Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham takes part in a hustings in The Old Fruitmarket, Candleriggs on July 10, 2015 in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Burnham agrees to abstain on welfare bill - but threatens opposition as leader

Leadership candidate accepts Harman's position but says he will oppose the bill at Third Reading in the absence of "major changes". 

Ahead of tonight's vote on the welfare bill, Andy Burnham has written to all Labour MPs outlining his stance. The leadership candidate, who helped persuade Harriet Harman to table an amendment to the legislation, writes that "in truth, it [the amendment] could be stronger". As I reported on Friday, Burnham was unhappy at its "weak wording"

But after arguing at shadow cabinet last week that Labour should vote against the bill if its amendment is defeated, the shadow health secretary has fallen into line by agreeing to abstain. He writes: "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." Had he broken the whip and voted against the legislation he would, by convention, have had to resign from the shadow cabinet. But Burnham adds that in the absence of "major changes" to the bill at commitee stage, he will, if elected leader, vote against it at Third Reading. 

By writing to MPs two hours before the debate begins, Burnham has cemented his status as the leader of the revolt against Harman. But while this is natural positioning in a left-leaning leadership contest, several of Burnham's colleagues are unhappy at his stance. By publicly revealing his disagreement with Harman at shadow cabinet, they believe that he helped the Tories to exploit Labour divisions and made it harder to demand "loyalty" in the future (in the words of one shadow cabinet minister). 

Meanwhile, in a sign of how he will occupy territory to Labour's left, Tim Farron has announced that the Lib Dems will vote against the bill. The new leader said: "The truth is the Tories do not have to cut £12bn from welfare: they are choosing to. The Liberal Democrats will always stand up for families. We will not let the Conservatives, through choice, and the Labour party, through silence, unpick our welfare system."

Here's Burnham's letter in full.

 

Dear Colleague

 

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.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Andy Signature

 

Andy Burnham

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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