The welfare sanctions vote was Labour’s own Omnishambles

21st March, 2013 8:14 am

The significance of the welfare sanctions vote on Tuesday night has been (unsurprisingly) overlooked by the media in their rush to cover the budget. But a 40+ Labour rebellion that included far more than just the “usual suspects” shouldn’t be allowed to pass without comment – especially when there has been considerable fallout within the party over the past 24 hours.

Privately, Labour MPs are calling this “a mess” “shambolic” and other phrases too crude to publish here. There is a widespread view in the PLP that Labour’s position was at worst dreadful politicking, and at best a huge failure of communication. Some Labour MPs are still pedalling the line that the Bill wasn’t a significant change, but that’s palpably nonsense.

Yet the media have been – with a few exceptions – silent.

It was barely noticed, for example, that Gateshead MP Ian Mearns had resigned as PPS to Ivan Lewis on Tuesday night as a result of the vote. Or that former Housing Minister and Shadow Health Secretary John Healey voted against the Labour front bench for the first time in his parliamentary career. Or that Nick Brown – a former Chief Whip who wanted to stay on in the role until Miliband urged him not to in 2010 – voted against the party line not once but twice. Labour’s biggest affiliate Unite attacked the decision to abstain, and said that those MPs who opposed the legislation “saved the party’s honour”. I’m told than Len McCluskey will be writing to all of the Labour rebels today.

Individually all of these things are significant. Taken together, they signify how poor this Bill really was.

Last night one Labour rebel told me that as many as 2/3 of Labour MPs disagreed with the party line, and front benchers are believed to be among them. Labour members and supporters have certainly been making their feelings clear with the party too, and several senior Labour figures are privately talking about Tuesday as one of the first (and clearest) examples of lobbying and whipping of MPs through social media.

That certainly rings true to me.

But what happens next?

Today, there are some small changes to the Bill being put down by Labour in the Lords that seek to reverse some (buy by no means all) of the damage. Brought by Lord McKenzie, Labour’s amendment says (amongst other things) that the party:

“seeks assurances that adequate legal advice will be provided to those affected by the introduction of this legislation.”

If this is unsuccessful (and it might not be, Labour Lords beat the government 14 times on legal aid last year) then similar amendments will be put by Labour on Monday at committee stage, where peers could are prepared to pull an all-nighter to secure changes.

The work of Labour’s Lords to try and halt some of the damage in this Bill should be welcomed – yet it’s somewhat depressing for the unelected chamber to be adding amendments designed to protect some of the legal rights that the elected chamber seemed so keen to trample over by rushing through legislation.

Tuesday was, in many ways, Labour’s own indefensible Omnishambles. Much of the anger has been targetted at Liam Byrne – but Ed Miliband shouldn’t escape the ire of MPs, activists and campaigners either. He was involved in the decision to abstain on the bill, and spent time encouraging MPs to vote with the party line.

Byrne may be a convenient scapegoat for many – but Miliband is at least as culpable for this mess.

Perhaps more.

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  • Daniel Speight

    I would tend to look very closely at some of those unelected party employees such as Tom Baldwin. This has the smell of someone trying to be too clever by half in an attempt to keep the likes of the Daily Mail and Sun away. To Ed Miliband I would say, forget it. To paraphrase the great leader Tony Blair, they didn’t like us before, they don’t like us now and they never will like us in the future.

  • rekrab

    Mark, didn’t the HoC directly debate additional pay for MP committee members after the workfarce vote.I’ve heard that Chloe Smith is looking for an additional £35,000 for her cabinet role.

    • I watched her car crash with Paxman on Youtube again recently. Hilarious.

  • rekrab

    Who will trash these wilted red roses, there so void of life,I could swear their at the end,So who will plant anew bud to blossom, there must be someone who can seed a better growth.

  • AlanGiles

    Mark, you are to be congratulated for having the integrity to persist in this matter. Many other editors would remain silent and hope it just went away.

    The 40+ decent Labour MPs were let down by their cowardly colleagues on the backbenches, but mostly, of course, by Byrne and Miliband.

    Obviously Miliband won’t sack himself, but he could and should sack Byrne immediately. It is pointless to wait for Byrne to do the decent thing and resign, because he clearly has no conception of decency.

