Coffee House

The Lib Dems can’t win on reforming the ‘bedroom tax’

17 July 2014

12:14 PM

17 July 2014

12:14 PM

In 2010, shortly after going into coalition, Lib Dem MPs and peers were addressed by various liberal politicians keen to share their experiences of being the smallest party in a coalition. It was a fascinating, if mildly depressing occasion, with the advice ranging from ‘it’s hell’ to ‘no really, it’s absolute hell.’

The most striking quote came from the Dutch politician Lousewies van der Laan who warned us not to act like ‘the mayor in wartime’: a reference to people who became mayors of towns occupied by the Nazis, and then justified the decision by admitting that things were horrific but would be mildly less dreadful due to their decision to take some power.

I was reminded of that quote by today’s story about the Liberal Democrats ‘axing’ the bedroom tax (or axing the spare room subsidy, if you prefer). The first thing to note is that, as George Eaton has pointed out this isn’t a scrapping of the policy but rather a reform designed to ensure the tax meets the objectives that were originally given as a rationale for creating the thing. The Lib Dem position is actually a good policy, so good in fact that the Lib Dems overwhelmingly backed it at their party conference last year. Party members will like the move, which is no small consideration, and it provides a good basis for the party’s stance in any future coalition negotiation. (As a sidenote, if the Tories say they were unaware of the party’s position on this they really should have learnt by now to pay some attention to the Lib Dem conference, the party’s most important decision-making body.)


There’s nothing wrong with politicians wanting to look again at policies that aren’t working as well as they would have hoped, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with parties in a coalition setting out where they differ. But good policies don’t always make for the best politics when the first thing voters hear about them is when they are slapped on the front page of national newspapers. Sometimes a bit more groundwork is needed.

It’s a good habit in politics always to think of the person standing in a voting booth and deciding where to put their vote. If they are someone who feels strongly about the bedroom tax are they now more likely to vote for the Lib Dems? Probably not – they’ll either vote for Labour, who want to abolish it entirely, or the Conservatives, who want to be tougher on benefit claimants. In fact the biggest reason they won’t vote for the Lib Dems is not about policies at all, it is about trust. Having the words’ U-turn’ on the front of the Daily Mirror doesn’t really help with that.

Another striking quote from that 2010 session was from a politician who warned us about being too open about the difficulties of coalition: ‘You will be tempted to show people your wounds’ he said, ‘but in politics if you show people your wounds you are just telling them where to throw the salt.’ Labour will now hold an Opposition Day vote on the bedroom tax. It will be worded in a way the Lib Dems can’t support, apart from a few rebels, and the party will have some more salt thrown on its wounds.

Sean Kemp is a former Downing Street advisor to Nick Clegg

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Show comments
  • Damaris Tighe

    I can remember when the LibDems were to the left of Labour. But credit where credit’s due, the £10,000 tax allowance was an enlightened policy allowing the poor to keep their own money. I remember Brown’s wretched tax credit system which took money from the deserving poor & gave it to the undeserving poor. He loved to micro-manage people’s incomes.

  • Gizzard Puke

    Holly is entirely correct.

  • Fergus Pickering

    So David Cameron is Hitler. And you lot are Quislings. Wasn’t he shot with ignominy?

  • dave244

    I can not understand the fuss after all if Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems will include their plans in their election manifesto and as they can be trusted to keep their word so no problem right.
    Oops sorry i was thinking of la-la land but here in the real world Nick Clegg still thinks people actually believe him when he makes a election manifesto promise which go to show that he is not on the same planet as the rest of us

  • Gizzard Puke

    Lib/Dims are weasels but the bedroom tax is a demented policy.

    • Holly

      The ‘bedroom tax’ is just another loophole that Labour allowed some to benefit from, to make them appear ‘thoughtful’ and ‘caring’.
      A bit like a tax loophole, that some can use but others can’t.
      IF it had been available to everyone in the same financial boat, instead of just council house tenants, then I might agree with the criticism.
      As it is, it wasn’t, so I don’t.
      Do people in other kinds of tenancies, or mortgage payers get ‘free’ rent weeks?

      • Alexsandr

        yes . liebor brought it in for private tenants. that keeps getting forgotten.

  • Smithersjones2013

    The sad thing is its the Tories own fault they they have to live with this malevolent duplicity. They should have known that the Lib Dems are utterly untrustworthy and mendacious. Any party that spends it’s time trying to face both ways simultaneously in its obsessive pursuit of unadulterated power is bound to be treacherous. To be so is part of their identity.

  • George McCarthy

    Any one with any sense, can see the biggest Benefit cheats are in the two houses of Parliament? Since day one, the coalition have hit the ground running at the unemployed and disabled, for what? To make them pay for the bankers greed and their collapse of the economy! While at the same time these MP’s are stealing a fortune in ‘expenses’? £5000 energy bill for a ‘second home’ (4 times average) they hardly ever occupy? I agree with Farage, it would be cheaper to pay them a one off salary of £100,000 and NO EXPENSES!
    Getting back to the bedroom tax, what are Libs amendments and how do they pay for them?

    • sorryforlaughing

      Come on Bill, you’re going to bring up Farage when talking about expenses.

  • RavenRandom

    Every day the Lib Dems prove they are just weasels. Whether you agree with the policy or no, this constant betrayal shows them for what they are.

    • dado_trunking

      But the bedroom tax is TORY policy. Who will deny it was very successful in freeing up millions of sqft of council housing in readiness for a newly expected hordes of immigrants? Vote UKIP!

      • Alexsandr

        no it was a LABOUR policy for private tenant. The tories just extended it to social housing tenants.

    • Alexsandr

      calm down. come next may they will be history.

  • Alexsandr

    the limp dumps need reminding that the people who end up paying for their ideas are the tax payers. They see themselves squeezed harder and harder, then the state gives handouts of their money to others. They need to think that many think enough is enough.

    • Tim Baker

      Don’t worry, Nick Clegg will get a nice job in Brussels after he’s kicked out by the British electorate.

      • Alexsandr

        the eu can give him the job of negotiating with the brit government on britexit – (grin)

  • John Matthews

    by itself it wont probably wont change many voters minds but this is something called for within the lib dem grass roots and its important to give the impression they are listened to as lib dems rely on grass roots activism a lot more than main parties who get thier dosh from big companies /unions

    • Alexsandr

      lib dem grass roots? thats 5 people then.

  • Rhoda Klapp8


  • Portendorfer

    Oh to be a purist.
    No one told Nicky that politics was a dirty game.

    • Emulous

      Yesterday’s man.
      Who will agree with Nick now?