Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Tuition fee plan costing UK coalition partner, poll shows

Reuters, LONDON

The popularity of British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the coalition government’s junior partner, has plummeted and supporters deserting his party over plans to raise university tuition fees, a poll published yesterday said.

Parliament voted on Thursday in favor of government plans to allow English universities to charge students almost triple the current limit, a policy that has divided Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party and led to violent protests in London.

Before May’s election, Clegg and all his party’s lawmakers had pledged to vote against any rise and his decision to renege on that promise has seen his personal standing sink, an Ipsos MORI poll for the News of the World newspaper found.

In April, a poll rated him as the most popular British party leader since then-prime minister Winston Churchill in World War II. Now 61 percent of those surveyed thought Clegg was untrustworthy.

The policy has also damaged his party, with almost half the voters who supported the center-left Liberal Democrats in May saying they were unlikely to do so in future.

The findings were backed up by another poll for the coalition’s senior partner, the Conservative Party, published in the Sunday Telegraph, which indicated only 54 percent who backed Clegg’s party would do so at the next election.

Less than half of the 57 Liberal Democrat lawmakers voted in favor of raising tuition fees, one of the government’s measures to erase a record budget deficit, and the revolt led some commentators to suggest Clegg’s leadership could be in question.

However, analysts say the growing unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats means the party is unlikely to take any action that would jeopardize the coalition.

“I think in coalition governments there’s always going to be issues on which there is going to be some disagreement,” John Leech, a LibDem who voted against the policy, told Sky News.

The MORI poll found two-thirds of Britons opposed the rise in tuition fees and most thought it would deter those from deprived families from going to university.

However, it also found Conservative support had been little affected by anger over the policy and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s personal ratings were almost unchanged.

Protesters attacked government buildings and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles on Thursday during London’s worst riots in years and the fourth violent demonstration in the capital against the plans.

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