My decision to abstain on the Welfare bill was not taken lightly. I had lobbied the leadership very hard to get the reasoned amendment tabled, and I was pleased when they did so. I then abstained as there are significant parts to the bill that we as a party are happy to support, including the increase in the National Minimum Wage and more apprenticeships, and other aspects that we are deeply opposed to, and that we will continue to oppose in the Autumn when the bill proceeds to committee stage.
This Welfare bill is a mixed bag of measures, and when the Opposition is presented with such a proposal the correct course of action is to abstain.
I understand the gravity of the situation and am deeply committed to improving the lives of all my constituents. However, the fact is that I will only be able to achieve that aim if I am an MP within a party of government rather than in a party of permanent opposition. The true betrayal of my constituents would be if we fail to return a Labour Government to power in 2020. That should be the principle that drives everything we say and do as an opposition over the next five years.
George Osborne set a trap for Labour with this Bill, where we would have been branded the party that is ‘for welfare and against working people’, opposed to the increase in the National Minimum Wage and being “out of control” on welfare spending. We must now beat the Chancellor at his own game. We have to box clever.
As the Bill passes through the Commons every facet of it will be forensically challenged by Labour MPs, in an attempt to get the best deal for working people by removing the measures we oppose. We will push to reverse the abolition of child poverty targets, we will oppose cuts to support for the sick and disabled who are not fit for work, and we will battle the restriction on Universal Credit to the first two children. Without these changes to the Bill we will vote against it when it returns to the House in September.
The fact is that we lost the election on 7 May because the majority of the electorate do not trust Labour on the economy. It will take us a long time to regain the trust of the British people, and we have to start doing that now. This means that we have to demonstrate our commitment to making tough choices, and our understanding that we will only win in 2020 if we have policies that strike the right balance between a fairer society and a stronger economy.
For all these reasons I took the tough decision to abstain on the Welfare & Work Bill.