Aside from a brief mention here, I've not raised the issue of tuition fees in these pages although I have been following the arguments (on both sides) in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere. During the course of the debate I found my views hardening in favour of the Government's approach.
That said, the whole issue has been badly handled by the party leadership - indeed, I've found myself describing it as a debacle more than once. Throwing an opportunistic opposition and a militant NUS into the mix has served to rub salt into self-inflicted wounds.
The history of the unhappy saga has been rehearsed many times. Now the policy has been passed, though, it's time to move on and for the Lib Dems to take stock and work out where we go from here. In light of that, I'd like to make some observations:
1. Party policy remains the abolition of fees. This needs to be debated and, potentially, revised in light of the current situation. Not least of the considerations is whether this would be a credible policy to carry into the next election. I'm sure no candidates will be signing pledges next time, though...
2. The leadership need to learn lessons in communicating with both MPs and the broader membership. While dissent was always going to be inevitable, Clegg and Cable forged several rods for their own backs in addition to the policy decision.
3. The leadership and others need to communicate how the policy is more progressive than the current system, that proposed by the NUS and (parts of) Labour and what may have come from a Conservative government.
4. There is some suggestion that Lib Dems are becoming frustrated that the Tories are happy to let them take the flack. Clegg could follow this up with Cameron although ultimately we can't rely on others, even within the coalition.
5. President-elect Tim Farron has shown his independence of the leadership by voting against and will have solidified his reputation with the grassroots in the process. He should, I believe, have a key role in liaising between party and leadership in handling any future contentious policy. His public presentation skills should also be utilised.
6. There is an AV referendum and Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and local elections next May. People from both sides of the argument will have to put their differences aside and come together and fight these. Magnanimity on both sides will be essential but it can be done.