The Welfare Reform and Work Bill passed its first reading in the House of Commons last night with a majority of 184, in spite of the Conservatives having only a 12 seat majority. It was helped on its way by Labour’s decision to abstain in the vote, although almost 50 MPs rebelled and voted against.
The bill, which will impose 12 billion of cuts in benefits and tax credits, including ending the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance for new claimants, has been the cause of bitter division in the Labour party.
Harriet Harman, acting leader, ordered MPs to abstain in the vote as a way of showing the public that Labour had learnt its lesson from two defeats, that people are in favour of cutting welfare.
The party had laid down a reasoned amendment to the bill which they knew could not succeed, as indeed it didn’t, losing by 308 votes to 208.
Harman’s strategy was to show by way of the amendment that Labour was not in favour of unfair cuts, but then prevent the party being portrayed as for ‘the shirkers not the workers’ by abstaining in the main vote.
The strategy quickly came unravelled as almost a quarter of her MPs defied the whip and voted against the bill. One rebellious MP, John McDonnell, told the Commons:
"I would swim through vomit to vote against this bill and listening to some of the nauseating speeches tonight I think we might have to.”
Other high profile rebels included leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn; London Mayor hopefuls Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy; Work and Pensions Committee veteran Debbie Abrahams.
In contrast to Labour’s official stance, other opposition parties, including the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green MP, voted against the bill.
According to Labour List, the full list of MPs who voted against the bill is as follows:
Sir Gerald Kaufman
Rebecca Long Bailey
Kelvin Hopkins (Teller)