Eastleigh’s Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne has avoided voting in last night’s controversial and unpopular tuition fees bill which saw widespread rioting around the House of Commons after it was narrowly passed.
Mr Huhne is one of the Lib Dem MPs who had signed a pre election pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees and student activists have been lobbying the MPs including Mr Huhne to vote against the proposed rise.
The Energy Secretary is currently staying at the resort of Cancun in Mexico for the global climate talks – where discussions are described as deadlocked – so the decision was taken not to fly him back for the crucial vote although the Energy Minister Conservative MP Gregory Barker DID fly back for the vote and is expected to return to the Cancun talks today.
Meanwhile, back at Westminster, Mr Huhne’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott resigned from her post to vote against the bill.
Mr Huhne had been under pressure to honour his pledge and vote down the proposal.
He had previously been confronted by a group of angry protestors at the London School Economics (LSE) and possibly this experience had led him to miss meeting a group of local students who marched on his Eastleigh office last month.
The MP also risked alienating his own constituency party as up to 21 local Lib Dem councillors are said to have contacted him urging him to vote against increased fees.
The Daily Echo reported that there had even been a call to deselect him if he supported the bill.
The Lib Dem leader for Eastleigh and Hampshire County Council, Keith House, had also made a series of public criticisms via twitter over the last few weeks suggesting students:
“Have a right to expect that Lib Dem MPs will honour signed pledges”
“The Coalition is weakened, not strengthened, by Lib Dem Ministers breaking a pledge made to young people, losing integrity along the way.”
For Mr Huhne to honour his pledge and vote against the government he would have had to follow the example of his PPS and resign – which would have cost him his £163,000 a year cabinet post.
Although he could have abstained and retained his post had he wanted to, this could have been embarrassing for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
The split in the Liberal Democrats and disaffection among student voters with Mr Clegg has caused bookmakers to start taking bets on the next Liberal Democrat leader.
The current favourite at Betfair is rising star Danny Alexander with Mr Huhne – runner up last time – a close second while Ladbrokes have both David Laws and Tim Farron ahead of Mr Huhne who at 8/1 is a distant third.
I’ve put a tenner on Chris Huhne at ladbroke’s. Do you think my money is safe?