British govt 'in trouble after university fees challenge'

10th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The narrow victory for Britain's coalition in a vote to hike university tuition fees signals the start of a tough period for the young government, newspapers predicted Friday.

After a day marred by violent protests in London that left dozens of police and students injured, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition survived its biggest test yet and won the parliamentary vote Thursday.

But the margin of victory was slimmer than expected and the issue has exposed divisions in the seven-month-old coalition, particularly in the ranks of junior partner the Lib Dems.

Many of the party's lawmakers voted against the plan in the House of Commons (the lower house of parliament) as it went against one of their pre-election pledges.

"The vote was won, but divisions and wounds have been exposed in the most public way," wrote Martin Kettle in the left-leaning Guardian.

"Things will never be the same."

The vote "was about whether the coalition could survive. The coalition came through, just," he wrote.

"But it has paid a price all the same."

The rightwing Daily Telegraph praised the coalition, formed after May's general election, for holding its nerve in the face of fierce opposition.

But the paper added: "It will be tested further as it pursues the equally difficult reforms to come."

There was widespread condemnation of the violence that erupted in protest at moves to hike the fees, which are being almost trebled and will now have an upper limit of 9,000 pounds (10,700 euros, 14,200 dollars) a year.

Police and some protesters clashed outside parliament and across London, with rioters at one point attacking a car that was carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to the theatre. The couple was unharmed.

"Such stupid, graceless acts of violence do nothing to help the cause of student protest," said The Times.

The Financial Times described the rioting as "the worst unrest in central London for more than a decade."

But for some commentators, focusing on the unrest and political fallout from the day's dramatic events missed the point entirely -- the overhaul of university fees was necessary and would pay off in the long term.

"To give universities financial autonomy and security will allow them to develop down specialist paths," said The Times.

"And when their rage has dissipated, students should find that they have a better deal."

Add The Telegraph added: "Given the scale of the cuts needed to reduce the deficit, and the need to put higher education funding on a sustainable footing, it was the only way forward."

© 2010 AFP

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