By Peter Hoskin
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What larks in Eastleigh! As various Tory MPs have tweeted in identikit fashion, the Lib Dem candidate has today ‘fessed up to voting for 5,000 new homes to be built on previously undeveloped green space – and this despite campaign literature which warns that “countryside spaces between our towns and villages across the borough of Eastleigh are under new threat thanks to Hampshire Conservatives”. Grant Shapps puts it thus:
“The Lib Dems Eastleigh campaign is in turmoil. Their central promise to the people of Eastleigh is to protect the local area’s green spaces. But now their candidate has admitted that they will concrete over the countryside with their plans for 5,000 new houses on green field sites.
The Liberal Democrats cannot mislead the voters forever – they’ve been found out. Nick Clegg now needs to apologise for the Lib Dems’ totally inaccurate claims.”
And there’s another Lib Dem-related story that CCHQ has set about exploiting today: the Mail on Sunday splash about Team Clegg’s plans to extend wealth taxes into your jewellery box. According to the paper, the Lib Dem leadership is considering—alongside the introduction of a souped-up mansion tax—an idea to allow taxmen into people’s homes to value, and then slap levies across, assets such as necklaces and paintings. Admittedly, Vince Cable has since played down many elements of the story, but not before Tories across Twitter seized on it with alacrity and gratitude.
In truth, the Lib Dems’ general eagerness to tax wealth creates as much a conundrum for the Tory leadership as a target. Of course, it’s easy to strike out at any jewellery tax, but a stronger variety of mansion tax is a different matter altogether. As “one influential figure” suggests to James Forsyth, Labour's sympathy for such a levy could alter the balance of negotiations in the event of another hung parliament – meaning that “Cameron will have to fold and accept a mansion tax as the price of power.”
Myself, I think the Tories shouldn’t dismiss higher taxes on expensive properties out-of-hand – for reasons I've set out before. But this is hardly a possiblity that will cheer many party members.
By Peter Hoskin
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The first featured Michael Gove, and can be watched in its entirety here. The Education Secretary repeated the main points from his Today Programme interview this morning: that he will not intervene in the GCSE marking row as it is a matter for the exams regulator Ofqual, and that he and the government will soon announce their GCSE reform plans, presumably designed to make the exams more rigorous.
The second came after Nick Clegg’s statement about Lords reform, in which the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed — as if confirmation were needed — that the Coalition’s plans for the second chamber are no more. Some Tory MPs cheered as Mr Clegg grumbled through his lines, seemingly delighted at his discomfort. “'I can confirm that the Government has today withdrawn that Bill,” he said, “about which I am not as happy as members behind me are.”
But there was anger, as well as merriment, from the Tory benches — for, after his original statement, Mr Clegg reaffirmed his intention to vote down the boundary changes, claiming once again that they were wrapped up in the same policy package as Lords reform. “Nothing will change my mind,” he added for emphasis, even though there remains speculation that something eventually might.
It was around this point that Eleanor Laing cited Mr Clegg’s previous words on the matter:
“The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed that on 6 August, he said that, the House of Lords Reform Bill having been withdrawn, his party would no longer support the boundaries legislation. Does he recall that on 19 April, in answer to my questions, he told the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform that there was ‘no link’ between the two issues? Does he accept that he cannot have been telling the truth on both occasions?”
Soon after, Jacob Rees Mogg asked a question that began in tongue-in-cheek but ended with a rasp:
“May I commend the Deputy Prime Minister on his remarkable statesmanship with regard to the boundary changes? He will be pleased to know that the commission was proposing a North East Somerset that would have been a safe Lib Dem seat, so I am in with a sporting chance of being back after the next election. However, now that he has said that Lib Dem Ministers will vote against Government policy, I wonder what his definition of collective responsibility is within a coalition Government.”
And, before them both, Bernard Jenkin had implied that Mr Clegg’s actions were a “disgrace”:
“My right hon. Friend should comfort himself: he gave it his best shot, with all his sincerity, and we respect him for that. May I draw his attention to the fact that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 remains in force? Therefore, the boundary commissions remain under a duty to make proposals on a House of 600 Members. Does he have the power to instruct them to stop? No, he does not. Is he therefore not simply going to obstruct a constitutional process for his own party political advantage, which is a disgrace?”
