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.

Photo: Getty
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How our actual real-life adult politicians are mourning Big Ben falling silent

MPs are holding a vigil for a big bell.

Democracy in action in the Mother of Parliaments has always been a breathtaking spectacle, and today is no exception. For a group of our elected representatives, the lawmakers, the mouthpieces for the needy, vulnerable and voiceless among us, will be holding a silent vigil, heads bowed, for the stopping of Big Ben’s bongs for four years.

That’s right. Our politicians are mourning an old bell that won’t chime for a limited period.

Here’s everything ludicrous they’ve been saying about it:

“Of course we want to ensure people’s safety at work but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.

“And I hope that the speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons commission, will look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

- The Right Honourable Theresa May MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, head of Her Majesty’s Government.

“There’s going to be a small group of us standing there with bowed heads in the courtyard… a group of like-minded traditionalists.

“We’re going to be gathering outside the members’ entrance, gazing up at this noble, glorious edifice, listening to the sounds rolling across Westminster, summoning true democrats to the Palace of Westminster.

“We’ll be stood down there with heads bowed but hope in our hearts.”

- Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Where There Are Actual Issues.

“Why can’t they switch the bells back on when they stop working at 5pm or 6pm or whenever it is? Also why is it taking four years?… My own view is that Big Ben, whether it be the Elizabeth Tower or indeed the bell inside, it’s not just one of the most iconic British things, it’s one of the most iconic world things, it’s on a Unesco site.”

- Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for the Ribble Valley and Adult Human Person.

“Four years to repair Big Ben?! We could have left the EU twice in that time.”

- The Right Honourable Lord Adonis, formerly of the No 10 Policy Unit and ex-Secretary of State for Transport.

“I think Big Ben ought to be kept striking as much as possible during the repairs as long as it doesn’t deafen the work force.

“It would be symbolically uplifting for it to sound out our departure from the EU as a literally ringing endorsement of democracy.”

 - The Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset and Our Future Overlord.

“We are being liberated from the European Union superstate and Britain will again be a completely self-governing country. Where will the eyes of the world be? On Parliament and Big Ben. It would be very strange if at midnight on that day it does not chime out, very bizarre. It is the heart of our nation.”

 - Peter Bone, Conservative MP for the Unfortunate Doomed of Wellingborough. 

Others have responded:

“[Silencing the bell is] not a national disaster or catastrophe.”

- The Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition (to broken clocks).

“When you see the footage [on Monday] of our colleagues who gather at the foot of Big Ben you will not see too many colleagues who have careers ahead of them.”

- Conor Burns (by name and by nature), Conservative MP for Bournemouth West and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary.

“I think we should respect people’s health and safety while we’re at work.

“To be honest, there are more important things to be worrying about. We’ve got Grenfell Tower, we’ve got thousands of people across our country let down who don’t get access to proper mental health care, and so on and so forth.

“Quite apart from what’s happened in Barcelona, let’s just get a life and realise there are more important things around.”

- The Right Honourable Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, former Health Minister, and National Voice of Reason 2017.

I'm a mole, innit.