On the cover of the last issue of bathimpact, Don Foster – the MP for Bath – told us that he “did not regret” voting in favour of tuition fees when he had previously promised to vote against them. Speaking as someone who actually voted for Don in 2010, I’d like to address some of the points from this article, explaining why I feel let down as a voter and why I felt his reply was simply incomplete.
I’ll begin by explaining the background to this story. In 2010, with the Labour party in retrograde, it was likely Bath would be a hotly contested seat between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Voters angry at the Labour government but fearing a Conservative government would be effectively forced by the first-past-the-post voting system to vote for the Liberal Democrats. But it takes more than just fear of one party to vote for another; given this fact, the Liberal Democrats in 2010 appealed to more progressive voters with their manifesto, and accomplished this very effectively. Two major pledges stuck out as truly great progressive vote-winners: 1) The infamous pledge to abolish tuition fees, and 2) a pledge to introduce an Alternative Voting system, scrapping first-past-the-post.
In the run up to the 2010 election, Don Foster campaigned on this campus with a signed pledge personally promising to vote against a rise in tuition fees. Let there be no prevarication in the wording of this pledge, no vagueries in the context or the meaning with which one can contest; the exact wording of this pledge is (verbatim):
“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” – Undersigned with Don Foster’s signature.
When the coalition government was thereafter formed, the excuses and the backtracking began to set-in. The article in the last issue did not make clear enough that this wasn’t some flagrant passing thing said in a conflated speech to win votes; it wasn’t a liberal democrat pledge, it was a personal pledge – a signed personal pledge. In spite of this – and before being promoted to the chief whip position of his party (which, legally, I am not implying is related) – Don Foster completely turned his back on this promise and voted for a rise in tuition fees. Just to clarify: this is a complete antipode of the meaning of the aforementioned promise. There are no caveats in the pledge; it doesn’t say “unless in a coalition” or “in the event of a liberal democrat government”. It says simply you, as a member of parliament, personally promise to vote against a rise. Thank you for your reply and your heart-felt regrets at promising something we wanted, but a failure to recognise the binding nature of a promise is symptomatic of one thing: a critical lack of personal integrity. Good luck to your successor in the 2015 election, who has your full support; which (I am told) apparently means something.
Photo credited to Policy Exchange