What was particularly striking, apart from these Tory attacks, was the ferocity of the Deputy Prime Minister’s attacks against Labour. At one point he described them as “miserable little party point-scoring politicians,” which will do nothing to invalidate the idea that he could never take his party into Coalition with Miliband & Co. (or, more accurately perhaps, his party could never take him into Coalition with Miliband & Co.).
So, first day back for Nick Clegg, and he already seems to be antagonising MPs on all sides. He’s really only safe in the Cabinet Office now.
By Joseph Willits
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At PMQs today, David Cameron was asked about the decision by all Liberal Democrat MPs to collectively defy a three-line whip, and abstain from voting on a motion defending Cameron's EU treay veto. Although Cameron didn't elaborate further on the Liberal Democrat position, he did express his gratitude to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who had decided to table the motion due to the veto being in the "vital interest" of the British people.
Yesterday morning, Nick Clegg had said that Liberal Democrat MPs should vote in favour of the motion, but swiftly did a u-turn in the evening and ordered them to abstain. Only one Liberal Democrat MP, Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) spoke at the debate, saying the outcome of the Brussels summit was "not a good one". Horwood also attacked eurosceptic Tory MPs, saying:
"The process is still a long way from complete and there are quite a few obstacles in its path, some of them sitting in this Chamber, I think."
by Paul Goodman
This morning's Guardian looks forward to a rebellion over the Government's health reforms at the Liberal Democrat spring conference. A lot's written about Conservative Commons revolts. (I've a piece in the same paper about the new breed of maverick Tory MPs. So it's a good moment to remember that Liberal Democrat MPs, too, are restive.
A paper by Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart on the excellent www.revolts.co.uk website notes that -
"The Lib Dem [rebellion] rate of 28% is higher than that seen by government MPs in all but seven post-war sessions. (It is also noticeably higher than the rate of rebellion seen by Lib Dems in any session for which we have data, going back to 1992-93 when the rate of rebellion was at 9%)...
...Indeed, the whole of the last Parliament – covering five years - saw just 39 divisions in which at least one Liberal Democrat voted against their party line; in just over five months, the total for the 2010 Parliament has already reached 31. We predict that by Christmas Liberal Democrat MPs will have rebelled more often in the short life of the Coalition than in the whole of the last Parliament...
...Thus far, 89 Coalition MPs have so far broken ranks against the Government; 67 of them Conservatives, together with 22 Liberal Democrats. Both are high figures, but in relative terms it is the Lib Dem figure that is the more impressive. The 67 Conservative rebels constitute a third of the backbench Conservative parliamentary party. The Liberal Democrat parliamentary party currently comprises 57 MPs, but of these 22 (or 39%) are members of the payroll vote, either as ministers or parliamentary private secretaries, expected to remain loyal in voice but especially vote to the government. The Liberal Democrat ‘backbench’ therefore consists of 35 MPs. For 22 of these have rebelled against the Government therefore means that a whopping 63% of backbench Lib Dems have defied the whip.
Liberal Democrat rebels are more likely to have cast dissenting votes on social issues, such as the increase in VAT from 15% to 17.5%, the introduction of free schools and the expansion of academies, and curbs to superannuation for civil servants. Conservative-only rebellions make up 46% of the total of Coalition rebellions thus far. Lib Dem only votes make up 34% of the rebellions that the Coalition has faced thus far. Votes in which Conservative and Liberal Democrat rebels unite in common cause against the Government account for only one in five of the rebellions."
However, the authors note that "the lowest Government majority thus far has been 58" - the paper was clearly written before the tuition fees votes - and that the average Liberal Democrat revolt consists of just three MPs.
Does the pre-Christmas date of the paper render its contents out of date? No, for two reasons. First, because the figures stand. Second, because the revolts are continuing: on the website, the authors point out that Liberal Democrat MPs have revolted recently over such issues as postal services, the educational maintenance allowance and the proposed forest sell-off.