Labour is suffering from 'emotional trauma' – David Blunkett attempts to explain why the party is so bitterly divided

A fifth of the party's MPs rebelled against interim leader Harriet Harman's instructions to abstain on the Government's welfare reforms

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Labour is suffering “emotional trauma,” according to former Cabinet minister David Blunkett who attempted to explain why the party was so bitterly divided in its response to the government’s welfare reforms.

He criticised his former colleagues for being too focused on themselves rather than taking on the Tories and providing robust opposition.

One in five Labour MPs defied the party whip to rebel against interim leader Harriet Harman’s instructions to abstain on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill last night.

The bill will make deep cuts to tax credits, limit child benefits to two children per family, lower the benefit cap and change child poverty targets.

Ms Harman had already been forced to change tack, having initially said she would support the bill. Instead she put forward a “reasoned amendment,” opposing certain aspects of the bill, but demanded Labour MPs abstain on the overall package after the amendment failed.

Asked why the party had seen such a large revolt against the leader, Mr Blunkett, a former Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "I think the Labour Party, understandably, is in emotional trauma. It's bound to be after the loss in May and the bewilderment about where we go from here.

"What we are not doing, of course, is debating enough about where we go from here. So, last night, once again, focused on us being divided rather than what the Tories are doing, a lot of which is unacceptable."

He said the move to limit child tax credits to two children per household was a “difficult” issue for the Labour party, but said couples expect to make “logical, rational decisions” about whether they can afford a larger family rather than expecting the state to “pick the bill up”.

“It's difficult because we don't want to put children who are with us, or will be in the future, in a position of poverty but we have to put adults in a position of responsibility," he said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the only leadership contender among the 48 rebels, denied he was fuelling a split in the party. "No. What I have done, along with 47 other colleagues, is voted against the Government's welfare Bill because of the effect it will have on children of large families because of the effect of the benefit cap, particularly in high-rent inner city areas."