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At last: a chance to agree with the Lib Dems

August 9th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 2 Comments · Politics

Since the elction in May, or rather since the formation of the coalition I have been increasingly disenchanted with the Liberal Democrats, though many of my colleagues in the Labour party will say I was foolish to be giving them the benefit of the doubt in the first place.On the whole I have found the Lib Dems I have met at a local level to be OK.   In some cases it may be that they are well-meaning but ineffective (as they are in opposition in Horsham) but even then at least they are well-meaning.

When Labour lost the election in May it was no great surprise, but when it became clear that the Tories hadn’t won either there was a glimmer of hope: at least those nice Lib Dems would rein in the worst excesses of the Tories wouldn’t they?   And then, like a scene with the Borg in Star Trek, they were assimilated all too quickly and the trappings of power seemed to take over.

Far from acting as a brake to the Tories’ plans they popped up fronting some of the worst and offering justification for others.  My erstwhile opponent, Francis Maude (AKA the Tory Peter Mandelson – I bet he loves that description) even felt able to say that the coalition is more radical than the Thatcher government.

As an aside: how well do you think they would have done if that had been their election slogan?  They have spent years trying to ‘detoxify the brand’ which in practical terms meant putting a lot of distance between the new cuddly Tories and the old nasty party; a tacit admission that they knew the general voting public wouldn’t see out-Thatchering Thatcher as an attractive proposition.

Last week I managed to get my hopes up again when I saw a headline in the Guardian about eliminating child detention.  This is one of those extremely illiberal situations that Labour really should be ashamed of that needs sorting out.  I would prefer it if a Labour government did it, but if the coalition sort it out then that is OK too.  Getting it sorted out is the important thing.

Then I read the actual story and found that the children would be freed from detention by being deported. Within two weeks. In some cases, though admittedly not all, the ‘freedom’ they face at home is far worse than detention in the UK could have been.     That is like saying all the right things about reducing the prison population and then revealing that the mechanism for doing that will be capital punishment – although to be fair Ken Clarke hasn’t said that yet.

A fine example of saying the right thing and then doing the wrong thing.  It reminds me of Peter Cook in the film Bedazzled where, as the Devil,  he grants Dudley Moore’s wishes but does so literally in a way that he really doesn’t enjoy.

Anyway, for those of us who like to think that there might be some hope for the Lib Dems after all, Simon Hughes popped up to criticise Cameron’s plans for social housing changes.  Hot on the heels of that is the news that he is not alone, and that the majority of other Lib Dems oppose the plans.

Of course if they had decided to not form a coalition, but let the Tories form a minority government, I would like to think that all of them would not only oppose the plans but be free to vote against them.

So far they are just saying the right thing and it remains to be seen whether they will follow it through with actually doing the right thing too.  We will have to wait and see.  My more cynical and Lib Dem-hostile colleagues would say that this opposition says more about the atrocious, ideologically motivated proposals than about the Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, if anybody needs a great example of what the country would be like with fixed-term tenures for social housing, just look at this story from Friday’s paper.

A day after Dave announced his intentions, Kensington & Chelsea council were onto a lady living alone in a two-bedroomed flat telling her that she had better move to a smaller place now while she can still choose where to go, because they will soon have the power to force her to move wherever they like.

Forget that Dave reckons it is all just an idea at the moment, and that even if it went into law it would only apply to new tenants and not affect existing tenants, we can see how some councils are absolutely raring to start harassing their tenants.

The lady in the story says:

I could not sleep for the last two nights. I have lived here for 22 years and my husband died 14 years ago. I told them the spare bedroom is very useful as I have grandchildren and I can have them to stay.

My children gave me £2,000 to paint my flat and put in new carpets because the council would not. So will I lose all this too? I know all the neighbours and my friends. Why make me move? I do not want to go.

Which captures a lot of the arguments already given for opposing the policy: tenants living in perpetual fear instad of feeling secure, the forced break-up of settled communities, and the removal of any incentive for tenants to decorate or furnish their homes properly.

Remember that all this pressure is being piled on before the policy even takes effect – a policy that is supposed to not affect existing tenants like this lady anyway – not to mention that most councils and housing associations define excessive under-occupancy as having more than one bedroom in excess of what is needed.  Current practice is to accept that a spare room is not an unthinkable luxury, but Kensington & Chelsea seem to think otherwise and maybe their hardline approach is pointing the way to what the future really holds.

If the Tories do force this policy through  – which they would surely need the support of the Lib Dems to do – that will be the hard part.  Extending the new erstrictions to existing tenants and redefining what underoccupancy means will be seen as tweaks that can be slipped in under the radar later. Or perhaps sooner rather than later.

I have to say that I would feel a lot more confident in the ability of the Lib Dems to prevent this if they were not embroiled in the coercion coalition and were not led by Nick Clegg.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    I wish I could share your hope, Skuds.

  • skud's sister

    The irony of Kensington & Chelsea thinking that having a spare room is excessive (for council tenants) is stunning – I bet many of the residents who are homeowners there have entire guest wings……