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.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage