by Stephen Tall on November 13, 2010
The Guardian carries a sensationalist headline tonight: Revealed: Lib Dems planned before election to abandon tuition fees pledge. The truth is somewhat different from the newspaper’s anti-Lib Dem spin, however.
The story is clearly designed to make the reader believe that, even as Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems spoke out against tuition fees, it was secretly their plan to renege on the party’s manifesto pledge. Yet, if you read more carefully it becomes clear that the party was simply anticipating the likely hung parliament scenario — that faced with two parties, Labour and the Tories, committed to tuition fees and the Browne Review, there was little chance of the Lib Dems winning the argument on abolishing fees. Instead the party was working out how to get the best, fairest deal possible on the assumption that it held the balance of power but did not have a working majority to be able to implement its manifesto.
Only half-way through the piece, does the Guardian journalist Nicholas Watt eventually concede that:
The leaked document showed that during the preparations for a hung parliament the Lib Dems still intended to fulfil that commitment [to the NUS pledge].
Yet everything about the way the story is written, let alone the headline, is designed to leave even the careful reader with the impression that the Lib Dems went into the election fully intending to break their manifesto pledge.
No-one pretends that the last few weeks have been anything other than mortifyingly embarrassing for the party. The Lib Dems have spectacularly U-turned on one of the party’s key election manifesto pledges. Many party members are up in arms at the decision. But that is no excuse for the Guardian, or Nicholas Watt, to distort the truth in a desperately thin attempt to smear the party.