Lib Dem deputy Simon Hughes fires 'warning shot' over council housing plans

Liberal Democrats deputy leader Simon Hughes has fired a 'warning shot' after speaking out against David Cameron's plans to axe fixed-term tenancies for council housing tenants.

LibDem deputy leader: Simon Hughes
LibDem deputy leader: Simon Hughes
Hughes warned that the idea was not government policy and would take ‘a lot of persuading’ for the Liberal Democrats to accept it.

He added: ‘The Prime Minister is entitled to float any idea he likes but we have to be clear it is not a Liberal Democrat policy, it is not a coalition policy, it is not in the election manifesto of either party, it was not in the coalition agreement.’

Earlier in the week, Cameron suggested that new council housing association tenants should be given fixed-term tenancies, so that families who have come into money or whose children have grown up could be evicted to make room for more needy cases.

Warning shot

Weber Shandwick chairman of corporate communications and public affairs Jon McLeod said: ‘It's a warning shot from Hughes. The coalition has a fairly clear rulebook and this idea came from left-field. I think the muddle is arising over when David Cameron and Nick Clegg speak as party politicians rather than as Prime Minister and deputy. That's what happened to the Lib Dem leader when he dubbed the Iraq war illegal.'

He added: ‘Hughes is doing the right thing by providing a check and balance - a key role for him. Also, it does him no harm to be in the spotlight as a future successor to Clegg.’

However, DLA Piper UK head of media and director Eben Black said: 'It is clear that Simon Hughes is the licensed "enemy within" for Nick Clegg, and a necessary safety valve for elements of the party. He has his own constituency to address and has been a more effective opposition than the Labour party so far. But perhaps some members of the Coalition might feel he sometimes hits too hard.'

The newspapers have today suggested that David Cameron’s plans to end council housing for life have caused fractures in the ConDem Coalition.

The Daily Mail today has run with the headline: ‘Cameron council house plan triggers civil war,’ while The Independent has used the heading: ‘Fears of coalition rift as Hughes attacks Cameron’s homes plans’.

Emotive issue

Lexington Communications director Wyn Evans, who heads up the agency's property and planning offer, said: 'There clearly needs to be space within the Coalition for both parties to have the freedom to express concerns, particularly backbenchers such as Simon Hughes, and housing is clearly an emotive issue. 

'Interestingly, the response from many on the Lib Dem blogosphere has been quite supportive of David Cameron’s idea, as they recognise that with waiting lists of 10 years in some parts of the country, housing mobility could be part of the solution.'

A recent PRWeek survey found that the Liberal Democrats had seen a drop in positive opinion since forming the Coalition. 34 per cent of 3,000 members of the public said its view of the party was now more negative.

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