I don't believe any MP wants to break their party's whip, so it was with a heavy heart that last night I joined 47 other Labour colleagues in breaking the Labour whip to vote against the Tory Government’s welfare bill. This was my first vote against the whip, and it was a decision I thought long and hard about, but it was the right one.
The instruction of the whip was to abstain, and I'm still yet to hear a strong argument as to why that would have been the right way to vote. One of the arguments put to me by a whip was that we would be voting against at third reading, so it was ok to abstain at second reading last night. If we opposed the bill then why not simply vote against it?
Again, and again on the doorstep while campaigning the feedback from voters was that they weren’t sure what Labour stood for, and that they couldn’t tell the difference between Labour and Tory. Now, for me, the difference between Labour and Tory is clear. But it is decisions like this one, to abstain, rather than oppose the Government’s welfare bill that will hurt so many people, who as Owen Jones has noted ‘earn their poverty’ that lead people to question what Labour stands for and who it stands with.
For me Labour stands with the many who work hard in work, out of work, and in their own businesses to ensure that they, and their families, have a roof over their heads, food on the table, and that their kids can go on the school trips. And for those who aren’t in employment or whose own earnings don’t cover the cost of a basic standard of living, we as a community have asked our government to step in and ensure there is enough. This is the social welfare safety net. It is not lavish. But in the sixth richest country on earth, surely we have enough to ensure that no child goes to school hungry because the cupboard is bare, and that everyone has a roof over their head.
The Government makes much of scroungers and talks up benefit fraud, but the reality is that most welfare is paid to people in work or in pensions to those who have retired, housing benefit goes to private landlords, and the while no one would support benefit fraud, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has previously estimated that this is less than 1% of the budget.
So, why aren’t we having a debate about how as a community we meet our obligations to one another. To do so, we need to ensure that those individuals and corporations with the broadest shoulders contribute enough to government revenue, so that those with least in our community have enough for a decent standard of living.
As I walked out of the 'no' lobby, the whip taking my name as a dissenting MP, I knew I had voted as my constituents would want me to and in line with the values that make me a Labour MP – for the many, not the few. This has been reflected in the many messages from people in Lancaster and Fleetwood who have contacted me thanking me for opposing the Tories' attack on the working poor.
This column was originally published by the Huffington Post UK