Isabel Hardman

Labour tries to calm row on welfare reform

Labour tries to calm row on welfare reform
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Labour is trying to clarify its position on welfare reform ahead of tonight’s PLP meeting. Sources say that the party will abstain on the ‘broad brush’ of the Welfare Reform Bill, though it is not yet clear whether the abstention will be on a three-line whip, given a good number of MPs do want to turn up and vote against the legislation.

The abstention will be at the Second Reading of the Bill, but as Harman has already pointed out, the Committee stages come once the new leader has been elected, and so the party may take stronger positions on more issues. ‘Is that a matter for the new leader? Of course it is,’ said a Labour source on the party’s position on individual votes at Committee stage and later.

For the time being, while abstaining on the legislation, the party will campaign against four issues. These are:

  1. The cuts to Employment Support Allowance, which the party says will have a serious impact on people with illnesses as serious as cancer.
  2. The abolition of maintenance grants for poor students.
  3. The abolition of child poverty targets.
  4. The tax credit changes that will were announced in the Budget, including changes to the thresholds. This does not include the two-child limit for families claiming in the future, which Labour will officially support under Harriet Harman.
  5. Harman will make these points to the PLP this evening. With no permanent leader to be loyal to at the moment, it is likely to be livelier than usual. But the clarification on 'broad brush' issues shows that the interim leader is a little nervous of appearing to tread on the toes of whoever comes after her. Perhaps this also shows that her well-intentioned attempt to make Labour take positions from the start on legislation has backfired because her conclusions don't seem to have matched those of all the leadership candidates.

    Written byIsabel Hardman

    Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is author of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians.

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