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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.