Nine Lib Dems rebel as Osborne's welfare bill clears another hurdle

Charles Kennedy, Sarah Teather and seven others vote against bill capping benefit increases at 1 per cent for each of the next three years.

The coalition's Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill (artfully renamed by Andrew Rawnsley as "The Make Labour Look Like the Party for Skiving Fat Slobs bill"), which introduces a 1 per cent cap on benefit increases for each of the next three years, comfortably made its way past the Commons last night, with MPs voting by 305 votes to 246 to give the bill a third reading. 

When MPs first voted on the bill earlier this month there were six Lib Dem rebels. Four of the party's 57 MPs - Julian Huppert, John Leech, Sarah Teather, David Ward - voted not to give the bill a second reading, while Andrew George and Charles Kennedy formally abstained by voting in both lobbies. Last night this total increased to nine. Below, I've listed those who voted against the bill and, where applicable, have included how far up they appear on Labour's target list of 106 seats. The Conservatives intend to target 20 Lib Dem seats at the general election but have yet to release a full list. 

1. Andrew George (St Ives)

Majority: 1,719

2. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham)

Majority: 4,920

3. Julian Huppert (Cambridge)

Majority: 6,792

Labour target 103

4. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)

Majority: 13,070

5. John Leech (Manchester Withington)

Majority: 1,894

Labour target 31

6. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

Majority: 3,431

Labour target 64

7. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

Majority: 4,078 

8. Sarah Teather (Brent Central)

Majority: 1,345

Labour target 23

9. Mark Williams (Ceredigion)

Majority: 8,324

The most notable moment in the debate came when Labour's shadow employment minister Stephen Timms was asked whether it was his party's policy that benefits should be uprated in line with inflation, rather than by 1 per cent (a real-terms cut). Timms replied: "Uprating should indeed be in line with inflation, as it always was in the past." He later added: "We reject the proposal to restrict the uprating of social security and tax credits to 1% in our view, as I have already said uprating should be in line with inflation and it should be assessed as it always has been at the end of the preceding year." 

Timms's words were significant because, as I noted yesterday, Labour's amendment to the bill simply called for the cancellation of the 1 per cent rise, rather than for benefits to rise in line with the Consumer Price Index as normal. The Tories leapt on his statement as proof that Labour was committed to inflationary rises in benefits for the next three years. The party's Tiggerish chairman Grant Shapps commented: "Labour have committed to pay for more generous benefit rises with more borrowing and more debt. That’s exactly how they got us into this mess in the first place. Labour haven’t learnt and would do it all over again."

But Labour has since argued that Timms's words only reflected the party's existing position of increasing benefits in line with inflation this year (2013-14) and did not amount to a commitment to do so in 2014-15 and 2015-16. As the BBC's James Lansdale notes, on 6 January Ed Balls told Sky News: "The normal thing is to index and the government would normally have indexed in line with inflation and to be honest, I think that would be fair." He added: "It's not responsible for me as a shadow chancellor to come here two and a half years ahead and tell you what we can do about taxes or spending or benefits."

So, in other words, nothing has changed. But expect the Tories to continue to challenge Labour to give a much clearer indication of how it would behave in 2015. 

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was one of nine Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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All the dumb stuff ministers said about technology following the Westminster attack

“The web is an international worldwide phenomenon.”

It’s a bit like realising the country is run by your mum trying to use iMessage for the first time. “Why has it turned blue?” Her Majesty’s Government cries in unison, scrunching its eyes up and holding the nation’s security a metre away from its face.

Yes, this is the horrifying reality of Britain’s counter-terrorism response being in the hands of people who type “www.” into the search bar and bestow iPlayer with an unnecessary “the”.

As government ministers express concerns about encryption – asking WhatsApp to let them in, among other misguided endeavours – following the attack on Westminster last week, they have revealed a worrying lack of any form of technological literacy.

Here are the most terrible bits, which your mole found by surfing the web on doubleyew doubleyew doubleyew dot google dot com:

Home Secretary, Amber Rudd

“Necessary hashtags”

“The best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff ever being put up, not just taken down, but ever being put up in the first place are going to be them.”

Watch out, all you hashtag-happy potential perpetrators of atrocities. If you tweet #iamaterrorist then the government will come down on you LIKE A TONNE OF TETRIS BRICKS.

“We don’t want to go into the cloud”

“If I was talking to Tim Cook, I would say to him, this is something completely different, we’re not saying open up, we don’t want to go into the cloud, we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that.”

The Home Secretary definitely thinks that there is a big, fluffy, probably cumulonimbus cloud in the sky where lots of men in thick-framed glasses and polo necks sit around, typing content and data and stuff on their computer machines.

Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson

“New systems and algorithms”

“They need to develop new systems and algorithms to detect this stuff and remove it.”

Fire up the algorithms, boys! Don’t spare the horses!

“Good men do nothing, and that’s what’s happening here”

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing, and that’s what’s happening here.”

First they came for the YouTube stars, and I did not speak out – because I was not a YouTube star.

Security minister, Ben Wallace

“The web is an international worldwide phenomenon” 

“We need to explore what we can do within the realms of the web. The web is an international worldwide phenomenon, and businesses and servers are based all over the world.”

Wait, what? The world wide web is both international and worldwide, you say? Is it global and transnational and intercontinental too? Maybe he got technology confused with tautology.

I'm a mole, innit.