The scene outside Britain’s Parliament on Thursday afternoon was a mix of desperation and mayhem as thousands of students staged a massive protest in defiance of a vote by the House of Commons to triple tuition fees at English universities.
London police clashed against a sea of humanity, a thin line of fluorescent vests pushing against an endless wall of angry students voicing displeasure with a plan by Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government. The vote is being described as a “first test” of the conservative Cameron’s partnership with Liberal Democrats in Parliament. It also represents the stark political reality facing a government forced into pressing severe fiscal austerity measures on the United Kingdom. Faced with a record budget deficit of nearly 65 billion British pounds, England’s new coalition government must figure out how to maintain solvency while placed into a position of cutting longtime social programs that have become a mainstay in British life.
Reports Robert Hutton and Thomas Penny in Bloomberg:
The vote in the House of Commons in London late this afternoon is divisive for Cameron’s junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat party, which pledged before the May 6 election to oppose any increase in fees. Protesters gathered outside the House of Commons as lawmakers debated the bill. London’s Metropolitan Police said three people were arrested, while one mounted officer was hospitalized with leg injuries.
Liberal Democrat ministers will vote for the measure, which is being sponsored by one of them, Business Secretary Vince Cable.
The BBC reported that as protests mounted across the country, some Liberal Democrats were not favoring the proposal and were gearing up to vote against it. However, the measure did end up passing. Watch the full debate here at the Parliament’s website:
The Lib Dems had signed a pre-election pledge to vote against any increase but that policy changed when the coalition government was formed. Adrian Sanders, the MP for Torbay, Devon, said the issue “has not shown the party in a good light.”
On Wednesday, St Ives MP Andrew George said he would not support the rises. MPs are due to vote later on the plans, which could see tuition fees rise to as much as £9,000.