Liberal Democrat MPs in the West Midlands have still not decided which way to vote in Thursday’s critical tuition fees debate, as the row over student funding threatens to tear their party apart.
Birmingham MP John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) said he may vote in favour of reforms which triple the maximum annual fee to £9,000, but was still waiting for more details of the proposals to be published.
Like other Lib Dem MPs, Mr Hemming signed a pledge before the general election promising to vote against student fee increases.
But he argues that the reforms, including ensuring graduates don’t pay anything back until they are earning £21,000, mean the proposed funding scheme is fairer than the old fees system.
Meanwhile, Solihull MP Lorely Burt (Lib Dem Solihull) said she was considering whether to abstain - or to vote against the changes.
She said: “I am not going to commit until Thursday. I am not voting for the increase, it will be either a vote against or an abstention.”
The coalition agreement signed by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in May allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain on the vote.
But Lib Dem candidates in May’s general election signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students promising to vote against any fee increase. If they abstain, they could be accused of breaking this promise.
At the same time, senior Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is under enormous pressure to vote in favour of the reforms, because he is the Government Minister responsible for university funding and has spoken in favour of the changes in the Commons.
Liberal Democrat MPs will hold a meeting tomorrow evening to try to decide what to do.
Leader Nick Clegg has been trying to get angry backbenchers to agree to abstain - even though he has publicly stated that he would like to vote for the package.
But key backbenchers including former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell appear set to join Labour in the no lobby.
A small group of backbenchers have launched a campaign to postpone the vote, saying there should instead be a full public consultation on student funding.
Mr Hemming said he would vote based on his beliefs rather than how he was told by the party leadership.
He was unlikely to abstain even if the rest of the party agreed to do so, he said.
“I am of the view that to govern is to choose, not to abstain.”