Former Labour minister Tom Watson was one of the 13 rebels. Photograph: Getty Images.
In the end, the Labour rebellion over George Osborne’s new cap on welfare spending (which The Staggers revealed details of on Monday) was smaller than most predicted, with 13 voting against the measure, including Diane Abbott and Tom Watson (22 MPs voted against in total, with 520 in favour).
But it’s worth noting that some would-be rebels were away at a funeral and that party sources may well have inflated the likely number of dissenters in an attempt to manage expectations (a figure of 25 was mentioned at one point). It’s also likely that at least some MPs were persuaded by the whips not to vote against the measure on the grounds that it won’t automatically result in any new cuts and that a future Labour government could amend the cap as it sees fit.
The policy won’t take effect until 2015-16 (the limit has been set at £119.5bn for that year) and is largely intended as a political trap for the opposition. It’s for this reason that Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet ministers have been unambiguous in their support for the measure today. It’s also why some MPs, most notably Diane Abbott, who made a fiercely critical speech during the debate, couldn’t stomach voting with the Tories. At a time when many of their constituents are suffering the effects of benefits cuts, they regard Osborne’s attempt to perpetuate a false divide between “strivers” and “scroungers” as politics of the lowest kind.
Here’s a list of the 13 Labour MPs who voted against the cap:
It’s also worth noting that there is a difference between a limit on welfare spending, which is always set and voted on anyway, and an individual benefit cap. How the budget is spent is important, and that is where the conservatives and labour remain partisan.
Asked whether Labour was prepared to cut aspects of the welfare bill to stay within the cap, she said Rachel Reeves was “confident” it would not need to because it would tackle the “root causes” of rising costs – such as low wages, youth unemployment and the increase in part-time workers.
“We would do it in different ways to the way the government is proposing to do it but we are confident that our way will control the cost of social security.”