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Exclusive: Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes says maintenance loans are biggest barrier – not tuition fees

LIB DEM Minister Simon Hughes has admitted that his party’s broken tuition fee pledge “played a part” in this generation’s cynicism about politics.

In an exclusive interview with Roar he said the Lib Dems didn’t deliver student-focused manifesto pledges, and “should have thought that through” before failing to deliver their pledge to abolish tuition fees.

The MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark represents many King’s students, and is battling to retain his 32-year hold on the previously safe Lib Dem seat.

Whilst he criticised £9k fees in 2011, and abstained from supporting the policy in Parliament, he says he is proud of David Willetts’ legacy, because the high price tag “really really isn’t a barrier” for young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

He went on to say that he was clear that “the biggest issue is not the fees, it’s the living costs.”

Despite admitting the extent of this problem, his party have refused an additional commitment for larger maintenance support for students in their forthcoming manifesto.

This will be seen by many students as a failure to redress the grievances caused by perceived betrayal at the last election.

He claimed that he “tried very hard to negotiate a different deal” on tuition fees in the early days of the coalition agreements.

On their failure to honour promises to students he said: “In the end we didn’t deliver the best outcome. Because we could have abolished fees in a short piece of legislation and replaced them by a graduate contribution system. That would have been my wish.”

Abolishing fees is still his wish, but it isn’t on the current Lib Dem agenda due to concerns about the deficit and economic growth.

However, he suggested that the party will be in the position to be able to think about abolishing fees in the second part of next parliament if the economy continues along its current course.

Student support for the Lib Dems has dropped from 45% to 6% since the “Cleggmania” of 2010, and in constituencies like Bermondsey with large numbers of students, this has been felt in the polls, where Labour is seriously threatening Simon Hughes’ seat in an unprecedented way.

He was keen to criticise Labour’s proposals for £6k fees as the reduction “only helps the wealthy graduates,” who can afford to pay off their loan quickly.

Hughes also spoke of his frustration that they haven’t been able to extend out the £10k postgraduate loans further, acknowledging that they do not cover living costs and tuition fees.

He said that he would want to see this happen in the second half of the next parliament when he predicts there will be greater budgetary resources available.

He also said that a ‘graduate tax’ would be impossible under any Government due to tax jurisdiction.

Additional Lib Dem student policies include excluding international students from immigration figures, whose increasing numbers are seen as a vital financial resources for universities like King’s.

He argues that his long-standing record on key student concerns, such as affordable housing, will see the Lib Dems to hold on to their long standing seat in Bermondsey.

Whilst he argues that his support for student issues has been “good and strong and clear,” the electoral repercussions from the reputation of his party are soon to be determined.

And of course, he couldn’t talk about King’s without mentioning the King’s London rebrand: