I'm a student, and I'm voting Lib Dem. These two statements should not forge some irreconcilable conflict, but to many of my peers, they do. When I announce my political predilection, I'm regularly met with a furrowed brow and a medley of phrases such as, 'don't you feel betrayed?' or 'they just let us down.' The NUS isn't exactly helping, fostering this herd mentality by plastering stations with the not-so-subtle call to arms: 'vote against the pledge-breakers.' But surely, our union should deem us worthy of our own opinion?
This is perhaps a further crime to many of my fellow students, but I'll go ahead and say it: anybody who feels as if the Lib Dems betrayed students, may have failed to grasp the realities of coalition politics.
A coalition is an amalgamation of politicians from different parties bickering over what is best for the country. For the minority party, all decisions are not happy decisions; they do not waltz out of cabinet meetings chuckling that things are all running so jolly smoothly (for evidence, look no further than Nick Clegg, and his distinctly corpse-like appearance during PMQT). The reality is not Dave, Nick and George participating in some grand political circle jerk, whilst Vince winces uncomfortably in the corner. There is conflict.
It is a numbers game: whoever has the most seats shouts the loudest, and whoever shouts the loudest gets to veto certain commitments - say, the abolishment of tuition fees. During this infamous rift, the Tories had 302 voices, 19 of whom formed the bulk of the cabinet, whilst the Lib Dems had secured a dramatically quieter - and generally less rowdy - 56, with only five on the cabinet. The tuition fee "promise" was not some meaningless bargaining chip, designed to snare the naive student voter, which once redundant, was cast aside without a care. No, the Tories had failed to even mention students in their plans, and the Lib Dems were entirely ideologically outnumbered.
The issue is that we don't see the shouting or the bickering. We just see a puppet that looks an awful lot like Clegg, propped up next to Cameron pursed lipped and silent, and imagine the pair of them sharing a beer, perhaps saying cheers over their successful betrayal of the student community. And pally they may seem, because a coalition government must appear collaborative. How much confidence would we have in the government if exposed to continual bouts of squabbling? The Punch and Judy politics of the Commons is unsettling enough. All feuds must happen behind closed doors. As with divorced parents, who so often become unconvincing quasi-friends for the kids peace of mind - it's not ideal, but it has to be done.
Another misunderstanding surrounds the manifesto. For the majority party it is indeed a blue print for government; go ahead and hold Cameron to account for his plethora of broken promises. For the minority party however, they are writing their own Utopia: dreams of what they would do in the implausible event that they had the floor to themselves. Their manifesto's contents is by no means a blood pact, but is rather a reassurance that another corner will be fought.
And certainly, the Lib Dems have always fought in the corner of young people, and continue to do so. During this election, they are pledging a Rent to Own scheme, which would enable young adults to get on the housing ladder, without the need for a huge surplus of savings. Over the past five years, Vince Cable's Apprenticeship Grant for Employers, has meant that two million more young people could get on in life.
Far from discouraging potential students, during the last parliament, the Lib Dems ensured that more people were going to university than ever before. Moreover, they have secured income-contingent loans for graduate courses from 2016, ensuring that for the first time, further academic study is not a privilege of the wealthy.
Crucially, the Lib Dems have consistently proved themselves to be the green party: creating the world's first Green Investment Bank, calling for a charge on plastic bags, planting over one million trees over the last parliament, and pledging that renewable sources will make up over a third of our energy by 2020. Surely, protecting our planet should be at the top of the agenda for the youth of today?
But none of this is mentioned, all we are reminded of is that one broken pledge. Why? Students, the NUS and the media needed a Judas, and Clegg was the perfect fit.
Simply, we shouldn't treat manifesto commitments as promises in the age of the coalition government. Whomever you back, you'll only be disappointed.Suggest a correction