Burnham said that if elected leader this September, he will ensure that Labour opposes the government welfare bill outright, and would expect all Labour MPs to do the same.
Speaking at a Co-op leadership hustings n Tuesday night, he said: “The last seven days have shown the depth of our confusion and the party is crying out for leadership. That is what I have shown in moving the party’s position on the bill so that we tabled an amendment opposing the bill.”
Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, provoked fury within the party when she announced that its MPs should abstain, so expressing support for the government’s lowering of the household welfare benefit cap. Harman tried to quell a growing rebellion over the decision by tabling an amendment setting out why the party disagreed with the government’s proposed bill.
On Monday night, 48 Labour MPs, nearly a fifth of the parliamentary party, defied a three-line whip that ordered them to back an amendment rejecting the bill but then to abstain on the bill’s second reading.
Burnham admitted the position adopted by the shadow cabinet had been messy but it was the necessary price to secure a compromise inside the party. In remarks aimed at his leftwing rival, Jeremy Corbyn, he said, “It is also leadership not creating a split in the party.”
He added: “We would be deluding ourselves if we think we lost the last election because we were not leftwing enough. But we need to do the detailed work on what our alternative on welfare is. If elected leader, I will oppose this bill outright this autumn, and I would expect all colleagues to do the same.”
Burnham also won the support of 10 MPs for his candidacy who had not followed his position on Tuesday night’s vote, and went ahead to vote against the bill. The ten said “the debacle of the last night must never be repeated”, but they understood why Burnham had voted as he did.
Burnham will be aware that he is facing criticism, sometimes bordering on derision, from supporters of Corbyn for not taking a stronger stand. Corbyn, the only Labour leadership contender to unreservedly reject the welfare bill, will himself try to shore up his economic credibility at a London economics seminar on Wednesday, where he will reject the idea that wealth creation is the preserve of big business and wealthy individuals. He will say: “Wealth creation is a collective process between workers, public investment and services and, yes, often innovative and creative individuals.”
He will add: “Austerity is about political choices, not economic necessities. There is money available. The inheritance tax changes will lose the government over £2.5 billion in revenue between now and 2020. What responsible government committed to closing the deficit would give a tax break to the richest 4% of households?”
He will also set out his approach to deficits: “If the deficit has been closed by 2020 and the economy is growing, then Labour should not run a current budget deficit – but we should borrow to invest in our future prosperity.”
He will say that, if the deficit remains in 2020, “Labour will close the current budget deficit through building a strong growing economy that works for all. We will not do it by increasing poverty. If there are tough choices, we will always protect public services and support for the most vulnerable. Instead we will ask those who have been fortunate to contribute a little more.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, former home secretary David Blunkett said he thought the Labour party was going through an understandable emotional trauma. “It’s bound to be, after the loss in May and the bewilderment about where we go from here,” he said.
Blunkett said Monday night’s vote had once again placed the focus “on [the Labour party] being divided rather than what the Tories are doing, a lot of which is unacceptable”.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour and Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 21st July 2015 19.34 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010