THE BLOG

SNP and the Lib Dems Are Now the Real Oppposition

21/07/2015 10:25 BST | Updated 20/07/2016 10:59 BST

Last night was a squandered opportunity for Labour (the Official Opposition, remember them?) to actually show that they are what they say they are: a realistic, credible alternative to the austerity driven Conservative Government. Instead what we had was an impotent non leadership making a half baked attempt to show that they are electable to those former New Labour voters that have abandoned them in favour of Ukip and the Tories. The Welfare Bill passed with a resounding majority of 308 votes to 124. A majority of 184 - the exact number of Labour MPs who abstained.

48 Labour MPs voted against the Welfare Bill and rightly so; but that isn't good enough, frankly. Opposition isn't about making yourself electable at the expense of your principles or the voters you've let down and the vulnerable that will now suffer at the hands of an emboldened Tory administration. Opposition is sometimes about making a stand and sending a message that you won't stand for this constant barrage of attacks on the poor, on the weak and of the voiceless.

The Opposition that doesn't Oppose is not something to aspire to. If Labour hadn't permanently destroyed any chance of recapturing those left wing votes they have lost to the SNP in Scotland or to the Greens and Plaid Cymru in England and Wales before the election then they have assured that outcome tonight. Whoever inherits the mantle of Labour leader then they will have a lot of explaining to do to the former traditional Labour heartlands that are now crying out for an alternative.

In total the DUP, Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and the entirety of the SNP voted against the Government. That's 79 MPs against who aren't in the Opposition to the 48 MPs who are. If we can't rely on Labour to offer something as simple yet effective as a united front against swingeing cuts to benefits and welfare then what hope do we have?

Under Tim Farron the Lib Dems have demonstrated that they are again moving to centre left by standing up against the Welfare Bill and probably attempting to make amends for going into coalition with the Tories. It's painfully obvious now that their voice - whilst diminished - was a necessary one to keep the Conservatives in check during the last Government. Without a Lib Dem voice at the Cabinet table we have opened ourselves up to a whirlwind of draconian legislation. It will take maybe another two election cycles before they can hope to regain the spotlight but this was an early test of Farron's leadership and he passed.

The DUP have managed to outflank Sinn Fein on the issue of Welfare Reform by voting against the Bill tonight. Had Sinn Fein taken their seats and all Labour MPs voted against the Bill then it is likely that it would have either been defeated or have come down to the wire. It will be difficult for Sinn Fein to save face during impending crunch talks on Northern Ireland's welfare arrangement.

The biggest casualty of the night however was definitely Labour. I, like so many, no longer care about their leadership race. Without any inspiring rudder to guide their ship they have allowed Harriet Harman to play right into the Chancellor's hands by chasing right wing votes they have no hope of regaining and forever alienating left wing progressive votes that will be swept up by Plaid, the Greens and the SNP.

Unless they can get their act together in the next six months and set out a realistic, credible Opposition then Labour no longer deserve that title - the SNP won that crown last night.