Clegg faces hostile tuition fees reception

By Alex Stevenson

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was accused of “weasel words” as his equivocal stance on tuition fees troubled delegates in Bournemouth.

Mr Clegg was asked about his position on the Lib Dems’ long-standing policy to scrap tuition fees for higher education during a question-and-answer session at conference.

The leader made clear in pre-conference interviews he is not prepared to immediately abolish tuition fees.

And he stood firm by that position when pressed on his stance by delegates.

“There is no question-mark over the policy of the Liberal Democrats to scrap tuition fees,” he said. “The only question-mark is about when we can afford to scrap tuition fees.”

At this point a delegate shouted: “Weasel words.”

Mr Clegg pointed out the “significant financial implications” of an immediate move away from tuition fees, saying over the course of the next parliament they would open up a £12 billion hole.

When one questioner told him that this policy was about “a lot more than just money”, Mr Clegg insisted “candour” was important too.

“There’s quite a lot of uncertainty around which we can’t do much about,” he added.

The leader was not applauded for his remarks. But he was later on when, talking about the importance of ensuring young people do not suffer in the recession, he stated “these are the last people who deserve to be punished for the legacy of this recession”.