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.


Follow @GaryGibbonBlog on Twitter.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

12 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    One of the reasons Burnham won’t be taken seriously is precisely because of this kind of New Labour behaviour.

    If he votes in favour of “welfare reforms” (read: just another neocon robbery) then he’ll deserve all the criticism coming his way. Nor should he think far right mainstream media will go easier on him.

    Those (like me) who suspect he’s just another New Labour chancer will be proved right. In the long run, even if he wins the leadership election, he’ll end up as Milliband Mark 2.

    In other words, a temporary stop gap on the way to New Labour oblivion. God knows they’ve got it coming.

  2. Eric Northey says:

    Andy Burnham’s stance seems confusing. Acknowledging that Labour “declines to give the bill a second reading” he then says, “voting for it tonight is the right thing to do”. How can it be right for a Labour politician even to countenance making poor children even poorer, under any circumstances? That, at one time, would have been a matter of principle for all Labour members. Principles matter. Abandoning them once again only adds to the disillusionment of Labour voters.

    1. Graham Wilson says:

      You misinterpret his words. He said that to vote for the amendment was the right thing to do, then, if the amendment was defeated to abstain in the vote on the Bill.
      He made his position quite clear; he is wholeheartedly against increasing child poverty (which the Bill would do) but in the interest of collective responsibility and leadership he could not vote against the Bill.

  3. Oliver S says:

    The electorate have sort of got what they wished for – thanks to the broken voting system . Had they kept the Liberals in coalition, then Welfare cuts would have been moderated by the voice of reason which Andy Burnham is trying to represent. However ,like all Labour spendthrifts , he doesn’t come up with a realistic alternative as to how the massive spending snowball created by Labour is to be stopped.

  4. HYUFD says:

    With Cooper refusing to say Labour spent too much, unlike Burnham, Cooper supporter Helen Goodman’s criticism of Kendall’s childlessness and the fact Kendall gets on better with Burnham than Cooper I expect Kendall’s preferences to narrowly favour Burnham.

    Cooper will be eliminated in round 2 in my view, the final will be Burnham v Corbyn which Burnham will, in the end, likely win

  5. paul rowles says:

    i have been a socialist all my life and my uncle was fred evans a caerphilly mp i have not long to live in this world but if i see another election i will never vote labour again xxxx

  6. Alan says:

    “…Labour government of supporting low-paid people in work, and into work, through our tax credits..”
    Can’t disagree with that, however who helped create a system of low paid jobs in the first place? Who did nothing to prevent zero hour contracts or the replacement of full time with temporary positions? Who supported the steady erosion of employment laws? Labour like Tory believe in austerity, cuts in social care and privatisation for shareholder profit at the taxpayers expense. Who actually believes these sociopathic actors?

  7. John Davies says:

    Walking by on the other side of the road.
    The stand-in Labour leader, Ha Ha for short, is beyond a joke. Didn’t anyone else see the harm in Harman? She’s always been a muddler. Now she’s publicly split the party and effectively said that if Labour does what Labour’s for we’re not worth electing.
    Labour should stop feebly flapping about in the wind of changing public opinion like an unconvincing forgery of Tory. Labour should show firm leadership and practical principles that the public will come to respect and follow.

  8. Richard Bisset says:

    A leadership race which, with the. Notable exception of Jeremy corbyn, has been typified by scheming and counter-scheming. And a party which appears far more concerned with the opinions of big business and a right wing print media than it does with it’s core vote. It is little wonder they have collapsed completely in Scotland and surely only the absence of a party which is perceived as more progressive (note perceived, I’m entirely unconvinced that the snp are as progressive as they paint themselves) has prevented a similar collapse in England. They seem genuinely terrifies of being seen as anything other than marginally more progressive than the Tories.

  9. Philip says:

    Until Labour start to do what is right rather than what is politically expedient, they won’t regain the trust of millions of lost voters. They walked deftly into Osborne’s trap last night, by showing themselves lacking guts, focussing on the tactical and on “public opinion”, and failing to show the necessary compassion & belief that the 300,000 children made poorer by these reforms & the 50+% of people who are in poverty while also being in work deserve. The trap wasn’t to get Labour to look “socialist”, but to renew everyone’s belief that the centre” of British politics is where Osborne says it is and that Labour need to be Tory Lite to get back into power. Utter rubbish! Why vote Tory Lite when you can vote for the real thing? Labour need to stand up for everyone and not allow themselves to be bullied into expediency by the media….including the treacherous New Statesman, etc

  10. stella says:

    if Andy Burnham will vote in favor of the welfare bill he perhaps will win the leadership election but he will bury the Labour party because new Labour is already replaced by the Tory Party David Cameron is more decent than Tory Blair to survive the Labour party must once again become the party that is fighting for mor equal society that invest to create a future for the young generations

  11. Paul Ronayne says:

    Burnham may have just blown his chances of ever being Labour leader. By not voting against the Bill he lost the complete support of the Left of the party. He is already seen as a ‘Flip-Flopper’ by the media and has proved it over the last few days by changing his mind over giving Corbyn a place in his shadow cabinet and now the Welfare Bill. He’s all over the place.

    By the time 2020 comes around the new generation of Umuna, Starmer and Jarvis will consign him to the political dustbin. His season ticket at Everton looks his best bet now.

Comments are closed.