  • XerxesVargas

    This piece of triangulation makes me despair utterly. Putting media handling before principle is the very worst of New Labour.

    Also I do hate Liam Byrne, really loathe the man. Just as a tangential aside.

  • Pingback: Will Jon Cruddas have the courage to deal with Labour’s Liam Byrne problem? | Liberal Conspiracy()

  • JBarnes

    Well done for covering this Mark, more please. Real shame that good Labour MPs felt they had to vote against the whip.

  • Amber_Star

    If Ed Miliband was persuaded by Liam Byrne to go this abstention route, then he should sack Byrne for giving him such bad advice.

    This is retroactive legislation for the right to bully people! And Labour didn’t vote against it. Looking back, do people remember the abuse which Cait Reilly was subjected to, not least from IDS himself? Personal attacks in which IDS dealt not with the substance (in the way which a mature & decent person would) but called Cait a “job snob”; it was the jibe of a playground bully. Labour had the opportunity to stand up against the bully; instead we chose the most cowardly position available: Abstention.

    I say again, if Ed was persuaded to back abstention by Liam Byrne, then Byrne should be sacked for getting it so horribly wrong. Ed should also reassure his 43 MPs who were ‘forced’ to go against the whip that they did the right thing for the Party.

    • John Ruddy

      Agree, and a step forward would be to say to those, like Ian Mearns who resigned, that this wont affect promotion prospects – perhaps ian could get his job back? I dont know if a replacement has been appointed?

  • I think Ed’s style is collegiate and I think he is likely to give a fair bit of leeway to his shadow ministers. This was an example of where he should have said no, and yes, Byrne absolutely must go. he is a liability

    • rekrab

      The magnitude of this shocking vote needs urgent action. There are quite frankly many labour MP ‘s that need to go.Lets stop wrapping those at the forefront in cotton-wool, It’s no time to prop up a soft under belly kitten, lets get the fire in the belly and use the powers we have to make the difference.Ed and Byrne and others have laid the bed for IDS and co, their rhetoric was the catalyst and it’s got to end now!!!!! I move!!!!!!!

      • AlanGiles

        I reckon Mad Frankie Field had to be restrained from going through the “Yes” lobby. I wonder if eighty-something Gerald Kaufmann was in the chamber, or watching the magnificent giant TV we all bought for him, and whether boat-rocker Blears was there?

        It is time for a good clean-up, I totally agree.

        • rekrab

          I watched a programme on BBC 2 last night about a father who lost his son in the Iraq war and went to Iraq too see if his son’s life helped Iraq to be a better place, sadly the Iraq’s told the Father that their country is a worse place now.

          Lets round them up and send to Iraq to help fix the mess and quagmire they created

          • “send to Iraq ”

            Top shout, rekrab.

            About time they faced the music: Restorative justice – tough but fair.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Can we include Gordon Brown in that, who failed to act in 10 years as Chancellor or 3 as PM to restrain the bankers, and who presided over unconscionable levels of deficit spending “in the good times”, when every Keynesian economist was saying it was time to pay down debt? Who cares that the tories supported him – they were not in power and so irrelevant.

          • On your bike, Tory daft lad.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            That may be your view, and you are welcome to it. I could equally observe “on your bike, you Labour-vote destroyer whose foolishness and vanity will split the Labour vote in many constituencies“.

            Support for the National Health Action Party was 1% in Eastleigh, and currently runs at about 2% in the NHS workforce ourselves. Given a very favourable trend, it may reach about 5% in a GE in poorer constituencies, if we are generous with assumptions, and lots of media. and from where are those votes coming? Not the Liberal Democrats, or from the tories.

            The NHAP does not concern me, given the flawed logic under-pinning the creation of the party, which struggles to gain any support, and given that, on current trends, neither of us will vote Labour at the next election, your views of me, nor mine of you are not worthy of any debate at all, on this website at least.

          • Another attempt to hi-jack and divert a thread? Must be a quiet night at your desk in Tory HQ.

          • Why are you here? Of course you won’t vote Labour, because you are a neo-liberal right winger who has no sympathy for what we stand for

          • rekrab

            I’d like to second that Mike, what is this persons motive?
            Who in their right mind wants to segregate our people further into the pits of absolute poverty and anguish?

