Student fees – The Great Debate (Part two)

Students protest outside Tynwald

What a day!

The student protest outside Tynwald was in full flow and the amount of support from the public was heartening to see. It took an incredible amount of nerve for these students to stand up to the government and clearly say “No” to the introduction of tuition fees in this way. Their success yesterday in defeating the Government’s tuition fees scheme shows how the public can really contribute to political debate and how they can make themselves heard.

There was some excellent work done by Kate Beecroft (LibVan) pointing out not only some of the flaws in the proposed regulations but also the fact that a number of Members of the House had, in their pre-election manifestos and interviews, supported the curent arrangements for tuition fees.

Something our Chief Minister didn’t seem to feel was at all relevant…

Really? What can be more relevant in a democracy than being able to trust your elected politicians to stick to the promises they make to get yout to vote for them? We elect our MHK’s based on their manifestos and we trust that they will follow them during their term in office. When, as Mr Bell is fond of saying, “times have changed” then our elected representatives owe it to their constituents to clearly explain why the changed times have affected their principles.

Now I fully accept that the Island is in very tough financial conditions (and you’ll struggle to find a greater advocate of change than me) but its my view that if you can’t stick to a promise, then do your best not to make it in the first place! If, for whatever reason, you change your mind – and lets face it, its going to happen – all I’m asking is that you explain it to your constituents. I refuse to accept that it is ok to marginalise promises made in election manifestos just because circumstances change. Candidates should be honest with the electorate from the outset and not make promises just to win votes.

Thankfully, LibVan don’t suffer from this. They were clear in their manifesto, where they aimed to “Protect the grant system” for students, and as we’ve just seen today they’re not going to let the government push this through quietly or without a fight.

After being forced to withdraw his proposals, demonstrating how inadequate they were, Mr Crookall has to go back to the drawing board until next month’s Tynwald. If this isn’t a clear statement that the government are on the wrong track then I don’t know what is.

Surely now it’s time for a change of approach, we’re all painfully aware that changes have to be made but the current path is clearly not what people want. It’s time to consider updating the taxation strategy (a real, meaningful update please), real substantive changes to government pension schemes, a real attempt at the rationalisation of government services and more joined up budgeting and thinking between government departments. It shouldn’t be a choice between “100 teachers or tuition fees” as Mr Crookall intimated, it should be choices between “New buses or tuition fees” or “Speculation in Pinewood or tuition fees”. Choices should be between items of low priority and high priority accross the whole of Goverments, not limited to within each individual department.

Those opposing the introduction of tuition fees have made their position quite clear, will the Minister take notice or will the redrafted proposals be essentially the same as those rejected today?

Lets wait and see…

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