Political Promise

Lib Dems: Is the Party Over?

In Richard Cunningham on December 15, 2010 at 9:03 am

As Liberal Democrats across the country, including in Richard Cunningham‘s constituency in Burnley, renege on their tuition fee pledge, is this the end of the short-lived three-party system?

The year is 1972. Edward Heath and the Conservatives are in Government amidst the famous miners’ strike, the ‘Selsdon Man’ U-Turn and the end of school milk provisions for 8-11 year olds earning the then Secretary of State for Education, the famous nick-name ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, David S. Broder had published his essay on the failures of U.S Politics. The work, ‘The Party is Over’, highlighted the failure of the U.S Republican and Democratic Parties. Broder argued that the electorate were voting, not for a Party but for a particular issue and for a particular candidate.

Issue and candidate voting was evident in Burnley, my home town, where the somewhat uncharismatic, yet issue centred, Lib-Dem candidate had canvassed around colleges all over the town in order to secure the student vote.

When hearing of the issues surrounding fees, the students of Burnley and of constituencies all over the U.K, must’ve felt secure in the knowledge that their Liberal Democrat M.P would stand up for them and stick to their pledges. After all, in the case of Mr.Birtwistle, the issue of fees was one of the only reasons that he had obtained the student vote. It is fair also to comment on the totally un-realistic promises he made to the older voters in Burnley when he assured the town that the local Accident and Emergency ward would be kept open if he was voted in. Mr. Birtwistle upon being elected in Burnley was the only Lib-Dem gain in the U.K and there are no prizes for guessing whether this opportunist ever kept his promises, of course the answer is a loud and bitter ‘No!’

Broder, in 1972, also argued that the role of the Party as a communicator between politicians and the electorate had been broken and so was leading to the decline of Americas major Political Parties.

Let’s fast forward to 2010, where Lib-Dem ‘Pledges’ on student fees have been lost to the whip of the Conservative majority in the coalition. The wide-spread disquiet amongst students and academics, amongst the young and old alike in regards to the increase in fees brings to the fore the issue that the role of the Party as a communicator, and as a public representative is broken.

There is a consensus amongst many that fees for graduates, as a contribution to the total cost of higher education, are necessary. Yet the total payment of near £9,000 a year seems extortionate, especially when one considers that those introducing the fees went to University for free.

Without dwelling too much on the issue of student fees, an important point to consider is how the increasing fees are an illuminative on how the roles of the Party have been muddied.

The 1972 work ‘The Party is Over’ has perhaps more providence now, at least in Britain, as it had had when written.

There seems only to be one result of this whole saga, whether or not you agree with the fees, and that is that for British Politics, the Party seems to be over, and the riot is about to begin.

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