Under fire MP says: I am not a hypocrite

MP LYNNE Featherstone has defended her decision to vote to increase tuition fees, but admitted it could cost her her seat.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, campaigned vociferously against tuition fees during the election.

Now Equalities Minister in the coalition government, she was one of the 323 Lib Dem and Conservative MPs who voted to increase tuition fees from �3,290 to between �6,000 and �9,000 a year from 2012, giving the government a majority of 21.

“I’ve always believed education should be free, but what I wanted was not on the table from anyone, including the NUS,” said Ms Featherstone. “Looking at what is in this substantive offer, it is fairer. It will mean more poorer students will be paid for and that no one pays up-front.”

She denied charges of hypocrisy after publicly urging her predecessor, the former Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Barbara Roche, to “speak up clearly and publicly against top-up fees,” on her blog in 2002.

Ms Featherstone responded: “Since then the principle of free education has been broken. I still would prefer tuition fees to be paid out of general taxation but years on, decided to go for the fairest available system for local people. If there has been any hypocrisy it is that Labour commissioned the Browne report and was planning to raise tuition fees.”

But she conceded that her U-turn could result in her losing her seat. “I might lose it but if you went around the whole time worrying about your seat you’d never make the right decision. I don’t like the decisions that we’ve had to make but it doesn’t mean I’ve lost touch,” she said.

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She claimed that the new system will be “progressive” because graduates will only start paying their debts once they start earning �21,000.

“I understand some people who voted for me feel let down, but the Labour Government brought in tuition fees and 40 universities said they would have to close unless they were able to increase fees. Labour expanded the number of people going to university from one in seven to one in three.”

She said that currently only 40 of the 80,000 young people at Oxbridge were on free school meals. By reducing spending on higher education, the government will be able to invest in primary and secondary education.

Her decision to vote for the proposal has provoked anger among constituents. Dozens gathered at the Clock Tower in Crouch End on Saturday to protest and local party leader, Cllr Robert Gorrie, released a statement saying his group was “disappointed” with the government’s decision.

Councillor for Fortis Green, Matt Davies, resigned from the party after 15 years and will now serve as an independent councillor in Haringey.

Several commentators believe the policy U-turn will mean the end of the Lib Dems at the ballot box. Ms Featherstone says this won’t be the case.

“I’ve known Matt all the time he’s been on Haringey Council. I met with him a few weeks ago and we talked it through, there was no falling out,” she said.

“There’s always a chance that people do not like it when you make a difficult decision. But I think news of our death is a bit premature. We have to push forward.”