It is already being labelled as a major rebellion against Keir Starmer’s leadership: 34 Labour MPs defying the party whip to vote against the controversial so-called ‘Spycops’ Bill that would allow government agents to commit crimes.
The real question about it, though, is: why so few?
Labour has been targeted by the so-called Establishment in the UK – probably from its beginnings as a political party. This includes espionage by the nation’s intelligence agencies.
We all know about famous incidents such as the Zinoviev Letter, which contributed to the fall of Ramsay MacDonald’s first Labour government. It was a forged communique allegedly between the government and the Communist government of Russia, written by people whose identities remain uncertain…
… but it was published by the Conservative Daily Mail, and it is widely believed that this was on the urging of the SIS – the intelligence service of the day.
Another famous issue is the MI5 file on Harold Wilson, which was opened when he first entered Parliament in 1945 and recorded his contacts with communists, KGB officers and other Russians.
It was opened because of concerns about his relationships with Eastern European businessmen. Can you imagine MI5 opening a file on Boris Johnson, over his relationships with oligarches from Russia?
Ultimately, none of the information in the file can have amounted to anything because MI5 never tried to use it to undermine him – despite his own paranoia about this in his later years.
Clearly there is a precedent for the security services – which are predominantly staffed by right-wingers – using every resource within their power to find ways of undermining the Labour Party.
And by abstaining on a Bill that allows government agents to commit crimes in order to achieve their aims, 167 Labour MPs including the party’s leader, Keir Starmer, have just handed them another such resource.
It’s undemocratic and dangerous – the kind of legislation created by a dictatorship in order to ensure, by fair means or foul, that no rival organisation can ever topple it.
But some good may come of it accidentally – the possible removal of Starmer as party leader.
Around 20 of his MPs rebelled against his demand to abstain on the Bill’s second reading. Yesterday (October 15), 34 defied his whip – including eight who resigned from front bench roles to do so:
Here are the 34 Labour MPs who voted against the Tories’ Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight.
The law makes it legal for the state to authorise the murder of political opponents.
The fact Keir Starmer whipped Labour to abstain on outright Fascism is truly horrifying. pic.twitter.com/SMvXPDaUNa
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) October 15, 2020
8 Labour MPs have just resigned from Keir Starmer’s Front Bench.
• Dan carden
• Nav Mishra
• Kim Hopkins
• Margaret Greenwood
• Rachel Hopkins
• Sarah Owen
• Mary Foy
• Kim Johnson
Credit to each of them for showing some Labour MPs still oppose torture & murder
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) October 15, 2020
It is with regret that I did not vote with my party on the #spycops bill. Joined by a significant number of other Labour MPs. The stakes were too high in my view to abstain. I always remember Nye Bevan who said 'if you sit in the centre of the road you eventually get run over.'
— Jon Trickett (@jon_trickett) October 15, 2020
As a matter of conscience, I must vote against the #CHISBill tonight.
I have offered my resignation from Labour’s frontbench.https://t.co/lsCa7jz3FT pic.twitter.com/x9ieefYdWa
— Dan Carden MP (@DanCardenMP) October 15, 2020
It is with a heavy heart that I resigned as a PPS before this afternoon's vote on the #CHISBill.
I will continue to support @AngelaRayner and @Keir_Starmer from the backbenches and do all I can to help secure a Labour Government 🌹 pic.twitter.com/4O1RiZhHtc
— Navendu Mishra MP (@NavPMishra) October 15, 2020
I have voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources bill and so have tendered my resignation from my position as Shadow Schools Minister. I wrote to Keir Starmer before the vote. I’d like to thank Keir for having given me the opportunity to serve on Labour’s front bench. pic.twitter.com/9BmfqhciHz
— Margaret Greenwood MP (@MGreenwoodWW) October 15, 2020
I did not take this decision lightly but today I voted against the #CHISBill pic.twitter.com/ZYxEd7ETq4
— Sarah Owen MP (@SarahOwen_) October 15, 2020
Today I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill and resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights. Please read my statement below. 👇https://t.co/Aw7LQXAcHC
— Mary Kelly Foy (@marykfoy) October 15, 2020
It was an honour to serve as Angela Rayner's PPS and I thank her for the opportunity, but as a lifelong trade unionist and a campaigner for social justice I could see no rationale for a second abstention. I am still totally committed to campaigning for a Labour government.
— Kim Johnson MP (@KimJohnsonMP) October 15, 2020
I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill this evening.
— Paula Barker MP (@PaulaBarkerMP) October 15, 2020
This evening, I again voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill which I fear undermines our democracy and our commitment to champion human rights. #CHISBill
— Mick Whitley MP (@MickWhitleyMP) October 15, 2020
I voted against the #CHISBill because I believe we must stand up for our core values of human rights and civil liberties.
Thank you to everyone who has been in touch and all those campaigning on these vital issues.#SpyCopsBill https://t.co/HarY5EwnIa
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 15, 2020
Much of this can be attributed to Starmer’s own attitude, which suggests that he actually supports the Bill’s demand that government agents be allowed to commit any crime without fear of prosecution for it later – any crime at all, including the murder of the Tories’ political opponents:
this is what 166 Labour MPs have ultimately waved through. A dark day and one that ought to go down in infamy in the history of the British labour movement https://t.co/tGqYwneveJ pic.twitter.com/pjt3izkhtm
— tom (@malaiseforever) October 15, 2020
Look, it's very simple. The reason Starmer has whipped Labour MPs not to oppose the 'Spycops' bill, is because he isn't opposed to it.
— Old Git (@toooldforit) October 15, 2020
Discontent with his lack of opposition to the worst Tory government in history is growing, and already there are rumours of a leadership challenge in 2021:
We are once again calling on all socialist Labour MPs to start making preparations for a leadership challenge in 2021. #StarmerOut
— The Left Wing Society (@LeftWingSociety) October 15, 2020
Political developments are strange; they don’t happen the way anybody expects – unless that person is very far-sighted indeed.
The Zinoviev Letter led to the fall of a Labour government – but only in a roundabout way. Labour’s vote increased in the general election; it was the collapse of the Liberal vote that allowed the Conservatives their victory.
It would be ironic if now, nearly a century after that attempt to end a socialist government, a piece of legislation that legalises espionage against the party that formed that government actually led to its re-founding as a socialist organisation once again.
That is the only comforting thought I can raise from what is, in all other respects, a disaster for democracy.
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