Tories find 50 reasons to change their tune

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Indy Politics
If PAUL SIMON once sang 'there must be 50 ways to leave your lover', Tory MPs who had been calling for an extension of the stamp duty holiday on house purchases found on Tuesday night an almost similar number of reasons for not voting against the Government.

More than 50 Tories had signed one or both the Early Day Motions calling on the Government to extend the holiday, or, more forcefully, stating that re-introduction of stamp duty would be 'a major barrier to any possible upturn in the property market'. Come Tuesday night's division, one lone Tory among the 51 abstained - John Wilkinson, MP for Ruislip-Northwood. Three were missing, officially excused; the rest trooped loyally through the lobbies.

'Cowards', Nick Brown said yesterday. The Labour Treasury spokesman had sponsored the amendment to the Finance Bill that would have extended the stamp duty holiday from August for another seven months. All the arguments advanced when it was introduced in January still stood, Mr Brown said - bringing forward purchases, increasing market liquidity, helping first-time buyers. 'Given the chance to vote for it they all ran away.'

Why? Ah well, as Sir Malcolm Thornton, the Crosby MP who sponsored the main motion, delicately explained to Labour jeers, 'putting one's name to an early motion is not a gesture of rebellion; it is an expression of opinion'. At the end of the day, he said, ministers must decide.

Sir Michael Neubert, the Romford MP, actually wants the tax abolished, not just removed temporarily. So why didn't he vote to extend? 'We can't pre-empt the Chancellor's judgement. He is responsible for the entire economy,' Sir Michael said. 'But we certainly made our view clear.'

Mr Townend, chairman of the backbench finance committee, told MPs: 'It's a bad tax which should be ended' - but then agreed with Treasury ministers that the Government couldn't forgo the revenue right now - more important to get down public spending, and thus interest rates.

Aside from the arguments, there are the whips, whose job is to stop the Government being defeated. 'They first appeal to your loyalty,' one Tory said, 'then to 'ministers know best, you know', and then point out, either politely or rather more forcefully, that if you want to get on in this place it's their recommendations that get you promoted on to select committees, away from votes when you need to be, and so on.'

Thus Tuesday night and the Early Day Motions were never really about a Government defeat. 'No one,' said one Tory who demanded an extension of the holiday but then voted against, 'is going to fall for voting for an opportunist Labour motion when they condemned this as an election gimmick when we introduced it.'

Mr Brown is as withering back about the Tory MPs. 'Most of our MPs would have more political nous than to try to amend their own government's Finance Bill.' So the Tories made their point, Labour made theirs, and nobody lost - unless, of course, any of them really believed extending the stamp duty holiday would revive the housing market, easing the plight of thousands.