Clegg sorry for tuition fees pledge

Nick Clegg looked to see off any threat to his leadership as he apologised for breaking a Liberal Democrat election promise to oppose any increase in university tuition fees.

Speaking ahead of the Liberal Democrat Party conference in Brighton, the Deputy Prime Minister said he was sorry his party had broken its pledge ahead of the 2010 General Election to vote against a hike in fees for students.

His mea culpa came amid reports he had refused to use an opt-out clause in the Coalition Agreement whereby Liberal Democrat MPs would abstain in votes as the controversial legislation increasing fees to up to £9,000 a year made its way through the Commons.

Mr Clegg apparently wanted to stick by the policy and seemingly turned himself and the party into a lightning conductor for public discontent.

On Wednesday, he said he was sorry but not for the increase in tuition fees itself. Instead, he was sorry the Liberal Democrats ever opposed the increase as they had not costed the policy properly.

He apparently made the decision to apologise for the first time while on holiday over the summer.

In the two-and-a-half minute video clip which is to form the basis of a Liberal Democrat party political broadcast on Monday night, Mr Clegg appears at his home in south-west London in a pale blue shirt and not wearing a tie.

Many voters he had met were "angry and disappointed" at the party's decision to renege on its opposition to tuition fees, he says, adding: "To those people, I say this: we made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances.

"But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions - but we shouldn't have made a promise we weren't absolutely sure we could deliver. I shouldn't have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around. Not least when the most likely way we'd end up in Government was in coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, who were both committed to put fees up.

"I know that we fought to get the best policy we could in those circumstances. But I also realise that isn't the point. There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it - and for that I am sorry." He added: "When you've made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly, most important of all, you've got to learn from your mistakes. And that's what we will do."