Splits weaken parties, and sometimes destroy them. The reputation of the Liberal Democrat brand is being undermined with each passing hour as the impression grows stronger that on the issue of tuition fees we are not only divided but clueless.
The case for supporting the recommendations of the Browne inquiry is strong, and if I were in the Commons I would be voting with Nick. The real damage to the party comes not from our adjusting course to take account of changed conditions, nor from rebellion by backbenchers on grounds of individual conscience, but from the impression we are now giving of being all over the place.
Some Liberal Democrats will vote for the recommendations, some against. Some want to defer the vote, others want to abstain. In short, we are creating the impression not just of being weak, but of being a joke.
I would rather us have a reputation for being tough (but fair) bastards than for being indecisive.
Liberal Democrat MPs must now decide how to vote. If they want to limit the damage there should be only two options for them to consider . Either they vote for the recommendations, recognising that they provide funding for higher education in a progressive manner that protects those on lowest incomes, or they vote against on grounds of individual conscience.
There are times when an abstention is an honourable third option. This is not one of them.