Nick Clegg’s solemn apology for his broken pledge on tuition fees has taken an unexpectedly comic twist after a spoof musical remix of his words became an instant internet hit.
The spoof song – which features Mr Clegg appearing to sing a chorus of “I’m so, so sorry” – was published online yesterday morning by satirical website The Poke.
As the website repeatedly crashed under the volume of people trying to watch the video, Mr Clegg agreed to allow the song to be released as a single– on condition that all proceeds go to Sheffield Hospital, of which Mr Clegg’s wife Miriam is a patron.
“Nick saw it and he thought it was very funny,” a senior Lib Dem source said. “But he also thinks it is an – admittedly unusual – way of getting the message out to more people.”
The bizarre injection of humour offered some welcome relief for the Lib Dem leader after a mixed reaction to his party political broadcast on Tuesday night in which he delivered a contrite apology for “making a pledge I couldn’t keep” to end university tuition fees.
Mr Clegg expressed regret over the promise for the first time as the party braced for a potentially difficult conference in Brighton, which gets under way tomorrow.
In a two-and-a-half minute film he admitted that many voters were “angry and disappointed” at the coalition’s subsequent move to treble the maximum annual fee to £9,000.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable later endorsed the apology and insisted he also took responsibility for the “collective” decision.
But in comments which threatened to further undermine his party leader, Mr Cable added: “I was sceptical about the pledge but we agreed collectively to do it and I take my share of the responsibility.
“I personally was sceptical about the whole fees policy.
“I signed the pledge on the basis that had we been in Government on our own, which was the commitment, we would have put through that policy, and we would have done so.
“It was an unwise commitment to have made and we regret that.”
“We discussed this between ourselves and between our leadership team there was scepticism as part of this whole fees debate, and that has been well advertised, but we agreed collectively to support it and I take my share of responsibility.”
Mr Cable said Danny Alexander, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was also among those who privately warned the policy was unaffordable.
Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister insisted they were not “surprised” by Mr Cable’s remarks.
“Ultimately everyone was part of the collective decision about party policy,” one said.
One of his closest allies, Education Minister David Laws, stressed that Mr Clegg had pushed for the tuition policy to be watered down before the general election.
“He took on the party and told them what they didn’t want to hear, which was the pledge of abolishing tuition fees overnight was not affordable, that we’d have to do it over two parliaments,” Mr Laws said.
“He now regrets, and I now regret and Vince Cable now regrets, that we didn’t go further to point out how tough this would be, and that we didn’t make clearer in our manifesto the risk, given the fact the other parties were committed to precisely the opposite policy.
“Both of them wanted to increase fees and that’s why it would have been very difficult in coalition to deliver this policy.”
The Lib Dem leadership hopes the apology will enable the party to finally move on from a row which has cast a cloud over their time in Government and seen their poll rating plummet.
However, Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland – who led an unsuccessful Lib Dem revolt against the tuition fee rise – said Mr Clegg still owed him and other rank-and-file MPs a seperate apology.
“There were 21 Lib Dem MPs who have nothing to apologise for and indeed who were cajoled and pressurised into also breaking the pledge,” Mr Mulholland said.
“The responsibility for the decision to break the pledge lies solely with those who supported it, not with the MPs who did not and certainly not with the Liberal Democrat party as a whole.
“Those MPs who voted against the proposals are now owed an apology from the leadership.”