With the return of
Parliament from its summer recess, backbench Liberal Democrat MPs
have begun to challenge key elements of Coalition policy,
presumably with an eye to their chances of keeping their seats next
year and the prospects of a change in government.
Andrew George's Affordable Homes Bill
surprised many when MPs voted by a comfortable majority for its
Second Reading, with many Conservative MPs not bothering to vote.
The Bill proposes reform of the under occupation penalty so that it
would only apply once a tenant had refused an offer of alternative
accommodation of an appropriate size.
Private members Bills
rarely succeed without Government support through being denied
sufficient time to complete their passage through Parliament. This
will almost certainly be the fate of the Affordable Homes Bill.
Even if it were to be passed, its provisions would not take effect
before three months after Royal Assent, almost certainly beyond the
General Election, when the balance of political forces may have
But the Bill remains important even if
it has no real chance of becoming law. It provides an opportunity
for Liberal Democrats to begin the process of publicly
disentangling themselves from Coalition policies they have become
uncomfortable with, and to put some distance between them and the
Conservatives as the General Election looms.
Also last week, and probably with the
same aim in mind, Lib Dem President Tim Farron asked Housing
Minister Brandon Lewis to allow councils to suspend the right to
buy where it is leading to an unacceptable loss of social
housing. He pointed to the example of Scotland which took this step
earlier this year.
The Liberal Democrats Conference will be held
at the start of October - later than usual because of the
referendum in Scotland. The last few Conferences have highlighted a
large gap between Party policy on housing, and the policies the
Party's MPs have supported in Government.
for example, Conference was only persuaded by an appeal from Nick Clegg to
drop the demand - formerly Party policy - for council debt caps to
be lifted, in favour of a half-baked proposal to allow headroom to
be transferred from one council to another. It will be interesting
to see whether the gap has widened further since then.