LDV survey: What impact the Lib Dem tuition fees’ U-turn has had on party members

by Stephen Tall on October 17, 2010

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem party members think of the party’s reponse to The Browne Report into higher education funding and student finance in England. Some 567 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results of our survey this weekend.

First, we looked at how party members thought higher education should be funded, and whether there were any measures that might make the Browne Report acceptable. Then we looked at what members felt our MPs should do given the pledges they made not to increase tuition fees. Now we look at the impact of the last week on members’ views of the Coalition, the leadership, and the party.

Do Lib Dem members still support the Coalition?

We asked: What has been the impact, if any, of Vince Cable’s support for the Browne Report on your view of Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition?

Here’s what you told us:

  • 82% – I supported Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, and continue to support it
  • 11% – I supported Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, but no longer support it
  • 7% – I did not support Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, and do not now
  • 1% – I did not support Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, but do now support it
  • (Excluding Don’t know / No opinion (4%))

Support for Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition continues to remain high: a combined total of 83% party members back it. This compares with 88% who backed Coalition when last we asked the question at the end of August: a drop, but not a huge one. However, it was clear from the comments (see a sample below) that among those who do support it, the enthusiasm of May has taken a big hit as a result of the U-turn on tuition fees: “through gritted teeth” said one commenter. A total of 18% of party members do not support the Coalition, roughly double the proportion who were against it in May, according to our surveys then.

Forming a coalition with the Tories was the only grown up thing to do in the circumstances (i.e. given labours disinterest in forming a coalition.) Breaking up the coalition now would be puerile.

My faith in the coalition can be restored, in general I support its work. However I hold Lib Dem MPs to a higher standard of morality and integrity that will be irreparably undermined if we go against our unambiguous position and specific pledge. I am not willing to sacrifice the long term soul of the party for an pragmatic immediacy. If a hike in tuition fees in undertaken I will very seriously consider resigning from the party.

It’s the first opportunity in my and indeed by fathers lifetime (and he died 6 years ago aged 90) when Liberals have a real opportunity to influence and change things for the better albeit in the most difficult circumstances – be brave and face the flack for the next two years until things get better again.

I still support the party’s involvement in the Coalition, but things like this are making Vince and the party hard to love. Much more of this and I’ll reconsider.

I hold serious objections to a graduate tax & my support for the Coalition would have suffered had it proposed one.

I support the caolition but we must be able to take principled stands. Otherwise we are poodles and the electorate will see that.

I support the involvement in the coalition but am not at all happy at the planned breaking of the pledge. I have argued against the criticism that we are just agreeing with the Conservatives rather than making our opinion common knowledge. This issue is a key Lib Dem principle that has been around for years and Lib Dem MPs must stand up and be counted

I supported it reluctantly and by now my support is tooth-skin thin – and only on the basis that we’ve not yet had any actual vote. At the point, assuming it come, where the choice is between accepting an increase in fees in this parliament and ending the coalition, I can’t support it any longer.

We have campaigned for PR for generations. That would make coalition governments the norm rather than the exception. If we let the first opportunity fail the first time there is a policy which is difficult to deal with then we lose all credibility wiht regard to electoral reform.

Why do Lib Dem members think the party leadership U-turned?

We asked: Thinking of the broadly supportive position Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have adopted in response to the Browne Report – and irrespective of your own opinion on fees – which of these statements comes closest to your view of why they’ve changed their positions:

Here’s what you told us:

  • 48% – Nick and Vince’s over-riding concerns are cutting the deficit and making sure the Coalition is seen to work in the national interest, and that is why they are broadly endorsing Browne
  • 34% – Nick and Vince were never comfortable with the party’s position of opposing tuition fees, and see Browne as a convenient way of moving to a position they supported anyway
  • 17% – Other
  • (Excluding Don’t know / No opinion (7%))

Almost half Lib Dem members (48%) are prepared to give Nick and Vince the benefit of the doubt — that their support of the thrust of Browne’s recommendations are the result of the financial crisis and wanting to keep the Coalition going. However, just over one-third (34%) believe Nick and Vince are using the Browne Report as an excuse to ditch a policy with which they were never at ease. Of the 17% who chose ‘Other’, the answers were a real mixture, with some thinking it was a combination of both options.

