Labour courts Lib Dem MP on key housing benefit vote

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Dec 19 22:12:48 GMT 2010

Labour courts Lib Dem MP on key housing benefit vote
Opposition pins hopes on persuading Stephen Lloyd 
to vote against in a last-ditch attempt to block the policy

Allegra Stratton -, Sunday 19 December 2010 17.16 GMT

A backbench Liberal Democrat MP will cast the 
crucial vote tomorrow when MPs get a chance to 
pass judgement on the coalition's controversial housing benefit package.

Changes to housing benefit have been criticised 
by many, including senior Lib Dem MPs who feel 
moves to lower the level of rental support, or 
local housing allowance, at too fast a rate will increase homelessness.

The government had resisted attempts to bring the 
proposals to a vote in the Commons, pointing out 
that changes to benefits do not ordinarily 
require votes. But after the leader of the 
opposition, Ed Miliband, and the shadow welfare 
spokesman, Douglas Alexander, tabled a motion 
contesting the measures, the government set up a 
special committee to pronounce on the policies.

Now the the composition of the committee raises a 
slim possibility of a defeat. Though it is made 
up of eight Conservatives and two Lib Dems – 
which gives the government a lead over the seven 
Labour MPs and one Ulster Unionist, Ian Paisley, 
expected to vote against the measures – Labour 
are pinning their hopes on one of the two Lib 
Dems – Stephen Lloyd – choosing to vote against his government.

The other Lib Dem, Steve Webb, will be bound by 
ministerial responsibility to support the 
package, but if Lloyd were to be persuaded, the 
sides could be split evenly. Lloyd, MP for 
Eastbourne, has come under pressure from the 
opposition and charities who believe the vote to 
be the last opportunity to stop the policy.

A Labour source said: "Senior Lib Dems have 
voiced concerns – Simon Hughes, Bob Russell. Now 
is their chance to persuade Lloyd to force the 
government to reconsider. We're not saying the 
whole thing should be called off – there are 
elements in the package we support – but the 
changes to the level of support for rent people 
will get, or the 30th percentile, will cause 
great churn and higher levels of homelessness. 
It's a genuine opportunity for Lib Dems to show they know this."

Labour's courting of Lloyd comes after it emerged 
at the weekend that the party's director of 
policy, Greg Beales, had written to members of 
the shadow cabinet banning them from using the 
word "coalition" to describe the government, 
because the term was too reasonable and failed to 
convey the government's "ideological, rightwing 
agenda". Instead they are to refer to the 
"Conservative-led government", with Clegg unable 
to affect the direction of coalition policy.

The prime minister appears to be aware of the 
pressure on his coalition partners. It emerged 
over the weekend that he had called off a planned 
campaigning stint in Oldham East and Saddleworth 
byelection, preferring to give his coalition 
partners a clearer shot at winning the seat.

The byelection is a three-way fight. The Lib Dem 
candidate was 104 votes short at the last 
election, and a weak Conservative effort could benefit the Lib Dems.

Clegg's task is to ensure more of those who voted 
Lib Dem last time don't vote Labour. He will be 
in the constituency on Wednesday.
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