The two new MPs for Southwark voted in line with their veteran Labour comrade this week as a controversial Welfare Bill split the party.
Neil Coyle, representing Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Helen Hayes, who took over Tessa Jowell’s seat in Dulwich and West Norwood both defended their decision to abstain from the vote which seeks to slash working benefits and child tax credits.
Harriet Harman, longstanding MP for Camberwell and Peckham and acting leader of the Labour party since Ed Miliband’s humiliating defeat in May, instructed all her ministers to abstain from the vote in a move which led to a party revolt.
“If we oppose everything, we’ll succeed on nothing,” she said as she urged ministers to get in line and vote as instructed.
A total of 48 MPs rebelled and voted against the bill after an amendment proposed by Ms Harman failed to get enough support.
Harman and the Labour MPs who followed her into the voting lobby have faced criticism for supporting legislation which would affect poorer families accessing working benefits.
Neil Coyle said he abstained but would fight aspects of the bill as it goes through the various stages before it could be brought into law. “We will be seeking radical changes to the proposals that would increase child poverty locally and axe £30 per week from local disabled people,” he said. “The Tory agenda will be forced to change in the months ahead.”
Helen Hayes admitted that the bill was “problematic” and said it had been “a difficult decision for all of us in Labour” but stood by her abstention because she supports some elements of the bill like the creation of three thousand apprenticeships.
“When you agree with some bits and not others the appropriate thing to abstain in that situation,” she said.