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Thursday, July 17, 2014 

The differentation of fools.

It begins.  Still 10 months away from the election and the two constituent parts of the coalition are starting their differentiation strategies.  Apparently we're meant to believe it was pure coincidence Danny Alexander penned an article for the Mirror detailing how deeply iniquitous the bedroom tax, sorry the spare room subsidy is just after Cameron launches his biggest reshuffle of the parliament and news "leaks" out about how the Tories intend to engineer a "legal car-crash with a built in time delay" with the European Court of Human Rights.  The Tories are feigning shock at the duplicity of the Lib Dems at the same time as Nick Clegg claims to have been left "blindsided" by the very much anticipated sacking/retirement of the ministers opposed to leaving the ECHR.  If it wasn't all so obvious you'd be forgiven for deeming it cynical.

What certainly is cynical is the Liberal Democrats only now deciding the bedroom tax doesn't work, can't work and is extraordinarily unfair even by the coalition's benefit reform standards.  It was the report this week (PDF) that truly opened our eyes they say, ignoring the assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions carried out beforehand which predicted exactly the outcome we've arrived at.  This can only be explained in one of three ways: either they didn't read the assessment, they didn't believe it, or they just didn't care either way.  The Conservatives for their part say not once had the Lib Dem leadership raised concerns with them over the policy, and on this occasion it's difficult not to believe them.

After all, this is the same Nick Clegg who gave a speech back in December 2012 claiming that the welfare system was in danger of becoming unaffordable, in only one of many remarks Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron could just as easily have made.  The only thing that's changed between now and then is, unlike most of the rest of the welfare reforms, the bedroom tax has become unpopular as a direct result of people knowing friends or relatives affected by it.  When there are no suitable alternative properties for someone to downsize to, as the government knew there wouldn't be, the policy was always going to result in flagrant injustice.

While the Tories have been in the vanguard of attempting to portray all those claiming benefits (with the possible exception of child benefit) as scroungers, both of the other main parties have been happy to go along with it, not prepared to fight against the increasingly pernicious narrative pushed by both the tabloids and broadcast media (although the Lib Dems should be given some credit for opposing the Tories on limiting housing benefit to the over 25s).  Labour eventually realised so many of those who couldn't be easily dismissed as dole scum were being affected they could oppose it without the Tories and the tabloids tearing them to pieces.  Now the Lib Dems, despite having voted against Labour's attempts to alter the legislation as recently as February, have moved on the most obvious policy they can quickly say they were never convinced of in the first place.

It's precisely the kind of politics that only increases cynicism, rather than as the Lib Dems clearly believe might persuade a few former supporters to return home.  It's also one thing for the Tories to move to do something they've threatened for quite some time, regardless of the politics involved; it's another for the Lib Dems to row back on a policy that would have never passed in the first place but for them.  Just as every previous attempt by the Lib Dems to make amends for broken promises has been rebuffed, so too will this latest desperate gambit be.

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