I am just back from a weekend away and I have been catching up with the news. One non-headline to jump out at me was this tweet from Liberal Youth (the youth wing of the Liberal Democrats).
Curious isn’t it? They have rejected a motion that simply re-asserted their policy opposing tuition fees!
For most people this story will mean little to them. But I can think of two groups this will impact. Firstly those within the Liberal Democrats opposed to tuition fees. Secondly, the many students who will see this as the final nail in the ‘I won’t vote Lib Dem’ coffin.
To start with, the students who used to support the Liberal Democrats. A 2012 report shows that the Liberal Democrats slipped from being the most popular party with students in 2010 to being the 4th most popular in 2012 – significantly below even The Green Party.
The report concluded that, “It is highly likely that the party’s appeal to students lay in a long-standing promise and pre-election pledge to oppose any increase to tuition fees and phase them out altogether over a six year period.” The report also pointed out that support for the Liberal Democrats amongst students had never fallen below 20% bef0re 2010 – it currently rests around 13%.
These disillusioned former Lib Dem voters might have been interested to see a faction within the Liberal Democrats posing a rebellion or a fight back for the future. This conference vote certainly will not provide that. With this vote, the chance of the Liberal Democrats winning back these votes by the next election is looking smaller and smaller.
Internally though this will also have an impact. Back in 2010 the Liberal Youth were very openly opposing the coalition position on tuition fees and organising lobbying sessions to convince MPs to oppose the move. In short, they were an institution within the Liberal Democrats holding out for their party’s position – to abolish tuition fees. I spoke to many young people within the Liberal Democrats at the time who pointed to this activism to show a role they could play in opposing tuition fees.
I wonder if the sense of isolation for the progressives within the Liberal Democrats might be growing. The Liberal Youth, the institution they relied on for unwavering opposition to tuition fees, now looks be distinctly wavering in their position!
Finally, it is worth noting that as far as I can see this story hasn’t been picked up in any online or print publication coverage. Partly I would think because of its niche interest but also I guess because who covers youth conferences?
Still, a handful of tweets remain online to stand testament to this vote that I am sure will resonate with some inside and out of the party.