          • wakeuptheworld

            Do you need to be a card carrying socialist to be right? even some right wing people have a social concience and morals. It is about time politics forgot the slogans and hate that has blinded politics and bring togeather for the good of the country.

            I was brought up to argue both sides of an argument and then form my own views and ideas. I find the bigetary to be the most destructive force in our society. A solution will only work when both sides accept that what is proposed is the best for all. Political hate will never produce a harmonous community for all to live in. Today it is the right tommorrow the left, you are at war with the world and will never win.

        • John Reid

          Do you have any proof frank filed is mad ,after all his ideas were latched up by Thatcher, and if it wasn’t for tony being scared of that election winner ‘Gordon brown’ then fields policies would have been adapted by Tony too,

  • Words can’t do justice to how truly appalling it is that Byrne and Labour enabled this repugnant piece of legislation. Why Labour MPs were whipped to abstain is a valid question, but Byrne cannot wriggle out of responsibility for this – and as if it is not bad enough that he could have nipped this in the bud, but chose to gift IDS his ass on a plate, he has lied about his reasons for doing so. It is completely false to suggest, as he did, that the general power to issue sanctions was struck down for the first time since 1911. The 2011 regulations were quashed in the Court of Appeal ruling – regulations are secondary legislation. The general power of sanctions is in the primary legislation the Jobseekers Act 1995, and the judgement left the primary legislation intact.
    As a Secretary of State and a legislator,Byrne should know this – people up and down the land recognize how wrong the new Bill is, and many peoples efforts and hard work to build social justice just got trashed by Byrne and are furious about it.
    Sack Byrne, and beg Michael Meacher to take the job – he’s the only one up to the brief and a socialist.

  • It’s the economy, stupid. Forget a few students on workfare. They’ll vote Tory anyway if they ever get proper jobs. Labour has a bigger battle. Osborne is leading the UK into economic meltdown of Lamontian proportions. He’s afraid of growth.

  • Charles Bell

    I’ve been a Labour supporter and campaigner for the last 40 years but I’m deeply ashamed of what the PLP did on Tuesday. You can judge a man or women’s character by how they treat the poor.

  • disqus_ZzLucb7f3V

    It’s hard enough as it is, giving up hours and weeks of time on the doorstep without the Labour leadership deserting its moral duty to those that it purports to represent. I hope they pay attention to the genuine angst that has been caused amongst the grassroots, upon whom they will totally rely at elections. Good piece Mark.

  • And I warned them, others warned them – they didn’t even get a decent defence together on WHY they were taking the decision. The truth is, Labour have been much better on welfare – there were v promising signs they were “getting it”

    Then, they go and blow it all over again, seemingly unaware that they squander trust that gets harder and harder to win back.

    They need a decent adviser on this stuff and they need it now. I think it should be me, no longer in the unofficial UNPAID way I’ve done it until now.

    But then I would say that. Most importantly, they need to sort their nonsense on this, get someone in who REALLY understands welfare and let them either tell them what they need to do vote by vote, issue by issue, or at least let them devise a good line and argument of reasons when they take a decision that will hurt their own supporters!!

  • Spot on. Once again it’s left to the unected Lords everyone wants to be rid of to stand up for the people because those who were elected to are too busy pretending to be Tories.

  • What a disaster Tuesday was. I’m still stunned that Labour could make such a monumental mistake for the idea that a couple of concessions could make it all ok. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    They lost me as a supporter – and I’ve been extremely vocal in trying to get people to vote Labour going forward. I cannot in good conscience do that any more.

    Such a shame.

  • Labour voters feel totally betrayed by this stupid act and
    it has

    Done so much damage to their election hopes in 2015 people

    Want and need Labour to be the voice of the poor and most vulnerable

    I have supported Labour since 1977 I now feel lost with no

    Party I can trust and trust is hard to earn and easily lost.

  • Jasmin Prince

    I left the party because of this, they are not doing enough to counter the evil tory agenda against the sick and umemployed, Ed needs to realise that it is not his primary remit to get elected in 2015, what he shoud be doing is opposing the tories after all his job title is ” leader of the oppostion”

  • DanMcCurry

    The problem with this article is that it doesn’t explain what the hell the bill was about. It’s all a bit baffling. Is this something to do with the work scheme?

