Friday, 15 November 2013

Bedroom Tax vote: Labour's disgrace

After last week’s House of Commons vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’, it would be difficult for the Labour Party to sink much lower.

Let me explain why I’m singling–out Labour for criticism, when, of course, it would seem more logical to praise the party, given the motion seeking abolition of the hated Bedroom Tax was tabled by Labour, and that it was defeated by the votes of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Clearly, the reason the Bedroom Tax is still in place – still punishing the disabled, the poor and those with no alternative accommodation to which they could move – is because Tory and Lib Dem MPs couldn’t care less that the legislation is entirely unfair.   Rightly, the Liberal Democrats are likely to be wiped-out at the next election for their treachery in propping-up the most right-wing government in living memory.  The administration led by posh-boy millionaire David Cameron is even further to the right – even more uncaring – than the largely-despised Tory Governments of Margaret Thatcher. 

So why criticise the party that sought to end the Bedroom Tax: because Labour never had any intention of ending the Bedroom Tax.  The party’s motion was nothing more than playing politics with the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in towns and cities the length and breadth of the so-called United Kingdom.  Labour built-up the hopes of people affected by the Bedroom Tax, but then entered into a ‘pairing’ arrangement with Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons, which meant it was impossible for the motion to receive sufficient support to allow the tax to be scrapped.

‘Pairing’ is an unofficial practice that operates in most legislatures.  It is used by parliamentary groups to facilitate the absence of members without it affecting the outcome of votes.  For example, the Tories in the House of Commons could have two MPs who are ill or who may have pressing personal business to which they must attend.  In such circumstances, and where issues being debated in parliament are non-contentious, the Tory Whips Office (the body tasked with enforcing discipline within parliamentary groups) would approach the Labour Whips Office and ask if they had a couple of members who would be prepared to absent themselves from the debate and the subsequent vote.  If agreed, this would mean four MPs (two from each side) were absent with permission from the Whips and the outcome of the vote would not be affected (the government’s majority would remain intact).  The UK Parliament makes clear that “Pairing is not allowed in divisions [votes] of great political importance”.

In total, 47 Labour MPs were absent from the House of Commons last Tuesday night, missing the debate and vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’.  Some, if not all, would have been ‘paired’ with Tory or Lib Dem MPs.  The motion was defeated by just 26 votes.

By agreeing to ‘pairs’ – agreeing to reduce the number of Labour MPs that would vote – Labour knew it would not have enough support to defeat the Tory-Lib Dem Government and scrap the Bedroom Tax.  By agreeing to ‘pairs’, Labour accepted that, according to the UK Parliament’s own definition, ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ was not an issue of “great political importance”.  For thousands of people adversely affected by the Bedroom Tax there is little of more importance, but the Labour Party was playing political games: it was posturing, pretending to do something about the hated tax, but actually doing nothing.

Amongst the Labour members who had something more important to attend to last Tuesday and who missed the debate and vote on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ were 10 MPs from Scotland, representing almost one-quarter of all Scottish Labour MPs.  This group included former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Anas Sarwar (Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party), and Shadow Ministers Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy.  Also missing was Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, which includes Irvine.

In September 2012 revealed that Brian Donohoe had submitted one of the highest expenses claims of all MPs in Britain.  In addition to his salary of £65,738, Mr Donohoe charged the public purse a further £147,217, which included a total of £16,041 for ‘Accommodation’ and £21,539 for ‘Travel & Subsistence’.  The Labour MP also made a claim to cover ‘secretarial work’, which cost the taxpayer between £10,000 and £14,999.  The name of the ‘secretary’ was recorded as ‘Christine Donohoe’.

Two-months ago also revealed there were 1,765 tenants of North Ayrshire Council – some of whom will be constituents of Brian Donohoe – who are deemed by the UK Government to be ‘under occupying’ their homes and, as a result, could have their Housing Benefit cut as a consequence of the Bedroom Tax.

Brian Donohoe has become a wealthy man on the back of his constituents since first being elected in 1992.  Sadly, during the time Mr Donohoe has represented Central Ayrshire (and before that Cunninghame South), local unemployment has soared and parts of the constituency now have some of the highest levels of poverty and deprivation in Scotland.

The Labour Party’s actions last week were a disgrace.  To play politics with the lives of thousands of people suffering the affects of the Bedroom Tax was a disgrace.  For Scottish Labour MPs to be absent from the House of Commons while the motion on ‘Abolition of the Bedroom Tax’ was being debated was a disgrace.

We know the Tories and Liberal Democrats are not to be trusted.  We now know Labour also cannot be trusted.  Westminster cannot be trusted.

Scots can rid ourselves of the Bedroom Tax by re-taking our independence at next year’s referendum.  No political party advocating anything like the Bedroom Tax would ever be elected to form the government in an independent Scotland.     

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