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Lib Dems looking to the future Matthew Warburton - 16/09/2014

Cable_Clegg_300With 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 changed significantly.

 

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.

 

Last year, 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.

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