Fees opponents dreamers, says Clegg
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has branded opponents of tuition fee hikes "dreamers" as tension mounted ahead of a crunch vote in the House of Commons.
With speculation that up to half of his MPs could rebel against the Government, Mr Clegg insisted he was not ashamed of backing the plans because he was dealing with "the way the world is".
Meanwhile, Business Secretary Vince Cable said only Father Christmas could satisfy the demands for expensive, popular policies.
The comments came amid frantic last-ditch efforts to prevent a major split in the coalition on the controversial issue of university funding.
As thousands of students mounted protests across the country, Labour leader Ed Miliband warned Lib Dems they faced a "day of judgment", calling on them to stick by their pre-election pledge and vote against the increases.
He added: "Before the election, they promised families and young people that they would oppose any increase in tuition fees. Today it looks like many Lib Dems will break that promise. To abstain in this vote will simply allow the Government to increase tuition fees. I am calling on all MPs - including Lib Dems - to vote against this increase."
A series of last-minute concessions and rumoured offers of Government jobs appear to have failed to head off a significant revolt among the Lib Dem rank-and-file, with signs that up to half of the party's 57 MPs could vote against. They include Lib Dem president Tim Farron, while deputy leader Simon Hughes has indicated he will at least take advantage of terms in the coalition agreement allowing abstention.
A handful of Tories are also expected to enter the 'no' lobby or abstain - although the Government's comfortable majority should ensure the proposals are safely passed.
Mr Clegg denied he should feel ashamed for voting in favour of the policy. "I would feel ashamed if I didn't deal with the way that the world is, not simply dream of the way the world I would like it to be," the Deputy Prime Minister said. "In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn't very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university - we have to find the solution for all of that."
Mr Cable acknowledged that in an ideal world things would be free but said he did not believe public trust in the Lib Dems had been dented. "I'd love to be Father Christmas and hand out lots of very popular policies and spend lots of money and not have to make difficult decisions, but I think trust comes from seeing governments making difficult choices in the national interest, which is what we are having to do," he told ITV1's Daybreak.