How serious are Swansea Labour about scrapping Bedroom Tax?

14th November 2013

The news that Swansea's 2 MPs were among 47 Labour MPS who did not vote in the debate on the Bedroom Tax, tabled by their own party, and the suggestion that Labour MPs didn't vote because they were 'paired' with Tory counterparts in a gentlemen's agreement, prompted me to send this letter of protest to local publications and news programmes..

Dear Sir,

I note that Swansea's two MPs, Geraint Davies and Sian James, were among the 47 Labour MPs who didn't vote on their party's motion to immediately scrap the Bedroom Tax.

I don't know what reasons the two had for not participating in the vote and it may be they had good reasons not to be there. Having said that, I would have expected them to have informed their constituents, in that case, why they could not attend a vote on an issue that is so crucial to thousands of families in the city, some of them potentially facing eviction due to not being able to afford to pay bedroom tax.

A number of acquaintances have suggested that maybe they were 'paired' with Tory MPs and indeed, Labour Party whips have put out a statement to the effect that this was the reason why many of the 47 Labour MPs weren't present.

For anybody who is not familiar with the concept of 'pairing', this is the parliamentary guide:

Pairing allows MPs from opposite parties to enter into an agreement that if one can't attend a debate, the other also agrees not to attend. There are a couple of important points to be made here.

1) This is not a parliamentary rule but a voluntary agreement.
2) Pairing is not used for important political issues.

Labour's decision to pair so many of their MPs on this issue suggests that this debate was more about posturing in the opening shots of what promises to be an 18-month election campaign rather than a serious attempt to end the misery caused by the bedroom tax.

It seems that Labour prefers so-called gentlemen's agreements with a Con-Dem government of millionaires than fighting for poor constituents, who seem to be little more than voting fodder to them. The bedroom tax may not be a serious political issue for Labour MPs who agree to be 'paired' but it is extremely serious for tenants who can't afford it, potentially facing eviction.

It reinforces the feeling that parliament is a club, with obscure rules most of us don't understand, the main purpose of which is to provide MPs with a gravy train to ride.

If Labour wants to convince us they are serious about getting rid of the bedroom tax then they should immediately instruct all Labour councils to stop harassing and even threatening with eviction, people who can't afford to pay bedroom tax.

I am a member of the Socialist Party which believes that elected representatives should have the same income as the people they represent. We call for MPs to commit to being 'a workers' MP on a worker's wage'. We don't believe in entering into gentlemen's agreements with people that have caused so much misery for working class communities. And we demand an immediate 'no evictions' commitment for bedroom tax non-payers.

Labour MPs who didn't vote in the bedroom tax may just have put themselves at the head of the list for an electoral challenge by Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition (which the Socialist Party is a constituent part of) candidates at the general election.

Ronnie Job

Previous and potential Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in Swansea
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