Libdem definition of whip

Much debate this morning about the possibility of a split in the coalition over tuition fees. I’m sure that colleagues in the labour party are licking their lips at the prospect of a public punch-up between lib dems. Indeed, if I thought it likely then I would too :-)
However, what we’re about to witness is the elasticity of the so-called LibDem whip at work – something I’ve had the privilege to behold from close quarters in Twickenham and Colchester. I’m sure it has worked this way in Liverpool too..
In local government it generally works like this: the controlling LibDem group need to take a decision which won’t go down well in one or two wards. In those areas, the local LibDem cllr and party are free to campaign against their own council so long as the group can carry the vote through in council.
You end up with the ward councillor appearing to stand with their constituents – good for votes – while knowing full well that their opposition will have no influence at all on the final decision.
I’ve always been amazed by this because time and again I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people taken in by it. Despite them having seen it done to others before.
So the prospect for increased tuition fees? We’ll get a handful of LibDem MP’s kicking off about the changes while Cameron and Clegg happily push through their increases knowing that they have the numbers in the bag.
There’s nothing principled about it. It’s the usual LibDem opportunism, formalised into a standard way of working. The only difference is that we’re beginning to see it on the national stage.