SNP MPs staged a takeover of the opposition front bench in the House of Commons yesterday, claiming voters who did not back the Conservatives at the general election deserve better than Labour’s refusal to oppose the Budget.
Labour abstained on a vote on legislation enacting the Budget just hours after 48 of its MPs rebelled against the party leadership’s orders not to oppose the Tories’ controversial welfare plans.
SNP MPs questioned why the opposition, which voted against all the coalition’s full Budgets at second reading, would not oppose the first all-Tory Budget in nearly two decades at the same stage and then occupied the Labour frontbench.
Its party’s members spilled on to the second and third rows – as they further pushed their case as the “actual opposition” to the Tories.
Chancellor George Osborne smiled and nodded towards the SNP contingent as he walked near them.
Following the vote, the SNP’s Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) raised a point of order, joking that if the furniture could not be rearranged then the parties should change the seating so the “actual opposition sits in the right place”.
Earlier, shadow Treasury minister Barbara Keeley maintained that the most contentious measures in the Budget were not in this bill, with new limits on tax credits among the policies being brought into force through other legislation.
The bill has passed its second reading by 301 votes to 75, majority 226, in a division triggered by the SNP after the party’s own amendment was defeated by 307 votes to 61, majority 246. The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard, a former senior Labour official, said the country needs a better opposition than his former party is providing.
He said: “I really would urge and plead with members on the Labour benches: the country needs better than this, the people who didn’t vote for the Conservative Party – 63 per cent of them – expect them to be opposed in this chamber.
“And even if there’s one or two things in this bill which you find that you agree with, surely the overall rubric and intent of this bill is to penalise people in this society who you should be standing up for, and I do appeal to you to reconsider you position on this and to come with us in the lobbies tonight as we vote against this bill at its second reading.”
Former first minister Alex Salmond also pushed Ms Keeley on why Labour were abstaining.
Intervening, Mr Salmond said: “What is it about this Budget, this extraordinary regressive Budget, that makes it such that the Labour Party don’t want to support an opposition to it?”
Tory Treasury minister Damian Hinds mocked Labour, claiming that many opposition MPs had not spoken in the debate to avoid showing disunity.
He said: “I know it’s only been a short week so far, but it’s not been a great week for Labour unity. But they have discovered a new answer to how not to show disunity, which is preferably not to show up at all.”