Northumberland MP Ronnie Campbell was one of a small number of Labour rebels to vote against Conservative proposals for a welfare cap in the Commons
Other North East MPs expressed opposition to the cap but did not vote against it, in some cases because they were unable to attend the debate.
Only a handful of Labour MPs defied orders from the party leadership and voted against Government proposals set out in the Budget to introduce a cap on overall welfare spending, set to be £119.5bn in 2015/16.
The measure, in the Charter for Budget Responsibility, comfortably passed the Commons 520 to 22, a majority of 498, after the Labour front bench backed the plan.
Conservatives had hoped to embarrass Mr Miliband by giving him a choice between opposing the cap, allowing them to claim he opposed plans to cut the welfare bill, or supporting it and potentially provoking a rebellion among backbench MPs.
But the Labour Party largely united around the leader and only a small number rebelled. They included Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell. Other high-profile rebels included former shadow health minister Diane Abbott and Tom Watson, who was Labour’s campaign chief and deputy chairman before resigning last year.
Labour MPs who expressed opposition to the cap but did not vote against it included Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who is in the US looking at the American schools system in his role as a member of the Commons Education Committee.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery and Easington MP Grahame Morris also said they opposed the cap. They were attending the funeral of former Durham mineworker Stan Pearce, from Columbia, Washington, an activist known for his work with the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), who died aged 81.
> I wonder if Stan Pearce, as a DMA activist, might have rather they had got their arses down to Westminster instead, and actually voted instead of just talking about it.
In a message on Twitter, Mr Lavery said: “Just left the funeral of NUM & DMA legend Stan Pearce. For the avoidance of doubt I totally oppose the benefit cap and would vote against it.”
> Yeah, right…
But Newcastle MP Nick Brown said the cap would not affect people who are out of work, and voted for the move.
He said: “The vote is symbolic rather than real. The cap set in the Government’s motion is higher than the previously forecast outturn and it leaves out pensions and Jobseekers Allowance. The principle of controlling this budget as well as other Departmental Budgets is right and therefore I agree with the Labour Party Leadership’s position and will be voting with the Labour frontbench. The proposed cap does nothing to actually reduce the welfare budget. The best way to do so would be to create well-paid private sector jobs here in the North East of England.”
> Yeah, but since no-one actually is… hitting the poor is the next best alternative ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 March 2014
Those Labour rebels …
Diane Abbott, Ronnie Campbell, Katy Clark, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, John McDonnell, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Dennis Skinner, Tom Watson, Mike Wood.
All North East Labour MPs, with the exception of Campbell, either did what Red Ed told them or really, really would have voted against, if only they conveniently hadn’t arranged to be elsewhere.
Several North East MPs will either defy a party whip or not be at the House of Commons when Labour is told to vote in line with the coalition for a new cap on how much can be spent on state benefits.
Ed Miliband has told his MPs to back a Budget plan to cap welfare at £119bn, ending a situation in which benefit spending is increased to match the number of claimants.
While party leader Mr Miliband is keen to avoid looking soft on welfare, across the North East, MPs have called for the party to proudly stand up for low income families.
Easington MP Grahame Morris said he will not be voting for the cap. He told The Journal: “I cannot vote for the welfare cap. By implication it plays to the Tory strategy of divide and rule demonising those on benefits as the undeserving poor.
“It conveniently ignores the fact that two thirds of the welfare budget goes on pensions that people have contributed to during their working lives. Another substantial slice goes on supporting those in work on low wages.
“Once again Labour must differentiate its position from the Tories. It is shameful of the Tories to seek to set the working poor against the disabled. There are better, fairer ways to limit benefit spending for example by limiting the £20bn taxpayer spend on housing benefits which goes to private landlords through the introduction of rent controls.”
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said he will not be in the Commons for the vote as a result of select committee business, but would not have voted for the cap.
He said: “Inherent in this is a further reduction in real terms of benefits over time. If the economy has another significant downturn this limits the capacity of the state to respond to genuine hardship.
“And let’s not forget that only about 3% of the benefits bill is for jobseekers’ allowance, the biggest single pot is for pensions.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson also hit out at the plan. He said: “The welfare cap is just another piece of the Coalitions jigsaw to make the poor, the weak and the disabled pay for the failures of big business and global capitalism.
“This vote comes in the same week that Lloyds have been exposed as continuing to exploit customers over the disgraceful PPI misselling scandal. It is these rogues and many others like them who should be carrying the can for economic failure and not the most vulnerable in our country.”
It is thought other MPs will not be in Parliament for the vote, avoiding the need to rebel. Some 20 MPs nationally are thought to be ready to vote against the cap.
Labour has said that since much of the cap on spending does not include benefits linked to increased unemployment, it is happy to accept the changes.
The party has hit back at claims that there is little to differentiate its economic policy from the coalition, insisting a future Labour government would “make different choices”.
> It’s what the present Labour opposition is doing right now that really matters. And it doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all, apart from trying to make out it’ll be tougher on the poor than the current bunch.
Does ‘Red Ed’ really think that’s the way to win votes ? If he does, he’s going to be disapointed.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves, said Labour would support the Government when voting on the welfare cap, but insisted the party would also “take tough decisions” over future spending if in office after the General Election.
Source – Newcastle Journal, March 26 2014
A damning list of North rail failures has been put to the Government.
MPs have accused the Department for Transport of overseeing years of neglect and of “blundering” its way into years more of service failures on crowded and outdated Northern trains.
Ministers were told it was disgraceful that they were planning to take 170 modern trains from across the entire North of England and send them south, serving constituencies such as the prime minister’s.
Shadow deputy leader of the House Angela Smith said the loss of stock on the North’s First Transpennine Express service came as result of officials pushing back its franchise renewal while they “rushed” into the sale of mainline services.
And the Government was forced to admit it will try and phase out the unloved Pacer trains, used by Northern rail on the Hexham to Newcastle line, as soon as possible in the next franchise. Speaking in parliamentary debate, the MP said: “It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.
“As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers.
“We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.”
She added: “We in the North believe we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity a growing network needs. We need those trains so our economy can compete with the South – we all know how big that challenge is – if we are to close the North-South gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 2, which compares with a national average of 18 years.
> I think they meant an average age of 20+, not 2. If only it was 2.
“Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.”
Ms Smith was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: “We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country.
“At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the North, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the Northern hub.
“However, the only reference to the North East of England were signs on the map saying, York, and, To Scotland. The North East of England was not an afterthought – it was not even a thought.”
Junior transport minister Stephen Hammond said discussions were ongoing to try and let the North keep the modern trains until May 2015.
The minister added: “Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention.
“With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.
“We expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 14 March 2014