Wednesday, 19 January 2011


he Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Simon Hughes will find himself being reversed into a corner today when members of parliament vote on whether the government needs rethink its decision to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA).

In contrast to promises made by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats before the election, EMA, the grant that gives 48% of all 16- to 18-year-olds get for staying on at school or college, is due to be scrapped at the end of this academic year.

However, as student protests against the government’s action on education continue across London today, all eyes in Westminster will be on Mr Hughes.

The Lib Dem Deputy spent the week in his capacity as the Government’s advocate for further and higher education consulting the shadow education minister Andy Burnham who has drafted today’s motion.

Mr Burnham, who will lead today’s debate alongside Labour Leader Ed Miliband said, “The language used in the motion has been very carefully worded.”

To quote the motion, Labour are, “…calling on the Government to rethink its decision on EMA, retaining practical support to improve access to, interest in and participation in further and higher education.”

This is a pragmatic piece of paraphrasing by Labour since Mr Hughes was quoted in the Times Educational Supplement last weekend as saying, “I've never abstained in my life before the tuition fees debate. If what Labour is saying is a call for the Government to rethink its plans, I will support that."

Labour will be urging as many Liberal Democrats as possible to vote against the government today, however, if such a senior member of the coalition as Mr Hughes joins the opposition in the vote fresh strains will be imposed on the coalition.

Mr Burnham said, “Both Michael Gove and David Cameron specifically promised to keep EMA before the election therefore their plans are a total renege on their commitments.
“The debate today will ask ministers how long do they really want to carry on being lied to?”

But he was keen to stress that this is not about playing party political games: “This is about having something of value for young people in Britain.”

Mr Burnham said, “My conversations with Hughes this week have been very constructive and I really believe that he understands the importance of EMA.”

When asked whether he think Hughes will vote in favour of Labour’s motion Burnham said he couldn’t be sure.

But he added, “Since 3400 young people are in receipt of EMA in Mr Hughes’ constituency of Bermondsey, he’s definitely got cause for concern. About 70% of students at Southwark College get EMA and he’ll soon feel the political effects if he goes back on his words.”

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