Andy Burnham says he would have voted against the welfare cuts if he was leader

The contender abstained along with the rest of the Labour leadership

A Labour leadership contender who abstained on a key welfare cuts vote has said he would have voted against the proposals if he was leading the party.

Andy Burnham said he did not believe Labour’s position on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was “strong enough” but that he had abstained because it was important for the shadow cabinet to all vote the same way.

“I faced a choice: did I, having made the party move its position, then defy the compromised position? I wasn’t prepared to split the party and make the job of the opposition even harder,” Mr Burnham told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“[Labour] was going to abstain completely and I said that was not acceptable, it wasn’t acceptable to me, it wasn’t acceptable to many Labour MPs but also, it was not acceptable to thousands of party members.

"I still don’t believe [our position] was strong enough, but … I’m a member of the Shadow Cabinet. There’s a collective responsibility that comes with that role.

“I would have opposed this bill outright if I was leader last night and I will oppose it when it comes back to the Commons in September.”

The party ultimately proposed a symbolic amendment that endorsed some aspects of the bill and criticised others.

Mr Burnham has said he will work hard to make changes to the Bill in its later stages, and that if those changes could not be made he would again recommend the Labour leadership vote against it at its third reading.

 

The main changes in the Bill are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.

Labour says it supports the benefit cap and cuts to mortgage support but not disability benefit cuts or the repeal of child poverty targets. Its amendment does not mention tax credit cuts.

Labour’s leadership recommended an abstention against the bill as a whole, though a group of 48 rebel MPs backed an alternative motion that wholly opposed the package.

A total of 184 Labour MPs voted with their leadership to abstain.

Out of the four leadership candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall all abstained on the proposals. Jeremy Corbyn voted against.