by Stephen Tall on January 8, 2013
Three Lib Dem MPs have so far publicly declared they’ll rebel against the Coalition Government’s Benefits Uprating Bill. This is the Bill being debated in the Commons this afternoon which pegs increases in welfare payments at a below-inflation 1%, the same as public sector wage rises, for the next three years. It’s a blatant legislative trap sprung by the Tories to box Labour into a corner, an attempt to portray the Opposition as in league with ‘shirkers’ in contrast to the Coalition’s backing for ‘workers’ (though to be fair to Work and Pensions secrtary Iain Duncan Smith that’s more the language of Chancellor George Osborne).
The Lib Dem position on this, as I understand it, is as follows.
We supported inflation-proofed rises for welfare (just as the party successfully pushed last year). The Tories wanted to see a freeze, something the Lib Dem leadership would have only considered if accompanied by a wealth tax, such as Vince Cable’s mansion tax or a couple of extra Council Tax bands. David Cameron, nervous about the Tories’ home counties’ vote, vetoed that, so the compromise that was reached was to split the difference: a 1% cash rise. It’s the kind of compromise that happens within a Coalition government. And for all Labour’s carping I’d be very surprised if they would have made a different decision: after all, they abolished the 10p tax-rate and gave pensioners a 75p increase even while the sun was shining.
Where the Tories have been shrewd is to turn a partial defeat (after all, they lost their attempt to freeze benefits) into a tactical victory. The Benefits Uprating Bill is legislatively unnecessary — it is there only to make one blunt point: “whose side are you on?”
So far I’ve seen three Lib Dem MPs declare their intent to rebel:
Former children’s minister Sarah Teather has said she will vote against the Bill:
“One of the things I feel particularly uncomfortable about is setting up these two groups ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’. It’s playground politics….Trying to set these two groups up and drive envy and division is not helpful.”
As has Manchester MP John Leech:
“I voted against the Welfare Reform Bill, and I find it objectionable that the Tories are using “Skivers Vs Strives” rhetoric to justify a cut to 7million working families. I strongly support raising the tax threshold for low paid workers, but this cut will wipe out much of that good work.”
And Cambridge MP Julian Huppert has indicated on Twitter he will abstain:
I will not vote for Benefits Uprating Bill tonight – I’m proud we put up benefits 5.2% last year, in line w inflation. 1% is too little #fb
— Julian Huppert (@julianhuppert) January 8, 2013
I imagine the trio will grow before tonight’s vote.
UPDATE 5.03 pm: Adrian Sanders has confirmed he will also abstain tonight:
To be clear,I’ll abstain tonight,but vote against at 3rd reading if I can’t support an amendment at committee stage
— Adrian Sanders (@adriansandersmp) January 8, 2013
UPDATE 6.40 pm: via Andrew Sparrow’s excellent Guardian politics live-blog, Bradford East Lib Dem MP David Ward has also indicated he’ll abstain:
I suspect there are far too many people on this side of the house that believe these are the deserved poor. It is not fair. I will not support it.
PS: my LibDemVoice colleague Caron Lindsay has blogged here why she would vote against the Government if she were an MP. She makes a lot of valid points. But if I had a vote tonight the Government would get it. Not because it’s the right policy; but because the Lib Dems got the best deal possible given how the public voted at the last election.