It's been nine years since the Lib Dems betrayed students over tuition fees - don't let them fool you again

In the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats built their campaign around a pledge to abolish tuition fees. By the end of that year, however, they had tripled them instead. Labour will be different

Angela Rayner: 'The Tories have failed'

Today is the ninth anniversary of one of the most astonishing acts of hypocrisy in British political history.

In the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats built their campaign around a pledge to abolish tuition fees. By the end of that year, however, they had tripled them instead.

The Liberal Democrats had made young people feel as if they were on their side. They were not. After they formed a coalition government, the party immediately propped up their new friends in government by supporting the so-called emergency budget of June 2010.

This budget introduced austerity and we are still living with its consequences. Only months before, the Lib Dems had campaigned against cuts to public services. As Dennis Skinner said at the time, they were now “hammering the young and the old, and putting people on the dole".

When it came to the tuition fees vote itself, there was no excuse. The coalition agreement explicitly allowed the Liberal Democrats to abstain if they wanted to. It has even been reported that the architect of austerity himself, George Osborne, advised the Liberal Democrats not to back the rise. Yet so desperate was the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, to prove his worth to the Tory-led government that he ignored the advice.

It was clear that they were now more loyal to their historical opponents, the Conservative Party, than to the voters who had put them into government in the first place. It was absurd. People were outraged, but the party was unrepentant.

Trying to justify the move, one Liberal Democrat MP wrote, without irony, that the party had “long prided itself on its commitment to education as the great leveller”. That MP was Jo Swinson, now leader of the Liberal Democrats. There should be no pride in burdening the poorest students with debts of over £50,000. There was no levelling up in scrapping students’ maintenance grants, either.

Along with fees, there was a massive cut of nearly £3bn over four years in the teaching budget for higher education, and over £1bn in further education. All-round failure from the Liberal Democrats.

The party would go on to support a raft of brutal, right-wing policies in government: scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance for students in further education in 2011, imposing the bedroom tax in 2014, and, time and time again, cuts that devastated public services and left millions of children growing up in poverty. So much for moderating the Conservatives.

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No one could have voted for them expecting that. During the 2010 election campaign, Liberal Democrat candidates, including Swinson, signed the National Union of Students pledge to vote against tuition fees. Looking back, students were among the first to see the reality of the Liberal Democrats in government. Their opposition, which saw tens of thousands of students protest, was an inspiration.

Labour will be different. We have pledged to abolish tuition fees. And we mean it. I will be honoured to deliver this pledge in government.

Angela Rayner is the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth

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