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Nick Clegg has apologised for the Lib Dems' pre-election pledge to oppose any rise tuition fees, describing it as a "mistake".
In a party political broadcast posted on YouTube, the Deputy Prime Minister said he shouldn't have committed to a policy "that was so expensive when there was no money around".
Speaking ahead of the Lib Dem conference, Mr Clegg claimed many people were "disappointed and angry" that the party had not kept promises it had made - particularly the pledge to vote against any increase in fees.
In December 2010 Mr Clegg and 26 other Lib Dems voted for proposals to increase fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year, despite widespread protests from students and teaching unions.
"We made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances. But that was a mistake," he said.
"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...There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge... we didn't stick to it - and for that I am sorry."
Speaking on Newsnight, Vince Cable joined Mr Clegg in apologising but rejected the suggestion the 2010 promise was a "stunt".
"We are collectively responsible. We all participated. He’s said this as party leader, but I share the responsibility and I don’t shirk from that," he said.
"It was not a stunt. It was part of a genuinely felt wish to assist the student population. We weren’t able to carry through with it, but it was certainly deeper than a stunt."
But Mr Clegg's comments have been dismissed as "crocodile tears" by Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, who urged him to "back his words with actions".
"It is not good enough for him to just brush that promise aside. Instead of crying crocodile tears he should vote with Labour to bring these tuition fees down," she said.
It comes after Mr Clegg's former chief aide claimed opponents of gay marriage were comparable to racists.
Richard Reeves, who was the Deputy Prime Minister's director of strategy until only two months ago, made the claim as he said Mr Clegg had been wrong to back down in the bigot-gate row.
"Here’s the thing: they are bigots," he wrote in an article for the New Statesman.
"In the end, the only reason to deny a gay couple the right to marry is a belief that their relationship is in some way inferior to a heterosexual one. That’s bigotry.
"I have no doubt that the opponents of same-sex marriages will be seen, in fairly short historical order, in the same light as those who opposed mixed-race marriages."
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19/09/2012 on Newsnight, BBC 2
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