Ed Miliband speaks to supporters at Redbridge during Labour's local and European election campaign launch last week. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour to stage vote on banning letting agent fees for tenants

Miliband tries to trap the coalition on the wrong side of "Generation Rent". 

One of the parliamentary tactics beloved of both the Tories and Labour is to use Commons votes to position their opponents on the wrong side of wedge issues. Rather than merely stating that "Labour opposes our benefit cap" or "the Tories oppose our energy price freeze", they are able to declare that they actively voted against it. 

On the local election campaign trail, Ed Miliband has just revealed his latest gambit. Labour will stage a vote next week on its recently announced proposal to ban letting agent fees for tenants (which the party estimates would save the average household £350). It will do so by tabling an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill on Tuesday.

Labour also intends to use the vote to highlight the legislative inertia of what it has dubbed Cameron's "zombie government". 

Miliband said in his speech last week: 

When you’re buying a home, the estate agent doesn’t charge you fees.

But those who rent are given no such protection.

They get charged up to £500 just for signing a tenancy agreement.

Even if the letting agents are charging the landlord for the same thing too.

A Labour government will ban letting agents from charging tenants.

After his attack on the Tories at yesterday's PMQs ("Why has the Conservative Party given up on the millions of people who are Generation Rent?"), this is another attempt by Miliband to trap the coalition on the wrong side of the debate. How or whether the government avoids the trap remains to be seen. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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