seat with a majority of 310 and it would take only a tiny swing to deprive him of it. Likewise in Cambridge Julian Huppert is also vulnerable. Although he has a majority of over 6,000, students make up a significant proportion of voters in the constituency.

The Green Party also has a strong base in the city. Last time round, the seat was contested by Tony Juniper who polled nearly 4,000 votes. If he stands again he could significantly erode the Liberal Democrat vote – or even win outright.

"There is a feeling of terrible betrayal among local party activists," said Kevin Wilkins, chair of the Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire. "We campaigned at the last election about bringing back honesty in politics and that's all gone now. Party activists have been talking to me about the mechanism we need to change our leader. That shows the extent of the anger we feel."

In Manchester Withington, another seat with a high student population, it would only take 1,000 dissatisfied Liberal Democrats to unseat John Leech and hand the seat to Labour.

And as one local voter clearly feels that might very well happen. "John Leech and his not so merry band of treacherous converts to Thatcherism know that the juggernaut of the electorate is heading their way," wrote Mike Amesbury, on a community website. "No longer can they face in several directions at the same time now they are part of this horrid right-wing Coalition."

The nervousness within the Liberal Democrat grass roots does not just extend to those seats which have university bases. Of the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs in the House of Commons a further three have majorities of less than 500. The new fees would start being paid back in 2016 – just a few months after the date of the next election. It will prey on the minds of all committed Liberal Democrats until then.