The bedroom tax is not about shagging but rather more worrying

29 Jan 2013 at 06:47

When my best mate Nigel Nelson, veteran political editor of the PEOPLE, emailed me about his campaign to water down ‘the bedroom tax’, I thought the old boy had finally flipped. Was this was some mad red top spin that the government had finally started taxing shagging? Such wonderful headlines as, “Katie Price won’t take this laying down, ’I’ll move my three assets offshore’ she pouted”, swam through my mind. And weighty columnists like Simon Heffer and Peter Hitchens, who would rather like Britain to become morally like a rainy Saudi Arabia, would welcome the move as a lesson to a younger generation obsessed and corrupted by sex. On the other hand John Prescott would have to live abroad for a large part of the year and I would be entitled to a massive tax rebate.

But this is not what Nelson was contemplating. This is what he emailed to me, which you may think is rather troubling.

“The plan is to withdraw housing benefit from those couples whose kids have fled the nest but are still living in three and four bedroom council homes. Saves about £500 million. It’s a tax on unoccupied bedrooms designed to get these people to downsize and free up housing stock.

Trouble is the rules don’t take into account individual circumstances. So you hit kidney patients on the transplant list who need a spare room for their dialysis machine, parents whose kids are temporarily away fighting in Afghanistan, foster parents who have rooms free for more than 13 weeks while they wait for their next batch of kids, that kind of thing.

But the real problem is that for most people it’s impossible to downsize. Local authorities just don’t build one bed properties – they think in terms of catering for families – so even if these people are prepared to move they can’t. But they could be losing up to £30 a week. 660,000 households are affected and there are estimates that 40,000 could end up homeless which would negate savings being made.

There’s no way we can reverse the measure which starts in April. So we’re campaigning for upping discretionary housing allowance so local authorities can take individual circumstances into account."

I don’t think for one moment that IDS, a sensible and compassionate fellow, thought that these were going to be the consequences of a proposal to free up housing stock which has considerable merit. It highlights the problem with this government. Their early warning systems don’t seem to work.

Whatever you might think of Damian MacBride as a human being (discuss) his blogs give a fascinating insight into the operation of government. After the pasty and charitable giving budget fiasco he wondered how on earth they could have slipped passed the Treasury scorecard system which is designed to weed out these sort of problems. Recently, he brought our attention to the demise of the grid system. I, like most others, thought that this was just a tool to set the media agenda. Not a bit of it. A stream of announcements would be provided to SPADS with a thirty page briefing so that most the wrinkles could be smoothed out beforehand. According to MacBride this is not happening now. My question is why on earth not. Failing to spot the potential cockups in time has been the Achilles heel of this coalition. It has to be remedied.

So to Nigel Nelson and his campaign, good luck mate.

Finally, may I thank all of you you have sent kind comments about this blog. I haven’t quite worked out how to operate the comments section yet so please don’t think that I am being rude!



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Should Cameron be Afriyie, very Afriyie? Nah, he's onto a winner

27 Jan 2013 at 17:47

What on earth does Adam Afriyie think he is playing at? He is personable, bright and wealthy through his own efforts. His friends say that he was merely putting down a marker for the Tory leadership. But he will find that not too many of them will wish to be seen with him too often and that the only marker that he has put down is for the Downing Street axe that will be placed firmly and bloodily between his shoulder blades. His Windsor constituency will have a few less friendly words with him too. For the time being he has become a political dead man walking.

To be fair to him it was not entirely his fault. The Tory backbenches have become infested with a small coven of Cameron haters who will stop at nothing to orchestrate his downfall. They are the no hopers, the dispossessed, those who have been sacked and those who are desperate for promotion but have given up under the Cameron regime. Finally, most lethal of them all, those who feel that they are not listened to and are being condescended to by the posh boys. There is not much Cameron can do about the first lot. But he can make more of an effort with those who feel they are not being listened to. Poor old Adam is a decent soul but has sadly and terminally screwed up. He should not have allowed his vanity to have been stroked.

