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.

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.