The newly crowned Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron MP has written to Harriet Harman, calling on Labour to oppose the government’s “shameful” cuts to welfare spending.
Harriet Harman instructed Labour MPs to abstain on a vote in the House of Commons on Monday evening, rather than voting against further welfare cuts. However 48 Labour MPs defied the interim Labour leader to oppose £12bn worth of cuts to welfare spending.
Despite the embarrassing rebellion, the Bill passed at second reading by 308 votes to 124, a majority of 184. An attempt by Harriet Harman to amend the Bill was also defeated by 308 votes to 208.
The Liberal Democrats, who were nearly wiped out in the 2015 general election after entering into coalition with the Tories, say the cuts “will hurt the poorest in our communities”.
The letter reads:
The Conservative Government last night brought forward plans for £12bn of cuts to welfare that will directly impact millions of people across the country including the poorest families in our constituencies.
The Conservatives do not need to make these cuts, especially at the same time as giving tax breaks to millionaires.
The people who will be hit by these changes need someone to give them a voice in Parliament and fight their corner, and last night Labour failed to stand up for them.
You have said that you do not want to oppose absolutely every saving that the Government suggests, but these cuts will hurt the poorest in our communities.
Cuts to employment support allowance, lowering the benefit cap and slashing tax credits for those in low paid work are not policies that any progressive should support.
Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice. If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts.
We are consistent in our opposition. In Government we blocked these measures and in opposition we are voting against them.
I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over this Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the poorest in the country against one another is shameful.
Labour must join us in providing opposition to this Government’s plans. Your economic credibility cannot be built by simply backing Tory plans that hit the working poor.
The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives, by their choices, or your party’s failure to oppose these plans unpick our welfare system.
Tim Farron MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats