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Mark Steel: Being honest is no longer official policy

Now Phil Woolas has been banned from parliament for lying on his election leaflets, I suppose the Liberal Democrat MPs who vote for increasing university fees will all be chucked out as well.

Some of them insist they haven't been deceitful, because: "scrapping fees is still our official policy." And too often we're judged by what we do rather than by our official policy. If for example you take out a mortgage and don't make a single payment, you should be able to write to the bank, saying: "Although I'm 20,000 pounds in arrears, please be assured it remains my official policy to become King. So there's no need to worry."

Also, if the Lib Dems are still tied to this policy, they'll all soon be demonstrating against themselves. Nick Clegg will be interviewed holding a banner and yelling: "I voted for myself because I promised to scrap fees and now look what I've done. So I'm here to peacefully protest against myself, and I hope no one's distracted by extreme elements like Vince Cable who's getting us a bad name by throwing stones at himself."

Students should follow the Lib Dem example, and not pay back a penny of their loans, but write a letter reassuring the bank their official policy is to one day own Poland, at which point they'll throw in a shipyard as interest. And any of them arrested for last week's demonstration should say "Your honour, I assure you my official policy is to leave windows alone. Look, here's a clip of me on YouTube promising to never so much as look through one", and the charges would have to be dropped.

Several Lib Dem MPs suggest they're being treated unkindly, because Labour also introduced fees after promising they wouldn't. This is a valid point, except that once you're measuring your morals by the standards set by New Labour you might as well flee the country in disguise. They might as well say: "You complain about the necessary cuts in public spending, but how often do our critics complain about the dreadful regime of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century AD?"

In fact it's remarkable how easy a time they've had, because even by the grubby standards we're used to, this was lying on a spectacular scale. They didn't just gradually abandon a promise, in accordance with the politicians' fibbing handbook. They launched a pledge to scrap the fees, and their leader had himself filmed while signing it, and then slapped it across the internet. Four months later they supported trebling the thing they pledged to scrap.

For the next election Clegg will be filmed cutting his arm with a dagger and sealing a parchment in blood, kneeling in a black cloak and muttering; "By the ancient order of LibDeminium I pledge to thee that no fee shall, on any account imaginable in the cosmos, upon the sacred name of all my family in any circumstances in the universe, even in the event of my being violated and most graphically tortured, be raised by as much as a fraction of a penny." Then a week later he'd say: "Yes but we have to be realistic so we're putting them up to 20,000 pounds a year."

So there's no point in him saying anything anymore. From now on when a Lib Dem MP who supports the increase gets to speak in Parliament, or on the news, they might as well say: "There's no reason to believe a thing I say, so for my allotted time I shall perform some finger puppetry. Hello Hammy the hamster, where have you been today?"

Instead they insist the increases are fair, and won't put anyone off. And this is from a government that believes almost everything should be determined by the free market. Presumably then, they now follow a new sort of economics in which price makes no difference. "There's no reason why a price of ninety pounds will put people off buying a tin of plum tomatoes", they'll say, until they're all thrown out of parliament for lying, and join Woolas in having to apply for 10 jobs a day or have their benefits cut.

Belfast Telegraph