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15 November 2013updated 26 Sep 2015 10:31am

Are Lib Dems doing enough to distance themselves from the Bedroom Tax?

The party's conference voted overwhelmingly that it was the wrong thing to do, but does that get across to the average voter?

By Richard Morris

I was spending a pleasant evening last week in front of the box, shouting via the medium of Twitter at the Tories in general (and Anna Soubry in particular), when a Labour supporting follower engaged in a spot of good natured leg pulling by telling me Ms Soubry was “my Minister”. When I demurred, he added . . .

“Do you agree with the present coalition? If so, she IS your minister. If not, call on your party to dissolve . . .”

I’m presuming he meant to add “the coalition” (well I’m choosing to interpret it like that – it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to) and it’s been preying on my mind all week, given the context of Bedroom Tax vote which took place on Tuesday.

Now, of course using an Opposition Day motion to make the junior party in the coalition feel uncomfortable is a trick used by Labour before, to little effect – but this time was different. It’s one thing trying to play games around the Mansion Tax – which no matter how clever your procedural chicanery may be, you’re never going to persuade anyone that it isn’t a Lib Dem policy. It’s quite another thing to turn the focus onto the Bedroom Tax (sorry HQ, I meant “spare room subsidy”) – because the party, let alone the country, doesn’t seem too sure if is “ours” or not.

It’s a Tory policy – well actually it’s a Labour policy extended by the Tories but let’s not quibble – that our MPs supported in the Commons. Then Lib Dem conference decreed overwhelmingly that it was the wrong thing to do – almost the sole defeat for the leadership in Glasgow. This seemed to engender a change of heart in Nick Clegg – who announced an investigation into the implementation of the tax. Then, when invited to vote on it again this week, two Lib Dem MPs voted with Labour – including the party president. Four more Lib Dem MPs put down their own early day motion condemning the Bedroom Tax. And 22 members of the Westminster party abstained on the motion – including more than half the cabinet, one of whom was the Deputy Prime Minister. Sure they were probably paired. But if they cared that much. . .

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On the other hand, more than half the Parliamentary party in the Commons merrily marched into the government lobby with the Tories.

Together with at least 23 of our MPs and most of conference, I’d like to think the Bedroom Tax, as it currently stands, isn’t “our” policy . . .but I’m not sure we’re doing nearly enough to turn our face away.  And if our MP and activists don’t know  – what hope for the average voter?