    • Danny

      It’s about retrospective action by the House of Commons to deny damages to individuals relying on welfare that a court has ruled to have been wronged by the government. That alone is enough to make me apoplectic at the party for their stance on this appalling little chapter.

  • PaulHalsall

    Good on you Mark. I almost resigned yesterday.

    But Owen Jones is right, the Labour Party is really the only vehicle we have.

    But we should do all in our power to avoid the Byrnes, Freuds, and Purnell’s.

    • Chilbaldi

      I’m glad you didn’t resign, we need members from all sides.
      But to change your comment on OJ – Labour is the only realistic vehicle HE has..!

      • UKAzeri

        “…we need members from all sides…” what does that mean?

        In my opinion those worshiping at the altar of free market ideology have no place in a leftist party ( regardless how close it is to the centre). If i am wrong and the party disagrees then i would rather this is explicitly stated ( as was the case on Tuesday) so that i can leave and seek other alternatives, regardless of their chance to challenge the Tories.

    • UKAzeri

      I am still considering my resignation. Much will be decided by the next CLP meeting.

    • Curlew

      I know of a least two members who resigned yesterday. Once again the front bench shoots us in the foot!

  • I agree with the majority of the earlier comments, Mark you are spot on; this mess has caused much vexation amongst Labour members. Ed really does need to listen and accept that those MPs who refuse to accept New Labour has gone must go themselves; this means Byrne. he’s a real liability

  • I agree Mark that Ed Miliband is at least as culpable as Liam Byrne but a good leader would now take the temperature of the party and remove Byrne from the role. This may be more politicking but Byrne SHOULD be the scapegoat, as ruthless as that may sound, if Miliband is to regain any sort of respect from many activists.

  • thiswayup

    Ed needs to be told that Liam Byrne will not be accepted by sick and disabled Labour voters or those considering voting Labour. He is basically almost as bad as IDS. He has to go. And no truck with Purnell or Frank Field – they mall may as well join the Tories.

    Time for Labour to have some guts and speak up for the system of social security. The public have only turned because they have been fed reams of lies through the press in a concerted campaign by the Tories. Labour MUST start to oppose these lies each and every time they occur.

    If the public knew that JSA was only £71 and that’s what they’d have to live on if made redundant, plus workfare, they’d think diferrently. If they knew they would be declared fit for work with terrible illness or injury or even a terminal condition, they would realise social security is being done away with for THEM too. Stop trying to pander to the Daily Mail voter and try and educate them instead. They are totally against Atos in the comments when it comes up, because now enough of THEM have been affected by it too and know it’s not all about skivers. The public mood is changing and Labour is behind the curve.

    If you support the stealth privatisation o the welfare state by Unum then have the guts to say so. If ot, have some conviction and fight. Nothing from ED on the Atos scandal is another scandal in itself. Sick and disabled people are dying and that’s not worh a mention?

    My vote is up for grabs but not won yet., just like thousands of others. Retrospective legislation was an absolute disaster and much will need to be done to repair the damage.

  • Here’s a little blog post giving my opinion:

    Here’s a facebook page promoting the removal of Liam Byrne from the shadow cabinet and deselection as a Labour MP:

    Been very impressed with Mark Ferguson and LabourList over this btw.

  • AlanGiles

    I suggest you take a look round the site, and you will find several articles that refer to it

  • Jeremy_Preece

    So, what is the point of pages and pages about “One Nation”, if in reality the Labour Party has not got the bottle to oppose something as clearly wrong as this.
    What does One Nation mean if Labour is not prepared to fight and vote against legilstaion not repay money that was illegally taken from some of the most vulnerable in society?
    Byrne must step away from the front bench, appologise and consider very carefully whether he should stand at the next election. Otherwise his CLP should deselect him.
    I have often commented on what I see as the weakness of Ed M’ leadership. He is the leader and he must take the wrap for what has happened, or quit because he isn’t in control of the party.
    Ed has the authority to over-rule any of his front bench, that he chose not to shows huge failure of judgement.

    • AlanGiles

      I actually think you are right, both that Byrne should go (he should have gone by now) and that Miliband shows appalling lack of judgement. I thought he would grow into the job originally, but he appears to be shrinking into it.

      I can only assume Miliband is a weakling and Byrne a bully, and that Byrne has threatend to beat him up at playtime.

