Tuesday 12 September 2017

No More Heroes

As promised, an unprincipled shower gave the government succour last night by sitting on their hands. Though the withdrawal bill handed unaccountable and arbitrary powers to ministers (pending amendments), not even newly-anointed liberal hero Ken Clarke counted among those defending Parliament's limited powers. However, one honourable member, a man synonymous with political principle was found traipsing through the aye lobby with Theresa May and her "team". You know I'm talking about Dennis Skinner.

To be honest, I was not in the least bit surprised. Though it might have come as a shock for some Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Dennis makes clear via Skwawkbox that he's always been anti-EU and is being entirely consistent with his voting record. Fair enough, he has principles. He also voted for Labour's amendments to the bill and had they passed, we wouldn't be having a ding dong on this matter. But they didn't pass and we are having this conversation.

Let us remind ourselves what the withdrawal bill was about. The question of whether Britain is leaving the European Union or not is, for the time being, settled. If the bill hadn't passed Brexit wasn't going away. Article 50's tock follows every tick and come March 2019 we'll either be out or temporarily suspended in a transitional arrangement. The main political question now is the manner of that exit and Britain's future relationship with the EU. Yet last night's vote wasn't even about that. It referred exclusively and solely to the government's relationship to Parliamentary accountability. Because of May's failed election and problems getting legislation through the House for the foreseeable future, empowering ministers avoids the possibility of defeat and destabilising the government further.

Now, cast your mind back for a moment. When Harriet Harman instructed Labour MPs to abstain on the government's attack on working tax credits "in solidarity" with Labour voters wanting to see the thumbscrews tighten, it still meant refusing to take a stand on an attack on our people. Dennis protested that "I’m not voting for any power-grab", but that doesn't alter the fact that he did. He broke the Labour whip and voted to hand more power to Tory ministers.

Of course, Skwawkbox have rallied the defence, singling out the abstainers for criticism (at least they didn't vote for it, guys) and crediting the Tories with a sub-conspiratorial Machiavellianism we have never seen these clowns evidence before. Apparently, they set a trap devised to get us fighting among ourselves. Please. There are plenty of Tories who find the bill objectionable but voted for it because losing could have brought the government down. Yet that unity wasn't foregone. Usually, if you want use Parliament to spring traps you never risk opening divisions on your own side. Second, Skwawkbox's alleged source is saying the party's leadership possess the collective wit of two short planks for not spotting it, that if Dennis was right, so was Kate Hoey and Frank Field. The onus wasn't on the majority of the PLP to follow their lead, but on them to accept party discipline and protect the democratic interests of working class people.

Yes, Dennis has fought for our working people all his political life. But not on this occasion. He voted with the enemies of our party to imperil the basic democratic functions of Parliament. He acted against the interests of our class, and his silence over the central issue of the bill while waxing about the ephemera of democratic wills and Brexit voters suggests he knows it too. A sorry blemish on an otherwise upstanding record.

All this serves to remind us that socialism is not a spectator sport or a grittier version of X-Factor. It is the collective struggle for the interests of our people to make a society fit for human beings. When one of our representatives works against those interests, our duty is to explain, criticise and hold them to account, regardless of who they are. It is not for us to make excuses and sweep the matter under the carpet. Our movement doesn't need heroes, it needs politicians who work for it and express those interests. And on this occasion, Dennis Skinner has fallen well short.


Speedy said...

Much respect for Dennis, but never forget beneath that "son of the soil" facade I've no doubt there's a monstrous ego - it usually provides him with the gumption to choose the right side of the argument, but this time it has simply dazzled him. Dennis makes a big deal of turning down ministerial roles, but don't think it's out of modesty - he thinks he's too good to be a minister!

Ben Philliskirk said...

As you say, the issue of EU withdrawal was not on the agenda in this vote. What those supporting the government or abstaining have done is demonstrate solidarity with the government's stance that any dissent over their 'Brexit' policy is effectively akin to treason and sabotage. Thus Skinner's position is not a consistent commitment to a long-time principle as much as the prioritising of immediate nationalist goals over socialist or democratic practice. Unfortunately, like his late mate Tony Benn he demonstrates an advanced naivety on the subject of 'sovereignty'.

GrahamBC said...

Like Dennis I voted leave and still would again, but I would have voted against this bill, because like Jeremy said this is not about leaving it is about how we leave