Liverpool Wavertree is a hotly contested seat at the moment, and both Labour and the Lib Dems are pulling out all the stops for the battle on May 6th. I’ve never had a huge problem with the Lib Dems – I actually voted for them in 2005 in my Tory-stronghold home seat. Despite being card-carrying Labour, I’d always choose the Lib Dems over the Tories. Yet this battle in Wavertree is making me as a student representative uneasy. The Lib Dems are constantly attempting to woo the student vote under the banner of ‘free education’. How would they pay for it if in government? Oh yes, it turns out that they would have to have a look at the finances once in government to see whether they could actually afford it.
The danger is that some people across Merseyside see the Lib Dems as somehow the safe option. But they’re never going to be able to form a majority government – or, it is at least mathematically very improbable. So their outlandish statements about tuition fees are simply not helpful.
They’ve also effectively said that they’ll cut back on student numbers. Students’ unions across Merseyside are clear on the fact that we do not want cuts in student numbers: in a difficult economic climate we need more graduates not fewer. Liverpool has benefited greatly from greater access and participation from lower socio-economic groups in Higher Education, and we can’t let policies that talk about ‘only the right sort of people’ going to university.
At a town hall debate recently, the Lib Dem candidate said just that – somehow ‘not the right people are going to university’. What I think she meant was that it was OK for her kids to go to university, but not the working class ones up the road in some other part of Merseyside. Cutting student numbers would do exactly that. People who go to Eton will certainly get a place, students at a comprehensive in Merseyside will not be so lucky. How will they compete with privately-educated students who come out with 3 As?
The Lib Dems just seem to make all these promises, without actually looking at where we need the most investment. I wouldn’t advocate free Higher Education until we see a primary and secondary school system that is the best in the world. We need investment in children’s education from the very beginning – only then will we begin to see more young people from across Liverpool applying and going to university, who are the ‘most able, but least likely’ to go.
Furthermore, in Cheadle, the Lib Dems are saying that “we’re the only party with fully costed plans to scrap university tuition fees straight away”. Yet the party’s national policy is actually “We have a financially responsible plan to phase out [tuition] fees over six years.” So, which is their policy?
Hundreds of Labour MPs have already signed our pledge against an increase in tuition fees. Only 10 Tories have signed the pledge. Yet if we see swings in places like Wavertree, it is one more step towards Cameron’s Conservatives forming a majority in parliament. Our priority should be to fight against a Tory government who clearly do not want to widen access to universities, reserving it for the privileged few – and this would have a disastrous impact on our region.