Labour faces a party split over the government’s proposed welfare bill after MP Helen Goodman tabled an amendment to block the legislation without consent from the party’s acting leader.
Labour has been plagued by infighting since its acting leader, Harriet Harman, announced on Sunday that the party would not block the bill, but would try and amend parts of it at committee stage.
Harman said the party would not oppose the government’s plans to lower the benefit cap or to limit child tax credits to two children per family, causing outrage in her own party.
Goodman, the MP for Bishop Auckland, who recently left her role as shadow minister for welfare reform to take up a position on the Treasury select committee, announced on Twitter that 40 Labour MPs had signed her “reasoned amendment” to the bill.
“With 40 other MPs, I’ve put down a motion to reject [the] Tory Welfare bill, because it will push more children, [especially] in big families, into poverty,” she wrote.
A number of MPs tweeted their support for Goodman, including Helen Jones, MP for Warrington North, who wrote: “Glad so many MPs are supporting our motion to reject Tory Welfare Bill, which will push families on low wages further into poverty.”
Three of the four Labour leadership candidates have opposed Harman’s decision that the party should abstain on the bill, with only Liz Kendall saying the interim leader was “absolutely right”.
“People said to us: ‘We don’t trust you on the money, we don’t trust you on welfare reform,’” said Kendall. “If we are going to oppose things we have to put something else in its place because if we carry on making the same arguments we have done over the last five years we will get the same result.”
Jeremy Corbyn has said he is not willing to vote for policies that push more children into poverty. “Families are suffering enough,” he said. “We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake.”
Yvette Cooper has been making the argument within her party for some time for a reasoned amendment to the bill, which allows MPs to try and block a bill at second reading, but has not yet said if the party should vote against the bill if the amendment falls.
Andy Burnham told reporters in Westminster on Tuesday that Labour should set out its reasons for opposing the bill in an amendment and if that was voted down, the party should oppose the “duplicitous bill”.
Harman reportedly rejected the suggestion that Labour should table a reasoned amendment at a meeting of the shadow cabinet this week.
Harman has argued that Labour cannot tell the public they are wrong after two general election defeats in a row. Responding to George Osborne’s budget speech last week, Harman said that Labour would give “serious consideration” to certain measures in the government’s plans, arguing that opposition parties were often too tempted to oppose everything a governing party does.
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