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University fees plan row damages LibDems - poll

LONDON (Reuters) - The popularity of Nick Clegg has plummeted and supporters are deserting his party over plans to raise university tuition fees, said a poll published on Sunday.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg arrives for a radio interview in central London December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Parliament voted on Thursday in favour of plans to allow English universities to almost treble current fees, a policy that has divided Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party and led to violent protests in London.

Before May’s election Clegg and all his party’s MPs had pledged to vote against any rise, and his decision to renege on that promise has seen his personal standing sink, an Ipsos MORI poll for the News of the World newspaper found.

In April, a poll rated him as the most popular British party leader since World War Two Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Now 61 percent describe the deputy prime minister as untrustworthy.

The policy has also damaged his party, with nearly half of the voters who supported the centre-left Liberal Democrats in May saying they are unlikely to do so in future.

Another poll, published in the Sunday Telegraph, indicated only 54 percent of those who backed Clegg’s party would do so at the next election.

Less than half of the 57 Liberal Democrat lawmakers voted in favour of raising tuition fees, one of the government’s measures to erase a record budget deficit.

However, analysts say the growing unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats means the party is unlikely to take any action that would jeopardise the coalition.

“This coalition is rock solid,” Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, a Liberal Democrat, told BBC TV.

“There is a real sense of purpose about this coalition, it’s going to last over the five years,” he added, dismissing suggestions Clegg’s leadership was in doubt.


The MORI poll found two-thirds of Britons opposed the rise in tuition fees and most thought it would deter those from poor families from going to university.

However, it also found Conservative support had been little affected by anger over the policy and Prime Minister David Cameron’s personal ratings were almost unchanged.

Protesters attacked government buildings and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles on Thursday during London’s worst riots in years and the fourth violent demonstration in the capital against the plans.

Police have arrested some 175 people during the four protests and on Sunday released pictures of 14 people suspected of being involved in violent disorder, attacking officers and smashing buildings, shops and windows.

During the riots, the limousine of Prince Charles was surrounded with protesters kicking the doors, cracking a window, throwing white paint over the car and media reported one protester had jabbed his wife Camilla in the ribs with a stick.

“I’m not sure about the term poked with a stick, I understand there was some contact made,” Home Secretary Theresa May told Sky News, adding royal security and police handling of the riots was under review.

Royal aides told the Sunday Telegraph that Charles and Camilla did not intend to scale back their public appearances.

“It is absolutely business as usual,” the unnamed aide said.

Editing by Andrew Roche