Protestors demonstrate against the bedroom tax in Trafalgar Square on 30 March 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dems defeat the Tories over bedroom tax reform - but would they vote to scrap it?

With Labour planning to amend the bill, Clegg's party could still be caught between two stools. 

Labour and the Lib Dems joined forces in parliament today to defeat the Tories over the reform of the bedroom tax. Lib Dem MP Andrew George's bill, which would exempt those who cannot find a smaller home, and those who are disabled and need a spare room, or who live in an adapted property, was passed by 306 votes to 231. In response, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg moved a procedural motion seeking to have the bill referred to a select committee in order to delay its progress, but this was defeated by 28 votes. 

Given the unpopularity of the policy, and its impact on the poor (a DWP analysis found that nearly 60 per cent of the 550,000 tenants affected are in rent arrears and only one in 20 have been able to move to a smaller home), the Lib Dems are unsurprisingly trumpeting their victory. Defeating their coalition partners in parliament is perhaps the clearest expression of their long-touted "differentiation strategy". 

But with Labour pledging to amend the bill in an attempt to scrap the measure completely, the Lib Dems could still find themselves, as so often, caught between two stools. As Nick Clegg's former special adviser Sean Kemp noted earlier this year, since most of those voters who care about the bedroom tax either want it to be scrapped completely, or retained as a necessary welfare cut, the party is unlikely to win much credit from the public. 

Meanwhile, Labour is highlighting the absence of four SNP MPs from the vote. Alex Salmond's party has made its opposition to the policy a key plank of its independence campaign, but just two of its members were present today.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "Far from standing up for Scotland, the SNP have stayed at home and let Scotland down. We can only conclude that the SNP want to keep the bedroom tax as a tactic to help their campaign. John Swinney refused to help bedroom tax victims because he said he didn't want to 'let Westminster off the hook.'

"Today Labour MPs voted to help the poor and vulnerable and won leaving Swinney on the hook. It is clear now that the Tories don't even have a majority in the House of Commons let alone the UK. Labour is winning again."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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MPs should follow Emmanuel Macron's example and stand up to the far right

Where does a liberal centrist's victory fit into your narrative of inevitable decline? 

“Après le #Brexit, le printemps des peuples est inévitable !” wrote the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, days after Brexit. Well, the blossom is on the trees, and Le Pen is through to the second round of the French presidential elections, so presumably we’re bang in the middle of that inevitable “people’s spring”. 

After all, a referendum that left Britain’s metropolitan elite weeping into their EU flags was swiftly followed by the complete overturning of US political and ethical traditions. Donald Trump defied polling and won the Presidency, all the while proclaiming he was “Mr Brexit”.  

Then, in December, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held a referendum on constitutional changes and lost. Both Europhiles and Eurosceptics read the runes. Ukip’s on and off leader Nigel Farage crowed of 2016: “First we had the Brexit deliverance, then the Trump triumph, then the Italian rebellion. Democracy and the rebirth of the nation state!”

As this illustrates, the far-right want you to believe all these results are linked, and that they represent a popular, democratic movement. In the UK at least, the liberal left has drunk the English champagne. Labour is agonising over how to reconnect with “traditional” voters Ukip is apparently so in touch with – which don’t seem to include ethnic minorities, young people and those living in cities. Being “tough on immigration” is the answer to modern woes, and globalisation is a dirty word that can only represent multinational interests and not, say, cheaper food on the table. 

There are debates to be had about globalisation, of course, and the lingering impact of the 2008 financial crash, and the fact wages haven’t risen, and public services have been cut, and that in some northern towns, people from different ethnic backgrounds live segregated lives. But if the first round of the French presidential election can do us one favour, it’s to dispense with the narrative that there is something inevitable about the end of liberalism. 

Emmanuel Macron, an unapologetically pro-EU social, economic and political liberal, led the way in the first round of the French presidential election. The polls put him on course to become President.

If he wins, perhaps it’s time to revisit the narrative of decline. To remind ourselves that Hillary Clinton, now written off, won the popular vote in the United States, and among growing demographics of voters too. That a far-right  Austrian presidential candidate was defeated in 2016. That as recently as March, the Dutch mainstream prevailed against the far-right original Trump, Geert Wilders, and that the left-green leader Jesse Klaver enjoyed a surge instead. And that, although it’s now commonplace to assume Canada is just “nicer” in electing a liberal, Justin Trudeau, his party actually overturned nearly a decade of tar sands Conservative rule. 

Should liberals start to join these dots, voters should have the right to ask why both Labour and the Conservatives have jumped on the populists' bandwagon so eagerly. Why, among previously economically liberal Conservatives, are Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry left as lone voices on the back benches. And why, in Labour, is patchy research linking depressed wages and immigration now exhalted as long-established fact? 

Liberalism may be out of fashion, but it’s not dead yet, as any of the Tory MPs in south-west marginal seats know too well. By the time Farage’s “independence day” on 24 June arrives, the narrative may have changed again. 

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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