Readers of this blog may have noticed the recent spate of letters in the Gazette by Sir Bob Russell and Labour Councillor Tim Young regarding the bedroom tax. Sir Bob Russell's enthusiastic support for the principle that the state should dictate to people how many bedrooms to have and to use the tax and benefits system to drive people out of their homes is just another example of how the Lib Dems are rapidly re-branding themselves as the nasty party. Sir Bob seems completely oblivious to the fact that often quite vulnerable people are being forced out of homes in which they have lived for many years and away from whatever social/family support network they may have in an area and into often badly maintained flats. It does nothing to address the problem of sky high rents and the fact that the taxpayer, in the absence of a rent cap, is subsidising private landlords profits through housing benefit. Moreover the failure by the Coalition parties and Labour to control rents in the private sector has driven up demand for state sector housing. None of these parties has anything to say on the problem of the increasing population which is also driving up demand. By supporting the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems have helped to establish the precedent that the state can poke its interfering nose into people's very homes and pontificate from on high how many rooms people should have. This precedent could then be taken further by other parties as well as the Lib Dems so that voters live with the constant threat that whoever gets into power may use the tax and benefits system to try and force them out of their houses.
However this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Lib Dems' transformation into the nasty party. While Sir Bob Russell has been an excellent local constituency MP, his voting record in parliament tells a very different story. There is an excellent website called theyworkforyou.com where anyone can find out about the voting record of their local MP. The results for Sir Bob are rather illuminating. Here are some examples which voters may not be aware of:
1) Sir Bob Russell has voted against restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents.
Estate agents often charge these stealth fees for 'administrative work' and they can be very high. When I lived in rented accommodation it was nearly £70 every time I had to renew the tenancy. In the case of the very poor, the fees are subsidised by.... you guessed it the taxpayer. All going towards the agents' profits.
2) Sir Bob Russell has consistently voted against slowing the rise in rail fares.
This has had the effect of increasing the financial burden on commuters. Another massive hike in fares kicks in on January 5th. Such fare hikes encourage more car use and the resulting increase in road congestion.
3) Sir Bob Russell has voted for the selling off of England's state owned forests. This Coalition policy, supported by the Lib Dems, increases the chances of our national forests and ancient woodland being built on by developers.
4) Sir Bob Russell has voted for the limiting of legal aid. Cuts to legal aid mean that only the most serious of issues now qualify, which threatens to deny many low and middle income people access to justice. Because large corporations and organisations can afford the lawyers fees, this means that justice is tipped in favour of the wealthy, including issues such as employment law and libel. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, but some people are more equal than others. Thanks very much Lib Dems.
5) Sir Bob Russell has voted for reforming the NHS so that GPs buy services on behalf of their patients. This measure also brought in a requirement that the private sector be given equal consideration when purchasing the services. Not only does this encourage the buying of services from the cheapest bidder (rather than the best in terms of quality) but also it adds another workload burden on GP practices and is a major stepping stone to NHS privatisation.
6) Sir Bob Russell has voted against restricting the provision of services to private patients by the NHS. This allows private patients to queue jump NHS patients for NHS services and is the stepping stone to a two tier service with increased waiting times for NHS patients.
7) Sir Bob Russell has voted in favour of abolishing the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which provided financial support to some young people in full time education (16-19). The EMA was means tested and focused on those students from the poorest background. For the poorest of them the £30 per week they received was a lifeline which allowed them to stay on into sixth form education and still contribute to the family income. It was designed to encourage social mobility but the Lib Dems chose to vote for its abolition. The Minister in charge of social mobility is by the way..... Nick Clegg. Heaven help us!
8) Sir Bob Russell has voted against a bankers' bonus tax and against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000. However Sir Bob has voted FOR increasing VAT and tax on alcohol.
This reveals an interesting sense of priorities. The average guy at the pub bar has to fork out more for a pint and VAT, which affects everyone, is hiked up. Yet bankers' bonuses are protected.
9) Sir Bob Russell has voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.
Such schemes are intended to prevent young people joining the ranks of the long term unemployed by 'nipping it in the bud'. Rather than helping young people into work the Lib Dems would rather let a section of our society languish on the dole while opening the jobs market up to more and more EU competition
10) Sir Bob Russell has voted for reducing central government funding of local government. In other words he has voted to cut the money central government gives to Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council. As a result the money has to come from increasing our council tax bills or cuts to services have to be made.
All of this, together with the Lib Dem leadership's enthusiastic support for raising student tuition fees, shows that the Lib Dems both locally and nationally are out of touch. They have nothing to offer other than austerity, enthusiastic support for an unreformed European Union and a higher cost of living for low and middle income earners. As I said, the nasty party.