This is a roll call of shame.
The Conservative Party has launched yet another attack on the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged in the UK and – rather than stand up for those people – all but 48 members of the Parliamentary Labour Party just stood aside and let it happen.
Apologists for these so-called representatives say there will be time to oppose particular measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill during the Committee Stage, but they conveniently forget that it is easier to push objections through if one has not already stood aside to let the legislation reach that stage. In short: Nobody will take these objections seriously.
Here is the list of Labour MPs who betrayed their constituents:
Gloria De Piero
Diana R Johnson
Susan Elan Jones
(Thangam Debbonaire also abstained, but this was because she has been diagnosed with cancer and was in Bristol having chemotherapy. She was ‘paired’ with a government MP so her absence did not affect the outcome of the vote.)
(Natascha Engel and Lindsay Hoyle could not vote because they are Deputy Speakers and are automatically paired with government MPs.)
(Fabian Hamilton was, we’re told, recovering from surgery. Otherwise, according to a commenter, he would have voted against the Bill.)
(Lisa Nandy was on maternity leave.)
(Christina Rees was abroad on an all-party working group, according to a commenter to the blog.)
If your Labour MP is among the above, then This Writer encourages you to contact them and request an explanation for this betrayal. You may also ask them to explain why they think they should be trusted to fulfil the role expected of them in Parliament, which is to oppose the Conservative Government’s destruction of the Welfare State and the fabric of British society. You may even wish to request their resignation (although this is only likely to succeed if enough people in the same constituency make the same demand together).
The cowardly rejection of responsibility by the above-named Labour MPs has already earned the contempt of many very well-known figures in the Left of politics.
Harry Smith, the 92-year-old who spoke movingly in support of the NHS at last year’s Labour Conference, tweeted: “To abstain against austerity is to accept austerity.”
He added: “During days of Thatcher Labour fought her tooth & nail & stood up for the vulnerable but today we washed our hands of them.”
Owen Jones, the 30-year-old Leftie columnist, tweeted: “Abstaining on the Welfare Bill means saying you are on the fence about driving the kids of low-paid workers further into hardship.”
You can have this, from Green MP Caroline Lucas: “Labour frontbench defends indefensible & accepts principle of arbitrary benefit cap – how much extra child poverty are they relaxed about?”
Even Abby Tomlinson, the teenage creator of ‘Milifandom’, had to speak up against the abstention of her idol: “Really worries me that MPs would compromise their principles just to toe party line. If they think the bill is morally wrong – oppose it.”
Fortunately for the future of the Labour movement, there were some who were prepared to stand up, not only against the vile Conservative legislation but also against the wrong-headed complicity of their own party leadership – 48 of them.
Leading the rebellion was Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn. He made his views clear in a statement: “We introduced tax credits to fill the gap between wages and the cost of living. Osborne’s proposals do nothing to close that gap, while taking away the vital lifeline that tax credits have provided.
“Research by Savills shows that the lower benefit cap would make all of London and most of southern England uninhabitable for families – based on three-bed properties at market rent.
“Disabled people were hardest hit by welfare cuts in the last Parliament. Reducing ESA rates to JSA levels will send more disabled people into poverty at a time when poverty in disabled households has hit record highs.
“Freezing working-age benefits for four years will mean more homelessness, more people using food banks, more child poverty and more misery. This Bill is the unspeakable attacking the vulnerable. It is indefensible.”
In contrast, Twitter user David George King told another leadership candidate, Andy Burnham: “You’ve a bloody cheek claiming you think this tax credit cut is wrong then abstaining – total copout.” Burnham, like fellow leadership candidates Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, abstained and let the Tory Bill proceed.
Debbie Abrahams, who has done such sterling work keeping my Freedom of Information request on benefit-related deaths in the public eye, said, “This is a wicked Bill.”
And John McDonnell made his own feelings even more plain: “I would swim through vomit to vote against this Bill.”
What a shame so few of their fellow MPs were prepared to take a principled stand. Labour desperately needs a leader who will purge the party of its dead weight – and only one candidate had the courage to stand against the tide this week.
Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall need to discover that they can’t expect the support of the people if they are happy to stab the people in the back.
If nothing else, this vote has shown that Jeremy Corbyn is clearly the man who should be leading Labour out of the dark.
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