Labour in a mess over welfare, Burnham admits

Labour's opposition to George Osborne's welfare cuts is "a mess", the frontrunner for the leadership admitted today.

Andy Burnham conceded voters would be "confused" by his decision to abstain on the welfare bill last night, despite previously saying he opposed it.

"I would have opposed this bill outright last night if I were leader," he told the World at One. He added:

"If you want to lead the Labour party I don't think what you do is defy what the collective position was and split the party.

Burnham was not among the almost 50 Labour MPs who voted against the bill last night, including his leadership rival Jeremy Corbyn.

He defended his decision by claiming to have persuaded Labour's current leader, Harriet Harman, to put forward a "reasoned amendment" opposing some of Osborne's measures.

However, the amendment was defeated in the Commons.

Burnham admitted voters would struggle to understand his decision to abstain.

"These are the difficult decisions that we have to take in Westminster and that sometimes may leave people a bit confused. I understand that."

Shortly after abstaining on government's welfare cuts, Burnham posted a Facebook message claiming that he had "fired the starting gun" on opposition to them.

He admitted that the party had got itself into a "mess" over the issue.

"It's a mess. The run up to this whole vote was a bit of a mess. And it's quite clear that this is a party now that is crying out for leadership but that is what I have shown in recent days," he insisted.

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Green party today challenged Labour to join them in opposing the Bill.

"Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice," new Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said.

"If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts."

The welfare bill will go to committee stage after the recess, after Labour's new leader is announced.