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5 September 2014

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. 

By George Eaton

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.’

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“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.”

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