Yes, I know, as ghastly as it is Cameron and his chums are going to have to work the tea rooms again and give succour to the suckers and hope to the hopeless. And his excellent PPS Sam Gyimah is going to have to go into overdrive stroking some over inflated egos. If there is ever a young man who is going places it is this lad. Popular, bright and with judgement. His closest friend recalls how he slept his way to the Oxford Union Presidency. But not in that way. He was just so delightfully laid back.
Poor old Adam must seriously despise him.

Just before Christmas when talk of a letter with the requisite number of signatures to trigger a leadership election was febrile Afriyie might have received some sympathetic nods. However, never believe a word what politicians say about the level of support they have for whatever cause they are advocating as they tend to lie through their teeth. I doubt whether there really is a letter, merely a draft. And nobody apart from political zombies like Nadine Dorries or Patrick Mercer, for whom the downfall of Cameron has become an obsession, will have promised to sign it.

The trouble is that MPs of all parties tend to live in a bubble where the bright light of reality doesn’t always shine. They flit from party meeting to party meeting where the activists on the Labour left and the Tory right chant the same mantra, “give us our party back”. Yet it was never their party in the first place and when either had the upper hand their parties ended up in the political wilderness for a generation.

Then the next moan is the post bag. The political post bag is representative of activists with bees in their bonnets and not of the silent majority. I had more letters from those concerned with the tethering of sows than the first Iraq war. Was that really representative of public opinion? Of course not. The real indicator of when things are going horribly wrong and have to be addressed are the casework letters. When my surgery was cram packed with decent people hounded by the Child Support Agency I realised that we had seriously fucked up.

I once wrote that the Conservative Party operated in two gears, complacency and panic. I was wrong. I should have added hysteria and self destruction. Before Christmas Tory backbenchers were in serious hysteria gear. The horror of UKIP had raised its very ugly head, particularly in marginal constituencies where the Conservative vote could be mortally split. But Cameron’s Europe speech, if it didn’t quite shoot their fox it, seriously wounded it. Better, Labour and the Lib Dems are horribly exposed. Whether Cameron wanted the praise of Simon Heffer would be a rather an interesting Oxbridge interview question, but it is better than a kick in the bollocks.

The trouble with UKIP is that they are the replacement of the electoral spittoon that used to be the Lib Dems. The Ashcroft analysis shows that their attraction is a basically Dog and Duck (saloon bar) England (not the other buggers dear boy) has gone to the dogs appeal, with immigration top the list. The weakness of the Kippers is also their greatest asset, Nigel Farage. He is the anti politician politician. His appeal is that he is not part of the political elite, but one of us. This of course is total nonsense he is as much on the make as the rest of the grubby lot. But as Charlton Heston once said, “acting is about sincerity, fake that and you are made”. But Farage is UKIP. Kilroy Silk tried to civilise them and failed. And dear old Lord Pearson showed that a few hundred years of aristocracy doesn’t do a lot for the gene pool, which in his case, none of us would run too much of a risk of drowning in. The Kippers are a one man band in a one horse town where the horse is dead. If Farage pops his clogs (northern not Dutch of course) they will implode.

And so what is Cameron’s greatest asset? The opinion polls have seriously narrowed to a very dangerous level for Labour and the beginning of the slide for the Kippers. They will still do reasonably well in the locals and very well in the Euros. Why? Because most people think that these elections are of mind erasing irrelevance.

It was once said by Lord Kilmuir that the secret weapon of the Conservative party was loyalty. Sadly it was two weeks before he was rather unfairly sacked by Macmillan who was in hysteria mode. Most backbenchers of all parties are out for their own. Little meerkats sniffing the air for a whiff of preferment. But where loyalty does matter is in the constituencies. It is ironic that those who wind up their weak a feeble MPs realise that Cameron is that most important political phenomenon, lucky and still electable.

But there is still one more problem that has to be dealt with; immigration. The policy is right but UKBA is a disaster area. They disobey ministers. They set their own agendas. And they are less than truthful with the facts. To show the Tories mean business it’s time to upgrade the job to a cabinet minister. And who best to appoint? Why Ken Clarke who is totally wasted in a nonsensical business job in the lift. A former Home Secretary who is as tough as old boots, but could never ever be accused of being a racist.



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