The Lib Dem rebels: who they are and what they want

Your guide to the four Lib Dem MPs planning to rebel against the increase in VAT.

Vince Cable may now claim that the Lib Dems only warned of the dangers of a VAT rise during the election in order to "score points" over the Conservatives, but there are others in his party who have always opposed this regressive move on principle.

One of them, Andrew George, has now tabled an amendment demanding an assessment of the impact the new 20 per cent rate will have on low-income groups. It has been signed by three others -- Bob Russell, Mark Williams and Roger Williams.

There is no evidence that Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy have joined the rebellion, though it wouldn't be surprising if the Gang of Four (as they will undoubtedly soon be known) had their tacit support.

Meanwhile, Russell, who has previously threatened to vote against the Budget in its entirety, has dismissed an Independent on Sunday report that the rebels have secretly agreed to co-operate with Labour MPs as "poppycock" and "Labour mischief-making".

He said: "There is not a conspiracy involving Simon Hughes or Charles Kennedy, this is about backbencher unease from members. If Labour think there is some yawning chasm they are going to be sorely disillusioned."

It remains to be seen whether the amendment will be put to a vote on Tuesday, but the rebellion is an important reflection of the wider unease felt by Lib Dem activists over the Budget.

The MPs have no obvious ideological agenda, but Russell has a record as a Lib Dem maverick. He previously rebelled against the party whip to vote against equalising the age of consent and the sexual equality act.

Russell's name and those of his fellow conspirators are certainly worth noting for the future.

Andrew George

Age: 51

Constituency: St Ives (elected 1997)

Majority: 1,719 (3.7 per cent)

Significant moments: One of the first Lib Dem frontbenchers to threaten to resign if Charles Kennedy did not stand down as leader. Later sacked by Kennedy's successor, Menzies Campbell.

Bob Russell

Age: 64

Constituency: Colchester (elected 1997)

Majority: 6,982 (15.1 per cent)

Significant moments: Rebelled against the party whip to vote against equalising the age of consent and against the sexual equality act.

Mark Williams

Age: 44

Constituency: Ceredigion (elected 2005)

Majority: 8,324 (21.8 per cent)

Significant moments: Dramatically increased his majority at the last election from 219 to 8,324.

Roger Williams

Age: 62

Constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire (elected 2001)

Majority: 3,905 (10.2 per cent)

Significant moments: Served as shadow Welsh secretary for the Lib Dems from 2007-2008.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett's "When the Lights Went Out".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why Chris Grayling is Jeremy Corbyn's secret weapon

The housing crisis is Labour's best asset - and Chris Grayling is making it worse. 

It feels like the classic Conservative story: wait until the election is over, then cancel spending in areas that have the temerity to vote Labour. The electrification of rail routes from Cardiff to Swansea – scrapped. So too is the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester route – and of the Midland main line.

But Crossrail 2, which runs from north to south across London and deep into the capital's outer satellites, including that of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, will go ahead as planned.

It would be grim but effective politics if the Conservatives were pouring money into the seats they won or lost narrowly. There are 25 seats that the Conservatives can take with a swing of 1 per cent from Labour to Tory, and 30 seats that they would lose with a swing of 1 per cent from Tory to Labour.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Conservatives were making spending decisions with an eye on what you might call the frontline 55. But what they’re actually doing is taking money away from north-west marginal constituencies – and lavishing cash on increasingly Labour London. In doing that, they’re actually making their electoral headache worse.

How so? As I’ve written before, the biggest problem for the Conservatives in the long term is simply that not enough people are getting on the housing ladder. That is hurting them in two ways. The first is straightforward: economically-driven voters are not turning blue when they turn 30 because they are not either on or about to mount the first rungs of the housing ladder. More than half of 30-year-olds were mortgage-payers in 1992, when John Major won an unexpected Conservative majority, while under a third were in 2017, when Theresa May unexpectedly lost hers.

But it is also hurting them because culturally-driven voters are getting on the housing ladder, but by moving out of areas where Labour’s socially-concerned core vote congregates in great numbers, and into formerly safe or at least marginal Conservative seats. That effect has reached what might be its final, and for the Conservatives, deadly form in Brighton. All three of the Brighton constituencies – Hove, Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion – were Conservative-held in 1992. Now none of them are. In Pavilion they are third, and the smallest majority they have to overcome is 9,868, in Kemptown. The same effect helped reduce Amber Rudd’s majority in Hastings, also in East Sussex, to 346.

The bad news for the Conservatives is that the constituencies of Crawley, Reading, Swindon and in the longer-term, Bracknell, all look like Brightons in the making: although only Reading East fell to Labour this time, all saw swings bigger than the national average and all are seeing increasing migration by culturally-driven left-wing voters away from safe Labour seats. All are seeing what you might call “Hackneyfication”: commuters moving from inner city seats but taking their politics with them.

Add to that forced migration from inner London to seats like Iain Duncan Smith’s in Chingford – once a Conservative fortress, now a razor-thin marginal – and even before you add in the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn’s person and platform, the electoral picture for the Conservatives looks bleak.

(It should go without saying that voters are driven by both economics and culture. The binary I’ve used here is simplistic but helpful to understand the growing demographic pressures on the Conservatives.)

There is actually a solution here for the Tories. It’s both to build more housing but also to rebalance the British economy, because the housing crisis in London and the south is driven by the jobs and connectivity crisis in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Or, instead, they could have a number of measures designed to make London’s economy stride still further ahead of the rest, serviced by 5 per cent mortgages and growing numbers of commuter rail services to facilitate a growing volume of consumers from London’s satellite towns, all of which only increase the electoral pressures on their party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.