I'm still, ahem, not best pleased about Lib Dem MPs voting overwhelmingly (46 to 6) in favour of the Welfare Reform Bill and its devastating cuts to disability benefits.
And I really don't think that many grassroots members are happy either.
So, here's the plan for Liberal Democrat Spring Conference (9-11 March).
The first step is to submit the following emergency motion to conference. This is the draft version and I'm currently about to begin work on getting sufficient support for it for it to be able to go forwards (the rules mean that either ten reps or one statutory associated organisation have to sponsor it):
Emergency Motion to Censure the Parliamentary PartyUnfortunately, there's only enough time at conference for one emergency motion to be debated and the one that gets debated is determined by a vote of the reps in the conference hall. Given that opponents to the NHS reforms are more organised than those of us opposed to the WRB, in all probability it will be an emergency motion on the NHS reforms that gets debated. I still hope that my emergency motion will be chosen for the debate but we have to be realistic. On the bright side, the presence of the emergency motion in the conference papers will hopefully bring the issue to the attention of a few more party members.
1. That policy motion F6, including a call for “Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA [Employment and Support Allowance]”, was passed unanimously by Autumn 2011 Federal Conference.
2. That, on 01/02/2012, Lib Dem MPs voted, by a margin of 46 to 6, to reject a House of Lords amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB), which raised the contributory ESA time limit to a minimum of 730 days.
3. That, as a result receipt of contributory ESA will now be time limited to a maximum of 365 days.
4. That the DWP Final Impact Assessment (16/02/11) of this time limit shows that 280,000 of those removed from contributory ESA will be ineligible for income-related ESA.
1. That, by voting against Lords amendment 17, Liberal Democrat MPs were voting for an arbitrary time limit.
2. That this contravenes the spirit, as well as the letter, of policy motion F6 which stated that “It is the duty of a compassionate society and government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
3. That the collective impact of the PLDP’s voting on the WRB is to show disregard for the will of conference and its role as the democratic and sovereign policy making body of the party.
And, therefore conference resolves to:
1. Censure the PLDP for their collective voting record on the elements of the Welfare Reform Bill relating to disability and sickness benefits.
2. Expresses its dismay at the continued inclusion within the Welfare Reform Bill of an arbitrary time limit that will penalise long term sick and disabled people for having a partner who works.
3. Criticise the PLDP for ignoring the will, and undermining the constitutional position of, conference.
But the real area where I'm hoping to kick up a fuss is on the official report by the parliamentary party. This includes a question and answer session at 9am on the last day of conference.
Here I intend to get in contact with like minded people and follow a three stage plan:
1. Get a formal question submitted to the report (submission deadline in early March) which will have to be replied to by the parliamentary party.
2. Get conference attendees to ask questions about the cuts to disability benefits during the Q&A session.
3. Move for the report by the parliamentary party to be rejected by conference - this will, if nothing else, ensure a brief, public debate about the Welfare Reform Bill and give the issue some much needed media attention.
Quite frankly, I can't think of anyone who can genuinely justify taking all support away from 280,000 long term sick and disabled people just because their partner earns more than £7,500 a year and I'm sure that most conference reps would be vehemently against our parliamentarians on this if given the chance of a proper debate.
Unfortunately, a proper debate is going to be very hard to get at this conference. This is because a) the vote in the House of Commons happened after the deadline for submission of non-emergency motions to conference and b) because the constitution has a rule that any subject can't be debated at conference if it's been debated in the past two years. This rule is utterly incompatible with the nature of being in government and it's something that can hopefully be changed at autumn conference - but in the meantime I've got to work with the methods that are available.
If you want to help right now then the Welfare Bill is back in Lords tomorro, meaning that it's the last chance for the Lords to help disabled children and ESA claimants.
So please sign Pat's Petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968 by Tuesday to tell the Lords to keep fighting for disabled people and carers.
Pat herself has said "As a severely blind person, I am sick of the way this government is treating disabled people, going against everything the Lords, and campaigners, have fought for by hiding behind financial privileges. I hope that on Tuesday the Lords will continue to fight on our behalf."