NICK Clegg’s latest bid to draw a line under the damaging tuition fee row was thrown into doubt today after a video lampooning his apology swept the internet.
Mr Clegg expressed regret over the promise for the first time as the party braced for a potentially difficult conference in Brighton.
In a two-and-a-half minute film he admitted that many voters were “angry and disappointed” at the coalition’s subsequent move to treble the maximum annual fee to £9,000.
In a bizarre turn of events, Mr Clegg today also gave permission for a video making fun of his apology to be released as a single on iTunes.
A version of the film created by satirical website www.thepoke.co.uk has the Deputy Prime Minister singing his remarks to a pop backing, and received thousands of views in a matter of hours.
VIDE REPORT: Press the play button to watch our report including highlights of the official Nick Clegg video.
All profits will be given to Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. Mr Clegg’s wife Miriam is a patron of the hospital.
A source close to Mr Clegg said the video was another way of “getting the message out”.
“Nick saw it and he thought that it was very funny. But he also thinks it is an - admittedly unusual - way of getting the message out to more people,” the source said.
“That was the idea of doing (the apology) in the first place.
“To boot, it is going to make money for the charity.”
In the original and official video Mr Clegg says of voters left angy by the tuition fee row:“To those people, I say this: we made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances,” he said.
“But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions - but we shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we could deliver.”
One of the Liberal Democrat leader’s most senior colleagues, Vince Cable, risked undermining him by claiming to have been “sceptical” about the manifesto pledge to oppose fee hikes.
Business Secretary Mr Cable endorsed the apology and insisted he also took responsibility for the “collective” decision.
But he told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “I was sceptical about the pledge but we agreed collectively to do it and I take my share of the responsibility.
“I personally was sceptical about the whole fees policy. I signed the pledge on the basis that had we been in Government on our own, which was the commitment, we would have put through that policy, and we would have done so.
“It was an unwise commitment to have made and we regret that, and that was the basis of the apology.
“We discussed this between ourselves and between our leadership team there was scepticism as part of this whole fees debate, and that has been well advertised, but we agreed collectively to support it and I take my share of responsibility.”
Mr Cable said Danny Alexander, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was also among those who privately warned the policy was unaffordable.
Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister insisted they were not “surprised” by Mr Cable’s remarks.
“Ultimately everyone was part of the collective decision about party policy,” one said.
One of his closest allies, Education Minister David Laws, stressed that Mr Clegg had pushed for the tuition policy to be watered down before the general election.
“He took on the party and told them what they didn’t want to hear, which was the pledge of abolishing tuition fees overnight was not affordable, that we’d have to do it over two parliaments,” Mr Laws told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“He now regrets, and I now regret and Vince Cable now regrets, that we didn’t go further to point out how tough this would be, and that we didn’t make clearer in our manifesto the risk, given the fact the other parties were committed to precisely the opposite policy.
“Both of them wanted to increase fees and that’s why it would have been very difficult in coalition to deliver this policy.”
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