Clarke accuses Lamb of tuition fees ‘dishonesty’

Former education secretary Charles Clarke last night accused North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb of 'deliberately misleading' voters by signing a pledge to oppose any hike in university tuition fees.

In a scathing speech to North Norfolk Labour Party in Cromer, he said Mr Lamb should 'apologise' to his electors for signing the pledge and then changing his mind.

And he added: 'If he has any political morality at all he should confirm that he deliberately misled the electorate and that he did so purely to solicit votes without relying either on sustainable reality or on political principles.'

The comments followed Mr Lamb's exclusive column in Tuesday's EDP, in which he told of his 'moral dilemma' and admitted he was set to break his pre-election pledge to oppose higher fees.

Mr Lamb said he was 'positive' about the overall package of coalition government proposals, including a near three-fold increase in fees to �9,000 per year, and said: 'I certainly won't be in a position of voting against this.'

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Mr Clarke lost his Norwich South seat in May by 310 votes to Liberal Democrat Simon Wright, who signed the pledge to oppose tuition fees increases and is believed to have received strong support from University of East Anglia (UEA) students as a result.

That support is thought to have swung a tight contest in Mr Wright's favour, and there is clearly no love lost between Mr Clarke and the Lib Dems.

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Mr Lamb hit back at the comments. He said: 'This beggars belief, coming from a party that opposed fees completely in 1997 then introduced them in 2005.

'The Labour Party remains completely divided between its leader Ed Miliband, who says 'no' to fees, and its shadow chancellor Alan Johnson, who says no to a graduate tax, which his leader supports.'

He added: 'I think we should avoid mud-slinging in this and concentrate on resolving a difficult issue.'

Mr Lamb went on: 'We campaigned in the election on a whole package of policies but we highlighted four key priorities, all of which we are delivering in government.

'Any party entering a coalition aims to secure as much of their programme as possible, but it is self-evident that you can't get everything.'

During last night's speech, Mr Clarke - who as education secretary in 2005 forced the current tuition fees rules through parliament despite a fierce backbench rebellion - said Mr Lamb's 'hand-wringing' over student finance was 'sanctimonious hogwash'.

He said the chief political adviser to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was 'simply wrong' in contending that the Lib Dems deserved credit for the progressive aspects of the fees proposals.

He said Lord Browne's report into higher education funding, which was commissioned by the previous Labour government and triggered the latest proposals, 'proposed significant improvements which the Conservatives would have introduced in any case without any intervention from the Lib Dems, despite Norman's Lamb's vainglorious claims.'

Mr Clarke added that when Labour introduced the current fee system it also 'substantially increased' government funding for university teaching - in contrast with the recent coalition decision to cut it by 80pc.

He said: 'Norman Lamb's claim that Labour was cutting university funding is utterly hypocritical when his party and a Lib Dem cabinet minister are implementing swingeing cuts of this scale.

'The truth is that Norman Lamb was elected in North Norfolk in 2001, 2005 and 2010 with the support of thousands of people who believed his claim that a vote for him was the best way to keep out the Conservatives here.'

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