Then, now

There’s an otherwise interesting article on the funding of UK higher education in the latest Economist, marred by the curious claim that ‘Tony Blair’s efforts to increase tuition fees were more contentious in Parliament than his decision to wage war on Iraq’.

As any fule kno – at least if they’ve read this book – the Higher Education Bill of 2004 was certainly difficult for the whips; some 72 Labour MPs voted against its Second Reading.

But the largest Iraq rebellion saw 139 Labour MPs vote against their Government. This was – and remains – the largest rebellion against the party whip of MPs of any party, on any issue, since the revolts over the abolition of the corn laws in the 1840s. The difference was that Conservative opposition to the Higher Education Bill made the outcome of the vote doubtful whereas Conservative support over Iraq guaranteed a government victory. The passage of top up fees was therefore less certain. But there can be no doubt which was the more contentious.

For those who think rebellious behaviour is all a thing of the past, up-to-date stats on the current batch are now online from the University of Nottingham’s blog. There have not yet been any rebellions of a comparable size to those in 2003 and 2004, but the frequency of rebellion is currently much higher.