A string of Liberal Democrat ministers have privately voiced unease about coalition Government policies on welfare reform and university tuition fees in recordings made by undercover reporters posing as constituents, it has been disclosed.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said that cutting Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was “blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do”, while Business Minister Ed Davey said he was “gobsmacked” by the decision, and Pensions Minister Steve Webb said he had written to Chancellor George Osborne seeking changes to the policy because “the details aren’t right”, reported the Daily Telegraph.
The ministers’ comments were published a day after the Telegraph reported that Business Secretary Vince Cable had said he could bring the Government down by using the “nuclear option” of resigning if Conservative colleagues pushed him too hard.
Mr Cable was later stripped of some of his ministerial responsibilities after it was disclosed that he had told the same undercover reporter that he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch over the media tycoon’s bid to secure full ownership of BSkyB.
The Telegraph reported that other Lib Dem ministers had privately expressed reservations about coalition policies which they had defended in public.
Berwickshire MP Mr Moore described the increase in tuition fees to a maximum £9,000 as “the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this… a car crash, a train wreck”, said the paper.
And he told the undercover reporters: “I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I’ve just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I’ve had to break a pledge and very, very publicly.”
Mr Moore said the move was “deeply damaging” to Lib Dems, who had promised to abolish fees, but added: “What we’ve all had to weigh up is the greater sense of what the Coalition is about.”
Mr Webb, the MP for Northavon, expressed “worries” about the Child Benefit cut which will hit couples where one partner earns just over the £42,000 higher-rate threshold but not those with two partners earning just below that level. “I have written to the Treasury about this and, to be honest, the answer I got back wasn’t good enough,” he said.
Mr Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said that plans to limit Housing Benefit would hit some of the poorest in society. “Their housing benefit cuts are going to mean in my view, if they go through, that some people who are on the breadline will be put below the breadline. And that’s just deeply unacceptable,” he said.