      It’s too late in the day for Miliband to be replaced to give his party a fair chance at the next election, but if he feels unable to discipline his front bench as opposition leader, God knows what will happen if, like Cameron, he narrowly wins in 2015. He will be a hostage to his own team.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Try this:

    The Labour leadership rolled over voluntarily and became the Coalition’s patsies.

  • rekrab

    A little bit of the black stuff humour.
    You must be desperate Dan!

  • Ian Lavery M.P. – one of the Glorious 43, tells it like it is and does what over 200 Labour MPs didn’t have the guts to do: “It’s an absolute outrage”

  • iNotHere

    Byrne is a liability and has to go! While he’s packing his bags perhaps he should take all the Blairites with him and the PEOPLE can have their Labour Party back!

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    As a very new member of the Labour Party I am comforted by your statement: “Privately, Labour MPs are calling this “a mess” “shambolic” and other phrases too crude to publish here. “ I was beginning to think that I had joined the wrong Party. I only joined in the hope that I could stir up enough passion to save the justice system from being destroyed by the Coalition. I could never vote for or represent a Party that doesn’t stand up for the rule of law.People are angry about the Jobseekers Bill because it is retrospective legislation designed flout the rule of law. If Liam Byrne had not supported this Bill, their anger would have been directed at Iain Duncan Smith, but since he did support this Bill by encouraging Labour MPs to abstain, this anger is now directed towards him. This has lost the Labour Party the moral high ground in any argument that we might have with the coalition about their destruction of the justice system. If Byrne (and the Labour Party) don’t stand up for the rule of law and Article 6, how can he (and the Labour Party) oppose the introduction of closed courts, the restriction of judicial review, the reduction of equality impact assessments and cuts to legal aid which will have devastating effects on the most vulnerable people in society who are already suffering from Welfare changes. How can Byrne and the Labour Party encourage young people to re-engage in politics if he (like the Tories) don’t respect the rule of law and everything that is good, right, true and Just? How can he (and Labour Party campaigners) convince the millions of students and unemployed people to vote Labour if the ONE NATION doesn’t include them? They will just say: “There is no point in voting. They’re all the same.” If Liam Byrne’s ethics represents the ethics of Labour Party MPs, they will be correct. Thankfully there are still men like Michael Meacher in the Labour Party.

  • Carlazi

    Doubt it causes any sleepness nights at HQ but the party line on this issue meant i wont vote labour whilst current leadership is in place, going to vote UKIP to stick a finger up to all of them

  • Pingback: Labour abstention on workfare bill prompts party infighting - Government Tenders, Government News and Information - Government Online()

  • You’re probably right Mark that Miliband is at least as culpable as Byrne but a shrewd Leader would now be taking the temperature of the party and will be quietly deciding to remove Byrne at the earliest opportunity. Scapegoat or not it’s the only way Miliband would recover some respect.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    If 2/3 of Labour MPs disagree with the party line, how is it still the party line?

    • Dave Postles

      If you look at the youtube clips of the debate, the chamber is almost empty. The Labour MPs who abstained were not even there to listen to any part of the debate. Is there some rule that if you are in the chamber at any time for a debate, you must go into the lobby?

  • Timmo111

    What else did you expect ? After all it was labour that gave us atos in the boom years.

  • Dave Postles

    Yes, well, Public Interest Lawyers are apparently confronting the government over a breach of the human rights of the ‘sanctioned’ people – extra-Parliamentary action is necessary yet again.

  • Pingback: Labour abstention on workfare bill prompts party infighting | Black Triangle Campaign()

  • Please sign our petition in respect to this revolting behaviour:

  • “it’s somewhat depressing for the unelected chamber to be adding amendments designed to protect some of the legal rights that the elected chamber seemed so keen to trample over by rushing through legislation”

    Technically speaking, it’s what they’re supposed to be for. They don’t make law they curtail silly law, by design. Of course it doesn’t always work like that but it’s completely the intent.

  • AlanGiles

    I have only just seen this pathetic message from planet Reid
    If you want to make funny or serious points, you might at least have the courtesy to write them in English. What the hell does “latched up” mean?

    • John Reid

      Latched up – means gratefully taken on board,

  • Pingback: Labour Abstention On Workfare Bill Prompts Party Infighting()

  • Pingback: Ed needs to work out where disunity comes from, and let the party decide its direction | Left Futures()


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