Simon Hughes and higher education

The appointment of Simon Hughes as the coalition’s “special advocate” for access to higher education looks cynical and desperate. In some ways it’s the latest humiliation for Hughes, whose public agonising about his conscience while voting through the Coalition’s cuts programme has been one of the less edifying political spectacles of the last few months. The letter of appointment from Cameron and Clegg is a gem too – the comments about countering “misinformation” could frankly have been written by Erich Honecker.

But the press coverage is interesting. First, the Independent describes Hughes as

A senior Liberal Democrat MP who felt unable to vote for tuition fee increases

Pure spin. How about a senior Liberal Democrat MP who lacked the courage to vote against the increases, as he pledged his constituents he would do?

Second, none of the press coverage I’ve seen mentions EMA. Of course this is much the less fashionable cause, especially among the privileged graduates who run the media, but it’s a vitally important issue in terms of ensuring that the poorest in society have a chance at getting into higher education. Moreover, it’s one that matters a lot to Hughes’ inner-city constituents. Is this in Hughes’ remit? Or has the Coalition simply turned its back on EMA, and is this really a charm offensive aimed at middle class parents, may of whom will be bitterly regretting voting Liberal Democrat at the Election?

It’s cynical, it’s desperate, and in my view its main aim is to try and appease a Liberal Democrat party split down the middle and headed rapidly for oblivion.

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