I’m a Labour MP because I want stand up for working people and for the most vulnerable people in society. That’s what Labour stands for and that’s why, last night, the Labour Party in parliament voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
You might not appreciate it by reading the media coverage, but all Labour MPs supported an amendment which explained why we disagree with the Bill, and why we were voting to stop it going through.
Had Labour’s amendment passed, the Bill – as it stands – would not have been given its second reading.
We did this because it was important to outline the things in the bill we oppose, as well as the things we support. There are some things we approve of in the Bill; a commitment to three million apprenticeships; measures to cut social housing rents; and extra support for troubled families. These will benefit our communities – indeed, some of these things were Labour ideas – so it would be wrong to oppose them.
But the Tories tried to set a trap for Labour by including these proposals in a Bill with other measures that, as Labour MPs, we know to be wholly wrong: like abolishing the child poverty targets, and cuts to support for sick and disabled people.
That’s why the vote on the Bill as a whole was so sensitive.
Make no mistake – the Tories desperately wanted Labour to vote against the Welfare Bill. My view is that if the Tories want us to do something, it’s probably not a good idea.
Even if every Labour MP had voted against every provision in this Bill, it would still have gone through. The SNP and Lib Dems are trying to mislead people into thinking the government could have been defeated, but the government had a majority of MPs in parliament – there is no way this Bill could have been defeated.
Instead, the government would have used the opportunity to accuse us of voting against apprenticeships, and try to paint us as the party of welfare. After the 2010 election, the Tories managed (unfairly) to label Labour as the party of financial irresponsibility. Now they’re trying to label us as the party of welfare, not work.
The truth is that Labour will always be the party of working people – and the party that stands up for the most vulnerable. But the best way we can stop the Tories putting through legislation like this is for us to get a Labour Government. And to do that we need to avoid Tory traps like last night’s vote, sowe don’t allow them to misrepresent us.
So what happens next?
The Bill now goes to committee stage, where we’ll try to amend it clause by clause. Labour are putting down a large number of amendments. We’ll force individual votes on the things we disagree with, and make clear what we do and don’t support.
And if we don’t get the changes we want, when the Bill comes back for the third reading we will have an opportunity to vote against.