On Friday the Conservative party was defeated three times in the House of Commons over a Bill to amend housing benefits. A Liberal Democrat MP with the full support of Liberal Democrat Ministers proposed substantial changes to Housing Benefits without the agreement of Conservative Ministers. Conservative Ministers asked the Conservative Parliamentary party to vote down the measure.
There were three main issues in play. The first is the Referendum Bill. Conservatives are keen to legislate this Parliament for an EU referendum to be held before the end of 2017 giving people an In/Out choice. Labour and Liberal Democrats are against a referendum. They wish to accord priority to other private members bills to try to squeeze out the Referendum Bill which is in third place following the ballot. This was the highest placed Bill slot which any Conservative was allotted. The Conservative party wished to vote down the Lib Dem Bill to give the Referendum Bill more chance of c0mpleting its passage before March and the end of this Parliament. If it remains third in the queue its chances are reduced.
The second issue is controlling the state deficit and the affordability of welfare. The cost of the Lib Dem proposed Bill would be an extra £1 billion of spending a year. It was not just a measure to assist the disabled and those unable to find a suitable smaller property. Indeed these hard cases are already being taken care of through extra benefit money made available to Councils to help people who need a larger property because they are disabled, or who cannot find a smaller one. The Bill also includes removing deductions to Housing Benefit where other earners live in the property. Conservatives received no answer to the question what else the Lib Dems and Labour would cut to pay for this, or which tax would they increase.
The third is the Liberal Democrats clearly wanted to find an issue which played into one of Labour’s biggest campaigns so they had a chance of winning in the Commons against the Conservatives. For them it was good politics, showing they wish to align themselves more on the left as they have been losing too many votes to Labour. They hope they are rehearsing for a future Lib/Lab coalition.
On the day Labour and Liberal Democrats did well mobilising their full forces. They do have the votes to defeat Conservatives if they all unite, as they did. The absence of some Conservatives made the defeat bigger.