The reality of parliamentary arithmetic

OSheila Gilmore, Labour MP for Edinburgh East during the last parliament, says the reality of parliamentary arithmetic means simplistic criticisms of Labour’s voting record are unfair and inaccurate.

 

“Labour abstained on the Welfare Bill and helped usher in austerity” is one of the statements constantly repeated by Corbyn supporters. Indeed Jeremy Corbyn himself in his rally speeches last week reminded his audience of the Second Reading abstention in July 2015, to cheers. But he could equally well have said “It was bad politics, that abstention, but you know what the reality is? If every Labour MP had voted against at Second Reading it would still have passed that stage. And what’s more the party voted against the Third Reading and we still lost.”

The same was true of the previous Welfare Reform Bill. The Welfare Reform Bill of 2011 (subsequently the 2012 Act) was a huge omnibus of a bill.  We argued it forensically and passionately through committee, with our amendments voted down.  We voted against the Bill at third reading and supported  the House of Lords amendments which would have mitigated some of the Bill’s worst aspects.  By this stage there were a few Lib Dems who had listened to the debates and the very many expert submissions and voted with us – but not nearly enough. But even had we voted against at Second Reading, at that time we wouldn’t have affected the outcome and not one Lib Dem voted against at that stage.

One of the other arguments coming forward from Corbyn supporters has been to point to the current Tory government being forced to back down on its tax credit and PIP proposals. What other Labour leader, they ask,  could have done that?  The implication being that Labour under Ed Miliband wasn’t even trying.

These were very welcome back-downs by the government, particularly welcome for those who would have been badly affected.  But this happened partly as a result of the hard work of the Labour team in the House of Lords who managed to bring on board cross bench peers and some from other parties.  Following that a few Tory MPs made it clear they would break ranks.  Certainly Labour under Corbyn argued strongly in the Commons, but no more vigorously than the impassioned debates held on social security issues in the 2010-2015 period.

What has changed is the parliamentary arithmetic. The post 2015 Tory government has a majority of 12. The Coalition could muster some 60.  It is much easier to defeat a government with a slender majority.

Contrary to some of the initial predictions , the Coalition proved remarkably united. Remember the tuition fees issue in the early days of the Coalition. Labour opposed with energy, there was a big campaign in the country with big demonstrations.  We lost every vote because the majority of the Liberal Democrats stuck with Clegg despite all the external pressure.

It takes too long to explain all this, certainly much longer than to tweet “You voted for austerity” at MPs.  And when you do try to set out this reality, it comes out sounding pedantic.

The truth is that in a parliamentary democracy you can make all the impassioned speeches you like, hold meetings and marches, but without winning a parliamentary majority you can’t win votes. Those losing £30 per week ESA, or losing DLA as the switch to PIP continues, or facing the working tax credit cuts in the future, need us to win that majority.

Related Posts

12 thoughts on “The reality of parliamentary arithmetic

  1. What you have just written amounts to.an excuse for never confronting a government with a majority. Cameron.was forced to.back.down four times in the early months of this parliament, mostly at the behest of the S.N.P.can

    1. He backed down because of his own back-benchers. SNP, Labour and Liberal’s altogether do not have enough MP’s to defeat the Tory Party. It is basic Maths.

      1. Nobody in Labour seems to care what the maths are in the Scottish Parliament. They oppose with vigour. So why cant they do the same in Westminster? Rhetorical question because the answer is obvious they share an ideology with the Conservatives.

      2. That’s correct, but the conditions for that rebellion were created in large part by the S.N.P. making the weather. Had labour any backbone, they would have opposed austerity on principle, and had they one ounce of political nous, they would have relished that a majority of 12 was wafer thin in that situation. But they don’t and they didn’t.

  2. “Labour abstained on the Welfare Bill and helped usher in austerity” is one of the statements constantly repeated by Corbyn supporters. Indeed Jeremy Corbyn himself in his rally speeches last week reminded his audience of the Second Reading abstention in July 2015, to cheers. But he could equally well have said “It was bad politics, that abstention, but you know what the reality is? If every Labour MP had voted against at Second Reading it would still have passed that stage. And what’s more the party voted against the Third Reading and we still lost.”

    Just like to point out that no matter how futile Labour opposition is in Holyrood they conduct it not only consistently but with gusto. They don’t seem to have a problem voting against the Scottish Government when they know their vote wont make a difference to the outcome.

    It seems to me that Labour has no problems whatsoever in managing to oppose everything the Scottish Government says and does while managing to find excuses to abstain or support measures the Westminster Government proposes frequently.
    In fact Labour in Holyrood have abstained on their own amendment proposals to Scottish Government proposals.

    Sorry Sheila “but you know what the reality is”? Labour ideologically oppose the SNP obsessively because they ideologically support Conservatism.

    Trident, Privatisation, PFI PPP, Warmongering, Austerity, Welfare cuts, means testing, Tuition fees the Union etc the pattern is all too obvious to the Scottish electorate and its why you only have one MP in Scotland.

    And the Scottish electorate isn’t done with you yet. Wait til they pass their verdict on Labour at local Government level.

  3. Shiela,
    331, 232, 56, thats all you need to know about Labour’s voting record.

  4. Labour abstained on the Welfare Bill and helped usher in Austerity.

    Labour’s abstention was a vote for Austerity

    Labour stood with the Tories.

    Labour in Scotland’s war cry…SNPBAD.

  5. Labour really is tearing itself apart right now. Between the elite who want Corbyn out because they believe he is unelectable, and therefore a threat to their careers, and the membership who believe he is the embodiment of traditional “Labour values”.

    Whoever wins, Labour will be in the wilderness for decades (again), if it still exists in its present form.

  6. Good article. The replies simply confirm Sheila’s argument, but those replying so far don’t really seem to have read it properly – why am I surprised? Those who argue that the SNP are socialist need a reality check – they refuse to raise income tax and want to reduce APD, for example. SNP austerity is happening now despite the new financial powers – which they so far haven’t used – I wonder why that could be?

  7. Nothing in this article explains why a party would abstain on the Second Reading vote on a Bill if it was opposed to the Bill in principle. Truth is, Labour was trying to position itself as Tory-lite on the issue of welfare reform and an abstention was designed to give that message.

    If there is another explanation, I’d love to hear it…

  8. One key decision for me was a couple of years ago when the government changed the law around the “work fare”. Most of Scottish labour MP’s abstained while over 50 North England labour MP’s voted against. It was difficult to understand

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: