A national advertising campaign demanding that the MPs who broke their 2010 promise to scrap university tuition fees lose their seats at the General Election has been launched by students. Billboards bearing the slogan "liar liar" will be unveiled in London, Sheffield and Manchester, while advertising vans branded with similar messages will be targeting the, mainly Liberal Democrat, seats held by "pledge breakers", the National Union of Students (NUS) said.
The union added that it was also taking out national newspaper advertising to spread the message ahead of the country going to the polls on May 7.
A Liberal Democrat spokeperson told The Huffington Post UK: "We didn’t win the election, so we couldn’t deliver every policy that we wanted to, especially as we went into government with a party that was determined to raise fees at a time when there's no money. Instead we tried to get the fairest deal we could.
"The system now is fairer than Labour’s fees system. No one pays up front, no one pays a penny until they earn £21,000, and graduates who go on to earn less in their careers will pay less than those who earn more. The proof is that more students are going to university to study full-time than ever before, including more than ever from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
"There will be some people who will judge us for one thing we couldn’t do. But many fair minded people will judge us by what we have been able to do: tax cuts for millions of working people; more money for poor children in schools; a record 2m apprentices; equal marriage; shared parental leave and many more policies that have made Britain fairer."
A total of 28 Liberal Democrats MPs signed a pre-2010 general election pledge to scrap tuition fees, but then voted in favour of trebling them to a maximum of £9,000 just months later in December 2010, the union said. This included high-profile Lib Dem names such as party leader Nick Clegg, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and Business Secretary Vince Cable.
A further eight Lib Dem MPs who had backed the pledge abstained or were absent from the December vote. The union also claimed that two Tory MPs broke the pledge. It is understood that one, Ben Wallace, who was appointed MP for Wyre and Preston North in 2010 and is now standing for re-election, pledged to oppose the free hike with the caveat "under the current system" - which at that time referred to the fee system under the last Labour government.
The other is Lee Scott, who is currently standing for re-election as Conservative MP for Ilford North. He signed the pledge and abstained in the vote, which the NUS has said it counts as the same as backing the hike. The NUS billboards and advertising vans are branded with the message "Broken promises leave a permanent mark..." above an image of two fists tattooed with the words "liar liar".
Union president Toni Pearce said: "It's payback time. I'd like to say directly to Nick Clegg that your apology won't cover any of the £40,000 debt that students will graduate with for the first time this summer. They pledged to scrap tuition fees - they lied. We won't let them trade lies for power again. We represent seven million students and are urging every single one across the country to vote against broken pledges."
University tuition fees have been a sensitive issue for the Lib Dems ever since they campaigned at the last General Election on a promise to oppose fee hikes if they won power, before making a high-profile U-turn on the issue. Clegg has previously apologised for making the pre-2010 election pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees, saying that while it was made with the best of intentions, the party should not have made a promise it was not absolutely sure it could deliver.
In total, 57 Lib Dem MPs signed the NUS pledge five years ago, but not all then voted in favour of raising fees.
The 28 that did, according to the NUS, are:
- Danny Alexander
- Norman Baker
- Alan Beith
- Gordon Birtwistle
- Tom Brake
- Jeremy Browne
- Malcolm Bruce
- Paul Burstow
- Vince Cable
- Alistair Carmichael
- Nick Clegg
- Edward Davey
- Lynne Featherstone
- Don Foster
- Stephen Gilbert
- Duncan Hames
- Nick Harvey
- David Heath
- John Hemming
- Mark Hunter
- Norman Lamb
- David Laws
- Michael Moore
- Andrew Stunell
- Jo Swinson
- Sarah Teather
- David Ward
- Steve Webb
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "We did not win the election, so we could not deliver every policy that we wanted to, especially as we went into government with a party that was determined to raise fees at a time when there's no money. Instead we tried to get the fairest deal we could. The system now is fairer than Labour's fees system. No-one pays up front, no-one pays a penny until they earn £21,000, and graduates who go on to earn less in their careers will pay less than those who earn more.
"The proof is that more students are going to university to study full-time than ever before, including more than ever from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. There will be some people who will judge us for one thing we could not do. But many fair-minded people will judge us by what we have been able to do: tax cuts for millions of working people; more money for poor children in schools; a record two million apprentices; equal marriage; shared parental leave and many more policies that have made Britain fairer."
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