After Tim Farron set out a new position for the Lib Dems on the ‘bedroom tax’ this morning, Labour wants to try to humiliate the party by staging a vote on the policy in the Commons. It was approved long ago, but this lunchtime Labour sources were saying that they would put pressure on the Lib Dems by finding a mechanism to force a vote on the bedroom tax. This is always exciting for the Labour party as they can dig out some lines about flip flops and broken promises, but the chances are that an Opposition Day debate would either be ignored by Lib Dem MPs, or a mollifying amendment tabled by the government which allows the Coalition parties to walk through the same lobbies.
But the timing of Farron’s intervention on the bedroom tax is interesting because I understand that in the next few days David Laws is going to sit down and work out the key themes and messages of the Lib Dem manifesto.
Farron, who told the Centre for Social Justice this morning that ‘the bedroom tax causes huge social problems and distorts the market – we as a party cannot support this’, may well be trying to encourage his party to consider taking this position on this particular cut to housing benefit. He has not, as some believe, changed Lib Dem policy on the bedroom tax as the party’s commitment to confusing and labyrinthine democracy makes that impossible, but he could be staking out a position ahead of the manifesto negotiations. Encouraging a debate now about the cut could create some cover for those Lib Dem MPs who have had to send out many letters to constituents defending the policy.
The party leadership isn’t slapping Farron down, either. A senior Lib Dem source tells me:
‘The party has expressed its view on this policy, but this is the government policy, we’re in a coalition and you can’t do everything you want. The basis of our manifesto is party policy that we set at conference.’
So it sounds as though the party could well go into the 2015 election with a rather different stance on the policy officially known as the ‘Size Criteria for People Renting in the Social Rented Sector’. Either way, it’s a sign that the manifesto horsetrading is really starting to begin in this party.