By Tim Hardy
At the start of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the early 16th century, Hernán Cortés made a strategic move that has entered the language. After putting down an attempted mutiny by some of his men who planned to return by sea to Cuba, Cortés scuttled the rest of his fleet. Popular legend has that he burned it. By stranding the expedition he ended all possibility of retreat and all thoughts of loyalty to anything but the immediate mission. The only way forward was by land through dangerous territory and the only way to survive was to stand together.
Whoever released today’s story that Liberal Democrats want students to pay council tax is trying to burn their boats.
The message to the junior partners is clear. Stick with the coalition and back Cameron on the Health and Social Care bill or you’ll be consigned to the flames of popular anger. There is no way back.
However difficult, students will need to check their rage in the next fortnight by asking themselves who stands to profit from it.
Cameron plans to get the NHS reforms through parliament the day before the budget. The coalition have nationalised post office pensions, which due to an accountancy trick, will give them a £25 billion windfall to give out in tax breaks as a bribe to sweeten the pill.
As Tim Montgomerie advises Liberal Democrats, Clegg has to go before the next election because his tuition fees pledge has destroyed his credibility but voting to kill the bill – not abstaining but actively voting against it – will help restore faith in a party that appeared to get giddy at the first whiff of power and let the Conservatives lead them astray.
Not all the boats are burned and just as some currently hold their nose and vote Labour other will hold their nose and vote Liberal Democrat in future. The party can no longer pretend to be different to the main two and chide them for their broken promises but if they do the right thing now they still stand a chance of redeeming themselves. I share the fury of the students but enough of the population do not care about tuition fees for it to make little difference at the next elections.
Liberal Democrats cannot let Lansley’s supporters scare them into supporting a bill that 50% of the public now think should be dropped.
Ask yourself why this story has just been released and focus on the struggle immediately in front of us: saving the NHS.