Housing Benefit and Nick’s House of Cards….
Simon Hughes is totally right that the cuts to welfare are harsh and draconian and hopefully, he is right, that the proposals to cut housing benefit for those who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than a year will be voted down in the Commons. However, this is not the only problem with the Coalition’s reforms to Housing Benefit. Other issues exist like, for example, the raising of the age that you can qualify for shared rate Local Housing Allowance to 35. Hughes picking up on this issue is no accident however given the seat he represents, Bermondsey and Old Southwark, has had the most social housing of any other constituency in the country for 27 years now. So, its old-fashioned electoral interests that rule the day.
Hughes is far from the rebel he is portrayed as. Indeed, as Stephen Tall points out here he is a loyalist. His job is to provide fig-leaf cover for Mr Clegg and try reassure those remaining Liberal Democrats left who care their Party has not lost all of its soul. I do disagree with Tall that Hughes says the things Clegg ‘can’t’ however, he says the things Clegg wont because he simply doesn’t believe them. Mr Clegg wont be a Liberal Democrat for much longer; he has returned to his home, where he is amoung friends and will be offered a place within the Conservative-fold as he knows the writing is on the wall for him in Sheffield. In five-years time, when the rightist vultures are circling around Cameron within his own Party, and they are battered by all sorts of other opposition forces, the Conservatives will offer Clegg a consolation prize (for the loss of his Party, and his seat) aboard the last life-raft to leave by Cameron; not because like Gaius Baltar at the end of third series of Battlestar Galatica he was right in any kind of visionary way (reading his stuff, one is struck by his acute myopia) but because he is sufficiently right-wing.
Electoral concerns also govern the intervention of our own Douglas Alexander. One suspects the leadership were approached by avid readers of the New Statesman (and probably London Labour MP’s) who noticed this story which detailed how these reforms will decimate Labour’s electoral base in inner-London. Nonetheless, it is nice to hear Mr Alexander finally find something of a voice to oppose these reforms and it would be churlish of me to chafe that with too much cold counsel. Having found it I would now encourage Mr Alexander and the leadership to be more full-throttled in their defence of the suffering poor and not just those in the key marginal seats.