Nick Clegg should follow Labour and support a complete reversal of the bedroom tax. Photo: Getty
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Why the Lib Dems should back Labour and completely oppose the bedroom tax

The Lib Dem's "u-turn" on the bedroom tax isn't enough; they should come out completely against the policy.

Following the announcement by the Lib Dems that has been widely interpreted as them wanting to "axe" the Bedroom Tax the party is likely to soon be left in a dilemma.

What they are actually calling for is in line with the policy that the party's activists voted for at their conference which is to reform the hated policy. The changes proposed would see only those who were offered a smaller house who then refused it penalised and disabled people would not be expected to move if they needed the extra room.

So far so sensible. The problem is that after the coverage and the way the Lib Dem leadership has allowed this hare to run they will be in real trouble if as expected Labour manage to table a vote to scrap the Bedroom Tax altogether.

This would yet again leave the yellows in an excruciating position. In order to maintain governmental coherence and collective responsibility under these sort of circumstances you would expect a party of government to back the agreed and already voted on, established policy. But we've just had days of headlines about how Clegg wants to "axe" it which they are reportedly happy with (as they consider their policy tantamount to scrapping it). It will of course look ridiculous to most people if just days after this "u-turn" the party appears to then "u-turn" again and vote for the policy they just told us they were against. After they were for it before.

Let's just pause for a minute here. Nick Clegg can be accused of many things and regularly is but I think lots of people recognise he has been on a sticky wicket since May 2010. However one criticism I think it fair to level at him is that he seems incapable of looking more than a couple of moves ahead in the political chess game. We have seen this time and again. If he had properly considered what was going to happen if the Lib Dems ended up in government in 2009 he would never have urged his PPCs to sign the (now disastrous) tuition fees pledge. If he had thought long enough about how to get meaningful electoral reform through in this session he may well have decided getting some form of PR for local council elections may have been doable and even palatable to some Tories living in areas dominated by Labour councillors instead of the huge defeat AV was.

And we see the same pattern played out again here. Shouting loudly about how much the party now dislikes the bedroom tax is all well and good but where's the beef? It did not take a strategic genius to work out that Labour would take the opportunity to try and embarrass the Lib Dems (yet again) by calling for a vote to scrap it (yet again).

The Lib Dems have been in an impossible position for years. They are unable to get all the policies they want to in government and as a result they have been "punished" by the electorate. They are to an extent authors of many of their own misfortunes but the electoral system is against them, collective responsibility is against them and almost all the press is against them.

Enough is enough.

The time has come for the party to do something completely left field. If Labour do bring forward a motion to scrap the bedroom tax, Clegg should instruct his party to vote for it. It may not be exactly what party policy is (they want to improve it but keep the essential principle) but frankly the Tories will never allow what the Lib Dems want while they're in government anyway. So what Labour would be proposing is close enough.

Of course there will be consequences from this. It could conceivably bring down the government. At the very least it could make things difficult for both coalition partners.

The issue has become so totemic to so many people that a totemic response is required. If it brings the coalition to a premature end then so be it (although once his bluff is called I expect Cameron will ultimately not force this). At least Clegg will have done this on an issue worth fighting for. The alternative is to yet again be cast as unprincipled, untrustworthy and essentially a liar.

Oh and to those who will claim I am politically naive to even suggest this or that it would be too damaging to the running of government I will just remind them that a few weeks back when the Tories wanted to get a policy through on knife crime that their coalition Lib Dem partners did not want what did they do? They teamed up with Labour to push it through anyway.

Clegg should bear that fact in mind when deciding whether to stick to "the rules" that only ever seem to shaft his party.
 

​Mark Thompson (@MarkReckons) is a political blogger and commentator who edits the award-winning Mark Thompson's Blog.

He is also co-host of the House of Commons podcast.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.