Remember the top-up fees debate? The one that Tony Blair won last Tuesday by a mere five votes despite having a majority of 160 in the House of Commons to play with. That famous victory was eclipsed by a much more decisive and totally unexpected one in the Hutton inquiry the following day, but some aspects of the passing of the university fees legislation still deserve consideration. The behaviour of the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, for instance. We would probably never have heard of Mr Mitchell had he not been chosen to debate the issues of the week with Lord Tebbitt on Sky TV some years ago. The noble lord always made intellectual mincemeat of Mitchell but the MP for Grimsby took it all in good part and pocketed his cheque. Just before the university funding vote on Tuesday Mr Mitchell told a radio interviewer that although he was one of those rebelling against the legislation he could be persuaded to change his mind if he were offered some favours for Grimsby. At the time the comment seemed a joke; Mr Austin is known as a maverick. But it turns out that he was deadly serious. He has revealed to the Times Higher Education Supplement that he had been offered two concessions (unspecified) for Grimsby by the government whips in return for which, and at the last moment, he changed his mind and voted for the government through gritted teeth and very miserably. It is common knowledge that several Labour rebels were persuaded to drop their opposition by changes the Government made in the legislation itself. That is fair enough. But how many more were bought by bribes of the kind known in the United States as pork barrel politics?
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