Wednesday News Review

“Rushed and ill considered” housing benefit plans

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem Deputy Leader, warned that he would vote against proposals to dock housing benefits payouts by 10 per cent from unemployed claimants who had been out of work for more than a year. The Prime Minister’s spokesman confirmed that all Liberal Democrats serving within the Government would be expected to back the plans. Sources said that as Mr Hughes was not a member of the Government, he would not be disciplined if he failed to back the measure. But a rebellion led by such a senior figure within the party would be highly embarrassing for Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, and lead to significant tensions within the Coalition. During a Commons’ debate on the housing benefit proposals, Mr Hughes, who represents the inner London constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said moves to cap payouts at £400 a week must not result in residents being driven from their communities. He added: “The proposal to knock 10 per cent off people’s benefit if they have been out of work for a year is not a proposal I can support.” – The Telegraph

Douglas Alexander, the shadow work and pensions secretary, today accused the government of “running scared” of its own MPs overhousing benefit plans he branded “rushed and ill-considered”. But Alexander was criticised for saying Labour was “in favour” of housingbenefit reform but giving few other details. Labour dedicated its opposition day debate to the coalition’s housing benefit changes, which include a 10% cut from 2013 for those out of work for more than a year and an overall cap of £250 a week for a one-bedroom property, rising to £400 a week for a four-bedroom or larger home. The raft of changes will also see new social housing tenants face rental charges of up to 80% of market rate. The government is also imposing a £500 cap on the total benefits a household can claim per week. – The Guardian

PLP unrest over Woolas

Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman yesterday sparked mutiny in her party over her treatment of expelled MP Phil Woolas. Four Shadow Cabinet ministers and nine backbench MPs slammed Ms Harman after she said the ex-minister’s career was over even if he overturns an election ban. Mr Woolas is appealing after he was thrown out of Parliament for three years for lying about his Lib Dem opponent during the General Election campaign. The MPs told Ms Harman, standing in for leader Ed Miliband who is on paternity leave, she was wrong not to wait for all the legal avenues to be exhausted. One said: “Feelings were running high. There was a general feeling that Phil is one of our own and should be looked after and supported.” Another added: “There is a strong sense of injustice especially when you look at what the Lib Dems have said at elections in the past.” – The Mirror

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said that Mr Woolas had been “hung out to dry.” He added: “The feelings in the Parliamentary Labour Party were very strong.” “Just to write him off when it appears that he still had the right of appeal seemed unfair and unbalanced.  “General elections in marginal seats are not Sunday school outings. They are rough, tough places and things get said that probably in the cold light of day three months later look extreme. “But that’s happened in every general election since the general franchise,” he said. David Watts, MP for St Helens North, told Radio 4’s The World at One: “The Labour party has rules and regulations that need to be followed and they need to be followed by everyone. “It’s for the NEC (National Executive Committee) and the PLP to make decisions, not for individual members.” John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, this week ruled that the by-election would not take place until the judicial review was concluded. A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party administratively suspended Phil Woolas following the judgment of the election court. In terms of the specifics of the PLP meeting, we do not comment on private meetings.” – The Telegraph

I agree with Harriet too. Once Woolas was found guilty there was no other course of action that the party could have taken. Woolas was, after all, found guilty of lying as part of his bid for re-election. That, surely, is beyond the pail – and if some of our MPs don’t realise that then we clearly have a much larger problem on our hands. Supposedly there has been “anger” from some within the PLP over Harman’s handling of Woolas. There’s anger among grassroots members too, but not towards Harman. The leaflets at the centre of the Woolas case were vile and hideous (as I said on Friday) and any attempt to conflate immigration with Islamic fundamentalism is unbecoming of a party with our history. Woolas lied, and made accusations that conflated race and immigration with terrorism in a horrific manner – and in an area with a history of race riots. – Labour List

Students march over fees

The coalition government is expected to face the largest show of opposition to its austerity cuts since it came to power when tens of thousands of students take to the streets today to protest against increases in university fees. Some 24,034 students have registered to take part in the march, and many have purchased seats on coaches booked to ferry students to central London. The largest student contingent is expected to come from London-based universities, which are anticipating more than 5,000 marchers to show up. About 3,200 students from other universities in the south-east have said they will attend, with more than 4,500 students signed up from the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside. The march is organised by the National Union of Students and the lecturers’ union, the University and College Union (UCU). – The Guardian

Thousands of students and lecturers are expected to march in London over plans to almost treble tuition fees in England to £9,000 per year. The National Union of Students wants to put pressure on MPs who will vote by the end of the year on raising fees. NUS president Aaron Porter says the Liberal Democrats face an electoral “wipeout” if they break their pledge to vote against higher fees. The coalition government says its plans are “fairer” than the current system. But the UCU lecturers’ union leader, Sally Hunt, attacked the proposals which will see the upper limit for fees rising from £3,290 to £9,000 per year from 2012. – The BBC

Thousands of people are expected to march through London today to rally against the proposed recent cuts to education and rise in tuition fees as outlined in the Browne Review. The demonstration is likely to be the biggest education-related demo in years, attracting students and university staff from all types of institutions, as well as school-level and further education students looking to study in the future. – Channel 4 News

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