Simon Carr: A siege mentality, but they're good at that

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The Independent Online

Barriers, crowds, police lines. The House of Commons was cut off from the outside world. No change there then.

An amazing turn-out for a Thursday. Was it because there was a 57-line whip for tuition fees, or did they want to witness the Lib Dems pelted with night soil? They weren't allowed to bring it into the chamber so David Blunkett had to make do with what he had to hand.

Tories couldn't understand the pain of the poor, he said, because they hadn't enjoyed his disadvantages in life. This got a powerful counterpunch from new Tory Dan Byles, who knew about a life of lousy schooling, early starts and menial duties. Sam Gyimah added wallop of his own as did Paul Uppal – there's an advantage of diversity in a party that the hoarier Tories should think about.

So, it was always going to happen, and, as the music had stopped with Vince Cable in the wrong chair, it was he who had to justify the rise to £9,000 fees.

He's got a bit of an old man's voice these days and needs silence to be heard. He got so little of it that his argument never rose above the hubbub of the Opposition heckling.

He also had to deal with three, four, five MPs begging aggressively to intervene, remaining on their feet for minutes together in a way that was clearly out of order.

There hasn't been a scene of such parliamentary intimidation since Theresa May was shouted down in the Stephen Byers affair.

John Denham made a speech dripping with pleasure and self-satisfaction. He must have been feeling the rush of the tens of thousands in the square outside. He climaxed by reminding Lib Dems of the pleasures of a principled resignation. Moral superiority – it's the rarest pleasure in politics.

It was a five-hour debate – a mere five hours. The Coalition's business managers were pleased to get it over with but they had a range of perfectly good arguments that didn't have time to be developed.

Nick Boles produced figures that the higher the fees charged by universities, the greater the social mobility (more money means more places and more scholarships). A new politics would have given three days to the debate. The Coalition would have had the time to marshal the arguments. They might even start winning it.

And was that Ed Miliband approaching Simon Hughes to persuade him to change his vote to Nay? Such is EDM's persuasive power, the House was amazed not to see Hughes in the Aye lobby.

Ed walked out through the crowd of MPs by himself – no minders, no bow, no wave, no wake.