20 Jul 2015

Andy Burnham decides rebelling on welfare too risky

Andy Burnham had a big decision to take over tonight’s welfare reform bill. He told Harriet Harman he will not join the scores of Labour MPs threatening to ignore her ruling that the party should abstain on the second reading.

But some formidable voices have been telling him in it’s in his interests to join the rebels.

It’s a bit of mug’s game guessing the leadership contest results but the candidates are endlessly doing just that, gaming what second preferences they need to chase and what first preferences they might need to steal.

That latter scenario is now going through some Burnham supporters’ minds. If Andy Burnham came first and Jeremy Corbyn narrowly beat Yvette Cooper into second place, Andy Burnham might not be in a position to stay top of the pile in a second round because his harvest of second preferences might be meagre from Liz Kendall.

He might never get his hands on the Corbyn second preferences because the second round results could push Yvette Cooper ahead of Corbyn leaving Andy Burnham in third place and the next to be eliminated.

Yvette Cooper’s campaign is keeping a wary eye on Team Burnham’s manoeuvres.

“He knows he can’t call for unity and discipline as leader if he’s just rebelled against the whip,” one figure at the top of Team Cooper says.

The Cooper supporters are themselves showing signs of going in different directions in tonight’s vote much to the frustration of their candidate.

Liz Kendall, on a campaign visit to South London, just told us: “I have no idea how Andy is going to vote tonight … but it is a question of leadership.”

Last week’s “interminable” shadow cabinet, as one present termed it, may have set a new record for dysfunctionality. Harriet Harman decided she would force members of the shadow cabinet to confront the reality of voter opinion by asking each individual member of the shadow cabinet to speak on (a) their view on the welfare bill and (b) what they felt the public thought about the welfare measures.

It meant there was two hours of discussion but it doesn’t appear to have resulted in the convincing majority for her approach which presumably she’d hoped for.

Now, after hours of agonised discussion, Mr Burnham appears to have decided the risks of rebelling are greater than the risks of backing the leadership.

Here is the statement he has released:

I wanted to update you on my position ahead of today’s vote on the welfare reform and work bill. 

The party has come to a position over the last week and we now have a Reasoned Amendment which sets out our opposition to the bill.

As you know, I was very clear last weekend that we could not simply abstain on this bill and that we needed to set out where we have agreement with reforms, but more importantly, where we strongly disagree.  For example, I have said that, as leader, I will oppose the two-child policy. 

I also strongly oppose the changes in this bill that will increase child poverty whilst at the same time abolishing the child poverty reduction target.  I will always defend our record as a Labour government of supporting low-paid people in work, and into work, through our tax credits. 

For these reasons, I have led calls for the party to change its position. 

Our reasoned amendment sets out clearly our opposition to many aspects of the bill. In truth, it could be stronger but it declines to give the bill a second reading and, therefore, voting for it tonight is the right thing to do. 

The Tories want to use this period to brand us in the way they did in 2010. We must not allow that to happen.  

Collective responsibility is important and it is what I would expect as leader of our party. It is why I will be voting for our reasoned amendment and, if it is defeated, abstaining on the bill. 

But I can reassure you that this is only the beginning of a major fight with the Tories. I am determined that we will fight this regressive bill line by line, word by word in committee.  If the government do not make the major changes during committee stage, then, as leader, I will oppose this bill at third reading.


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