What impact has all this had on party members’ support for the Lib Dems?

Finally we asked: And what is the impact, if any, on your support for the Lib Dems:

Here’s what you told us:

  • 45% – I remain an enthusiastic party member
  • 35% – I remain an enthusiastic party member, but am angry with the party leadership
  • 11% – I will remain a party member but with little or no enthusiasm
  • 9% – I am seriously considering resigning my party membership
  • (Excluding Don’t know / No opinion (0%))

Well, the good news for the party is that 80% of Lib Dem members remain enthusiastic… the bad news is that 35% of them are angry with the leadership. And the worse news is that, according to our survey, some 9% of part members are considering resigning from the Lib Dems in protest at the leadership’s U-turn on tuition fees.

The result comes with a caveat, of course — as with all surveys, we don’t know how many ticked that option in order to demonstrate the strength of their anger but may not end up actually following through and resigning. But, still, that almost one in 10 party members are prepared to consider quitting the party shows the extent of dissatisfaction with the leadership on this issue.

Here’s a sample of the comments we received:

Not angry with the leadership but disappointed with them and also disappointed that we are not able to tumpet the good bits we are doing!!

We are where we are but have real fears us putting Country before Party could still cost us very dearly. I am angry students are having to repay fees when the (expletive withdrawn) bankers are getting their fat bonuses once again!

This isn’t even Social Democracy let alone Liberalism. Priorities should be: tackle the fundamental flaws of tax concessions for the wealthiest 5 – 10%, scrap Trident,reduce public sector waste and then develop a post 16 education & training system which is fit for purpose.

I am not ‘angry’ with the party leadership, but I am disappointed at the lack of understanding shown to members and activists, and the lack of willingness to take a clearer Lib Dem line on issues like tuition fees. We have a get-out in the Coalition Agreement; let’s use it.

Enthusiastic, but concerned party member – angry is too strong a word.

I will remain a party member with little enthusiasm but that was because of the intellectually incoherent manifesto that included stupid populist policies like the original line on abolishing tuition fees!

Browne has given me much to think about; if anything is denting my enthusiasm for the party it is the instant tribal response from so many bloggers etc that fees are “obviously” wrong and that our leaders’ qualified support is “obviously” a betrayal.

I may be less enthusiastic next year if this continues. No party is perfect but there is a limit. I understand the need to compromise and the deficit(left Labour Party in 2008 after many policy differences over 5 years).

We get a triumph on wheel-clampers, the Tories on Tuition Fees. Not exactly in the same league, are they? And now the L-Ds will look like hypocrites unless their MPs revolt. Either way it’s a media nightmare.

It’s not the policy; the Browne report might actually be quite sensible if tweaked, its the god awful way the party has gone about explaining its actions, or not. I work for a Lib Dem MP and this is just disheartening.

I remain an enthusiastic party member, but am very angry at the way we conducted our election campaign on this issue. I don’t hold this against the party leadership, though, because I think that style of populist campaigning has become deep-rooted in the party culture. I sincerely hope that it goes.

If one or two individual issues like university funding decided whether or not I remained a member I would never have joined the Lib Dems in the first place, since I am a supporter of nuclear power and of free schools! I remain a Liberal Democrat because I am a liberal and most of my fellow Lib Dems are too.

If we are like all the others when we get into power – changing our minds, going back on our word – then really what’s the point? We can disagree but grit our teeth because it’s a coalition – we don’t have to sign up to every Tory policy and abandon our policies and principles with such pride because we’re ‘in government, making difficult decisions’.

It was inevitable that the Browne Review Report would cause problems for the party. It gives us a chance to show that party policy is not always coalition policy. This issue, this early on, may prove helpful to us as the Parliament proceeds.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 567 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 13th and 15th October.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the results of the contest for Party President, and the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll