Student vote is not lost, claims Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
- Credit: PA
Nick Clegg has played down predictions support for the Liberal Democrats from students will haemorrhage in Norwich when voters go to the polls, claiming undergraduates are giving his party a good hearing.
He accused rivals of 'constantly misrepresenting and mangling' his party's side of the tuition fees story, claiming that 'a fair number of students' believed the new system was much fairer than critics had predicted.
The Liberal Democrat leader pledged not to raise tuition fees to the National Union of Students before the last general election, but lifted the cap on fees to £9,000 once in power.
But Labour candidate Clive Lewis, who is taking on incumbent Simon Wright in May, said that Mr Clegg's 'talk was cheap' and he knew he could lose his seat to Labour in Sheffield, hitting out at the £9,000 cap as 'a regressive form of tax'.
Labour's leader Ed Miliband reportedly wants to announce next month that he will cut maximum university fees for students by a third, from £9,000 to £6,000 - but Mr Lewis said tuition fees were 'fundamentally flawed'.
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'At the moment, you vote for Labour and you get a £3,000 reduction in your fees, but even I know that is a holding position. I don't think it is sustainable, we do need a fair deal for students when it comes to education funding. Tuition fees are fundamentally flawed. My party introduced them and they were wrong to do it. They put off the poorest and most vulnerable from going into education. We are seeing working people from the poorest backgrounds not going into the arts, they are terrified they will not be able to pay off their student loans.'
'I speak my mind. Yes we have a general election. But for me it is fundamentally wrong. I am not going to start spouting the line for the General Election. Come May 7, if I'm elected, I will be pushing for the most progressive form of education and maintenance.'
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The Liberal Democrat society at the University of East Anglia disappeared after the last election, but was re-formed last year, and its president Yan Malinowski said it now had 26 members, with a 'sizeable' number going out canvassing for MP Simon Wright.
'Our students are in two minds about tuition fees. Some students are still annoyed about it, but realise not all Liberal Democrats voted for it, but others see the benefits of the changes with the end to up-front post graduate costs and protections.'
Mr Clegg said: 'I am not in any way trying to shirk the heat and the fury around this, but if you are to go out and talk to students they don't have the kind of uniform opinions that a lot of people assume. That is because they have worked out what I said at the time, that I wish I could implement the party's policy, but I can't because I am not Prime Minister, but we are going to do the next best things because we want to be fair and will allow anyone to go to university that wants to.' 'Simon [Wright], and Bob [Russell - Colchester MP] and myself need to knock on doors and talk to people, we are not complacent of people's support. But where we are able to explain our side of the story, rather than constantly have it misrepresented and mangled by our opponents, actually I find we get quite a good hearing.'
What do you think about the tuition fees debate? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, Norwich Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email email@example.com