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Coffee House

Sarah Teather dents the Coalition’s unity message by announcing her benefits rebellion

7 January 2013

1:29 PM

7 January 2013

1:29 PM

Coupled with Lord Strathclyde’s resignation over the way the Coalition worked in the House of Lords, Sarah Teather’s announcement that she will rebel against the government tomorrow is extremely poor timing. Today was supposed to be about unity, the Coalition working well together in the national interest. Now there are suggestions that this unity isn’t visible in the Upper Chamber, and that senior Lib Dems aren’t quite as ecstatic about key policies as Nick Clegg might try to argue.

Ever since she went AWOL on the day of a vote on the benefit cap, Teather was a rebellion waiting to happen. She had already expressed public opposition to that cap on benefits up to £26,000 for workless families: today she announced she will rebel for the first time against the government at tomorrow’s second reading of the Welfare Uprating Bill. She told the World at One:

 ‘I feel deeply anxious about the policy and I will be voting against the Bill tomorrow very reluctantly and with a very heavy heart.’

Teather’s critics would argue that if she cared that much about the Coalition’s benefit cuts, she should have made a stand while in government and resign on principle to vote against the £26,000 benefit cap instead of sounding off at meetings and boasting in private that she was trying to wash her hands of policies she didn’t like by avoiding votes.

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But now she is on the backbenches, the former schools minister is focused on fighting for survival in her Brent Central constituency, where she has a majority of 1,345. The Lib Dem leadership may well sympathise with her concerns about her constituency. But announcing her rebellion on the lunchtime news when David Cameron and Clegg are due to praise the Coalition at 2.30 isn’t a particularly charitable move. I understand that very poor relations between Teather and Clegg contributed to her exit in the reshuffle: they’re unlikely to improve now.

You can listen to the full interview here:

P.S. Teather refused to say on WATO whether she would be joined by any other Liberal Democrats in voting against the government tomorrow. One of the more likely rebels is Sir Bob Russell (who was presumably not knighted for services to party loyalty, given he’s voted out of line with his party 28 times since the Coalition formed), who was the first politician to describe the housing benefit cuts as ‘cleansing’.

But Russell tells me that he is staying loyal tomorrow. He says:

‘I will be supporting the government. This is not a cut: there is still going to be an increase. If it hadn’t been for the Lib Dems, this probably would have been a freeze or a cut, so the Lib Dems have made their mark and made it much better than it would have been.’

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