By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has claimed that Labour's credibility is severely in question after the party abstained in a vote, forced by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, to oppose Tory plans to cut the top rate of tax for the highest earners.
Despite vocal opposition and several pledges from shadow chancellor Ed Balls (pictured) to vote against the measure, in an embarrassing no-show Labour MPs failed to vote against the measure in the Commons.
Speaking at the start of four days of Budget debate in the Commons on Thursday last week, Mr Balls said: "There will be a vote next week, we will vote against the 50p [tax cut]. It's the wrong tax cut at the wrong time."
However despite Mr Balls' pledge, the vast majority of Labour MPs failed to show up for the vote against the tax cut. The Coalition Government won the vote on the 45p rate by 319 to 22, giving them an overwhelming majority of 297.
The realisation that Labour MPs had failed to vote against the cut in the top rate of tax prompted mockery from Treasury minister David Gauke and his Conservative colleague Andrew Bridgen. Mr Bridgen asked Commons Speaker John Bercow if he had powers to "censure HM opposition who spent five days opposing the cut in the top rate of tax from 50p and then abstained from voting the lobbies".
A Treasury source described Labour's no-show as "bizarre ... given their rhetoric just a few days ago".
Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes MP, said: "After five days of huff and puff from Ed Balls, and sustained protest about the proposal to lower the highest level of tax rate next year, Labour MPs were not in the chamber to vote against the change. This says all the public need to know about Labour's position. A last-minute increase in the higher tax rate before the election and no real commitment to continue the 50p tax rate while they are in opposition shows how they value rhetoric more than action."
Mr Balls attempted to play down the embarrassing no-show on the Labour benches, saying that the party had earlier voted against the whole Budget package. Responding to jibes on Twitter, Mr Balls said: "No chance to vote solely on 50p tax. Will ensure there is in Finance Bill and vote against."
Commenting on Labour's failure to vote against the cut in the top rate of tax for the highest earners, SNP Westminster Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP said:
"After claiming they opposed the Tories tax cut for millionaires, Labour's credibility is now severely in question after this embarrassing no-show.
"Since the Budget, Ed Balls has been in and out of television studios blustering about the Chancellor's tax plans and promising to oppose them – but at the first opportunity to vote against this unfair Tory plan and Labour abstain. Yet again Labour are letting the Tories off the hook.
"While Labour capitulate, the SNP will oppose the Tories unfair Budget which punishes pensioners and public sector workers and does nothing to stimulate the economy.
"This was not a budget for Scotland and is proof of the urgent need for Scotland to have control over financial powers with independence."
Newsnet Scotland is aware of leaked emails showing Labour figures discussing how to manage this blunder - an article will follow shortly.