Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey admits to hopeless tuition fee promise

Kingston’s MP Ed Davey has apologised for breaking his promise to vote against any rise in tuition fees.

Joe Stanley-Smith

Kingston MP Ed Davey has come under fire after admitting that the Liberal Democrats knew all along that they probably would not be able to keep their pre-election pledge to vote against rises in tuition fees.

Speaking at his surgery in Kingston, he echoed an apology made by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last month for signing the pledge, as well as personally apologising to Kingston University students for breaking it.

“A lot of us [Lib Dems] were worried about signing the pledge as the costing only worked if we were the ruling majority party,” he said. “To be brutally honest that probably wasn’t going to happen.

“Nick Clegg apologised on behalf of the whole Liberal Democrat party, I’m certainly not going to renege on that apology.”

A promise broken

Prior to the 2010 General Election, Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge to vote against all rises in tuition fees – a promise which they broke in just six months, almost tripling the maximum price which universities could charge for a degree.

He said, however, that students got a much better deal than they would have done if it had been a Conservative majority government rather than the Coalition, and pointed out that students starting in 2012/2013 will not have to begin paying back their student loans until they are earning £21,000 per year.

His comments have provoked an angry response from many groups.

Kingston University Students’ Union President Sean Kelly said: “We think this is a positive step, however it is indeed too little, too late.

“The majority of Kingston students have abandoned the Lib Dems so when it comes to the next election I see it highly unlikely for there to be a big Lib Dem following at Kingston unless lots of things change.”

In the General Election Mr Davey gained just under half of the votes in the Kingston & Surbiton constituency, with a majority of 7,560. Many Kingston students voted Lib Dem, due to the tuition fee pledge.

Despite Nick Clegg and Ed Davey’s apologies, the number of students voting Lib Dem in 2015 is likely to drop massively, and to compound matters for Davey, the Lib Dems have slumped to just 8 per cent of the vote in a recent YouGov poll.

As Kingston’s student population is very large – over 25,000 in 2010, although not all live locally and not all vote – and planned constituency border changes are likely to be in favour of the Conservatives in Kingston and Surbiton, it would take comparatively fewer members of the general population to abandon the Lib Dems to produce the necessary swing to force Ed Davey out of his seat.

Re-zoning Kingston

Mr Davey reaffirmed his commitment to the re-zoning of Kingston train station from zone 6 to zone 5 – a move which if successful could save Kingston students and staff who commute to university hundreds of pounds per year.

“Re-zoning Kingston is right up there at the top of my campaigns list,” he said. “There are 23 stations in zone 5 which are further away from London than Kingston. I have spoken to Boris Johnson about it.”

The savings, if they materialise, may turn out to be negligible as TFL prices are set to rise again in January. Mr Davey, also the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said he believed the rise in price for a zone 1-6 travelcard would be larger than last year’s 6.3 per cent rise from £8.00 to £8.50, taking prices to around £9 or £10

Prior to the 2010 general election, a survey by The River indicated that 56 per cent of Kingston students were planning to vote for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

He has been an MP since unseating Conservatives Norman Lamont and Richard Tracey in 1997, when the Surbiton and Kingston-upon-Thames constituencies merged in the 1997 election.

Davey on the Coalition

Mr Davey went on to speak about the economy and how it feels working in the first coalition government since the Second World War.

“It’s strange being in government with a party I’ve fought all my life,” he said. “On the economy we actually have a lot of positive discussions because the Conservatives are acting in a more Keynesian and innovative way than they have in the past.

“But they don’t want people to know that, which I find quite funny.”

Keynesian economics says that decisions made in the private sector can lead to poor growth, as we currently have in the British economy, and that Government intervention such as lowering interest rates and higher government spending to pull economies out of recession is necessary.

During their time in government the Coalition have cut £10bn from the welfare bill, slashed university funding, begun privatising the NHS and given a tax break to those earning over £150,000 per year.

Richard Donnelly, secretary of Trades Council, which represents most local trade unions, said: “Ed Davey is wrong in saying that the government is in any way Keynesian.

“The government that Davey is part of is slashing public spending in areas like education, which is deepening the recession. David Cameron, Davey’s boss in the cabinet, said he’d cut the deficit, not the NHS. Instead, the budget deficit has gone up and the government is shutting the kids’ ward at Kingston Hospital.”

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