Who are the Lib Dem welfare rebels?

Four Lib Dems, including Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert, voted against the bill and two abstained.

As expected, the coalition's Welfare Uprating Bill, which introduces a 1 per cent cap on benefit increases for each of the next three years, passed comfortably in the Commons last night, with MPs voting in favour of the bill by 324 to 268, a majority of 56. There was, however, a small but notable Lib Dem rebellion.

Four of the party's 57 MPs - Julian Huppert, John Leech, Sarah Teather, David Ward - voted not to give the bill a second reading, while Andrew George and Charles Kennedy formally abstained by voting in both lobbies. Of these six, three - George, Huppert and Kennedy - voted against Labour's amendment to introduce a jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed, while the others abstained.

Three senior Lib Dems - Norman Baker, Lynne Featherstone and Chris Huhne - did not take part in the vote.

Below is a full guide to how the rebels voted and their reasons for doing so. Four of the MPs in question - Huppert, Leech, Teather and Ward - appear on Labour's new target list of 106 seats. The Conservatives intend to target 20 Lib Dem seats at the general election but haven't yet released a full list.

Andrew George (St Ives)

Abstained

Majority: 1,719

In his speech in the Commons, he said: "We do not know…what food price inflation will be in, for example, 2016. We are being asked to predict what the circumstances will be in the context of the rather arbitrary figure of 1%. I simply urge my right hon. Friend to keep an open mind, and to have a means by which we will uprate that is fair to both benefit recipients and those in work"

Julian Huppert (Cambridge)

Voted against

Majority: 6,792

Labour target 103

He tweeted last night: "I just voted against the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill 2nd Reading. Vulnerable people need support."

Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)

Abstained

Majority: 13,070

He tweeted last night: "I formally abstained frm voting for a 2nd reading and am looking now to work with like-minded Lib Dems to amend the bill in its later stages."

John Leech (Manchester Withington)

Voted against

Majority: 1,894

Labour target 31

In a blog entitled "Why  I will be a rebel tonight", Leech wrote:

"I find it objectionable that the Tories are ramping up the  “Skivers Vs Strives” rhetoric to justify a benefit cut to 7 million working families.

If you are one of those 7 million, you have made your choice to work. You should be encouraged by the system, whether that be through benefits or tax breaks.  That is why I strongly support rises in the tax threshold.

I accept the system should be simple, transparent and easy to understand. And it certainly isn’t now. But a cut to these working families will wipe out most of the gains these families will see through increases to their tax allowances.

And that is why I will be rebelling tonight."

Sarah Teather (Brent East)

Voted against

Majority: 1,345

Labour target 23

In her speech in the Commons, she said: "Percentages do not buy milk, bread or school uniforms—pounds and pennies buy those things, and it is in pounds and pennies that people will experience a cut.

"I do not enjoy voting against my own party, and I cannot vote for the Labour amendment, but with a very heavy heart I shall be voting against the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that I, and any others who choose that course of action, will give the Government some cause for thought and reflection."

David Ward (Bradford East)

Voted against

Majority: 365

Labour target 10

In his speech in the Commons, he said: "I suspect, deep down, that far too many people on this side of the House believe that unemployed people are the undeserving poor, that they need to sort themselves out, and that we cannot possibly reward them with an increase. Let us remember, too, that this is not an increase. When inflation is taken into account, the measure will simply freeze the level of benefits that we have already decided will provide people with a minimum standard of living. The measure is not fair, and I will not support it."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy abstained from voting on the Welfare Uprating Bill. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred