Thursday 15 October 2020

Why Did Labour Abstain on the Spycops Bill?

And the latest reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill cleared the House of Commons. 313 voted for it, 98 against. Hold the front page, something's amiss. Lots of votes from honourable members are missing. The bulk of the opposition in fact. 200 MPs abstained, including most of the Labour Party under orders from Keir Starmer himself, while 34 did the principled thing and opposed - several resigning their front bench positions in the process. A New Leadership indeed.

The government's bill is a crappy, authoritarian piece of work. As Shami Chakrabarti rightly notes, the bill gives licence to undercover agents, be they coppers, spooks, armed forces personnel or from food standards and Gambling Commission, to commit crimes in the discharge of their duties. What could possibly go wrong? It's not like policing, for example, hasn't been hit by allegations of the most disgusting abuse committed by spycops. Naturally, the right are happy to handover power without accountability and shows Boris Johnson's fulsome praise for British freedoms to be piffle, but Labour? What can possibly be gained by enforcing abstention?

Writing for LabourList, Conor McGinn has had a stab. He suggests undercover work has disrupted so many terror plots, but requires a clear legal framework with appropriate safeguards to prevent abuses now and in the future. Okay, and does the bill accomplish this? No. Conor notes how the bill says state agents would be subject to the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. Okay, but the Tories are explicitly committed to rolling back the HRA and wriggling out of ECHR commitments. Second, how have these already curbed abuses and ensured undercover rule breakers were brought to book? As matters stand the rules are tissue thin now, and even this is too much as far as the Tories are concerned.

The second argument is even more specious. Conor suggests if the bill falls either the security services would be prvented from operating, or would operate without any oversight, which are terrible outcomes. Evidently, the leader's forensic skills aren't catching. Had the bill fallen, Johnson would have been forced to compromise with the opposition to try and get something through as, um, the history of government defeats over the last four decades suggest.

The rest of Conor's piece is overlong waffle suggesting he and Keir Starmer will take no lectures on spook abuses thanks to their records around Orgreave, blacklisting, Northern Ireland, and others. Clearly the leader and the shadow security minister do because nowhere does this piece explain how abstaining on the bill helps these issues come to a resolution. If anything, Conor's piece reads like something defending it.

Then we come to the final paragraph, and the cat jumps out of the proverbial. He writes, "... we have to deal with the legislation this government brings forward, and do so in a way that shows we are a responsible government-in-waiting." And there you have it. Keir and friends have determined opposing this bill would make them look soft on security issues, which contributed to Labour's toxicity among voters who went over to the Tories last year. Okay, if that's the case why not follow the logic of Conor's argument and critically support the legislation? Well, no, because this would weaken Keir's standing among the swathe of recently-won LibDem voters. As for existing Labour supporters, who cares? They have nowhere to go.

Let's see where this gets you. Labour supporters and liberals expecting Keir Starmer to take human rights matters seriously are pissed off. And those who thought Jeremy Corbyn was soft aren't about to conclude Keir is any better by parking 160-something backsides on the fence. Nor is this going to make Tory attacks any easier to fend off. "Refusing to support our security services" does not distinguish between outright opposition or abstention, unless Keir thinks Johnson's jousts are about to assume a gentlemanly aspect and he'll order his spinners to respect the nuanced difference. Literally no one is going to notice the so-called careful calibration of the abstention in the real world. Clever, clever politics becomes stupid, stupid and no one is satisfied.

Why then? Who is Keir trying to appease or, at the very least, impress with his reasonable, responisble government-ready opposition? The only ones left are the Tory papers. Carrying on his charm the press round, offering measured, process criticisms of the bill over tout court rejection, and the mandatory, effusive praise for the "vital tool" of the security services is telling them his criticisms come from a place of fundamental loyalty to the system, not outright opposition a la Corbyn and Corbynism. In return, the hope is they'll continue going easy on him, ensuring the next election is a more benign environment for Labour than the last four contests.

If this is the game, the leader, his office, and all the people he listens to are more naive about the character of British politics than I feared.

Image Credit


david walsh said...

Indeed. Spot on. And let us suppose on a counter-factual October 15th 2020, Labour would have been whipped to oppose the bill ? What then ? After all, in a land gripped by wall to wall covid and where even pubs are being renamed to shame Tory ministers, who, apart from whoever is the duty obsessive at the Guido Fawkes keyboard, would notice or would care ?

David Lindsay said...

Well, that's that, then. It is going to be perfectly legal for an agent of the State to murder you if the Food Standards Agency, which I suppose did have to be given something after this week, said that you were causing a disturbance. Yes, really.

Only 17 per cent of Labour MPs voted against that, so each of the Labour Party's affiliated trade unions ought to reduce its funding of that party by 83 per cent. Then there were the "libertarian Tories". There turned out to be precisely one of those.

And when, exactly, was Keir Starmer a "human rights lawyer"? That one goes unquestioned, but it is drivel. He had much the same line of work as Kamala Harris, who withheld exonerating evidence on death row prisoners until after they had been executed. She would have been proud of him tonight. If she had ever heard of him.

Everyone on the Left, or even just in the unions, knows that we are under surveillance, and the rest, all the time. But most Labour MPs have no left-wing, or even just trade union, background. And Starmer is even worse. He comes from the other side. Where he remains.

BCFG said...

To directly answer your question, they abstained because there is virtually no difference whatsoever between the politics of Labour and the Tories.

Any differences come down to some minor nit picking on identity issues. As Blissex said, centrism is Thatcherism with gay marriage, which incidentally is what Thatcherism is too!

The only question remaining is why would any self respecting leftist be part of this shit show?

James Chespy said...

At this very moment we have covert human intelligence sources working out there in the field delivering intelligence to their handlers that help to prevent terrorist atrocities occurring in this country, can we be so naive to think that we haven't. At the moment those operatives who are very brave and courageous individuals who are putting their lives on the line everyday are having to make split-second decisions in regard to life or death. I would much rather have the work of these individuals put on a Statutory footing with the necessary checks and balances. I don't need to know who these individuals are, I don't need to know what they do all I can do is thank them for what they do because if what they do saves people's lives then that can only be a good thing. This bill was never going to be perfect after all it has been written by a Tory government and under a Labour government it would have been different but that is not where we are. We have an 80 seat conservative majority and the Tories in Parliament can push any legislation through that they want that is the reality of the situation. However Labour cannot be seen to be weak on National Security because it affects all of us. The first duty of any government is the defence of the realm and the protection of its citizens. Having read the Bill I have genuine concerns about it like so many other people do but I would have followed the labour whip today and abstained. The front bench amendment was for a judicial warrant to be applied for before any criminal conduct would be sanctioned by an undercover operative. Sadly that amendment did not pass, well was it ever expected to. Now we rely on their lordships house to forensically dissect the bill and to bring forward those amendments that would improve the bill. The bill is needed but it needs to be improved.

James Chespy FRSA

Blissex said...

«Only 17 per cent of Labour MPs voted against that, so each of the Labour Party's affiliated trade unions ought to reduce its funding of that party by 83 per cent»

But many trade unions members don't see that as a trade union issue, of if they do, they are reactionaries.
One aspect of trade unionism is that many members regularly vote Conservative, sometimes for "culture" reason, sometimes because their worker interests are secondary to their property interests. Some union leaders therefore say that they cannot too overtly support Labour because their many of their members don't.

Blissex said...

«At this very moment we have covert human intelligence sources working out there in the field delivering intelligence to their handlers that help to prevent terrorist atrocities occurring in this country»

There is plenty of documentation that the most part of the work of undercover operatives is to spy on trade unions, Labour activists and other "communists", and other threats to the interests of the political and business ruling class.

«I don't need to know what they do all I can do is thank them for what they do because if what they do saves people's lives then that can only be a good thing.»

There is a reason why the secret services are secret unlike the police: they commit crimes, unlike the police. For the foreign secret service committing crimes is a necessity: spying is a crime in almost every foreign jurisdiction.

The domestic secret service needs to be distinct from the police even if investigation into domestic crime is obviously legal, and the police already have vast powers, because they routinely commit crimes that cannot be justified as police work, that is committed when they are not investigating crimes, or when they commit crimes when investigating them, even outside the very wide permissions that the police have.

Given the enormous powers and funding that the police already have and exemptions from laws applying to ordinary citizens, that are quite adequate for investigating terrorists or pedos and the other usual excuses, this means that the domestic secret service is doing particularly awful crimes and largely for political work. Put another way, the domestic secret service is the political police, with a side in other unsavoury business, which may or may not be in our collective interests.

Things like abductions, torture, bribery or blackmail of politicians, journalists, etc.; the old deal was that people joining the secret services rather than the police knew well that they were joining criminal organizations, and would have to take personal responsibility and be scapegoated when caught (whether by foreign police or the domestic police), and this worked fairly well for a long time. This worked because the secret service people knowing that they had skin in the game would minimise their criminal activities, and this would restrain the authority of their instigators, the politicians and top civil servants giving them orders.

Indeed the real import of the current law and the previous one on war crimes is also to protect (directly and indirectly) more the instigators than the executors of war crimes and secret service crimes, that is politicians and top civil servants, from prosecution for ordering those crimes. Very good news for Tony Blair and many others.

New Labour introduced drastic laws on extended periods of preventive imprisonment or restrictions of freedom without court involvement, on expanded surveillance powers, and New, New Labour cannot betray that proud legacy. That's why most of the PLP don't object to more of the same.

Blissex said...

«The first duty of any government is the defence of the realm and the protection of its citizens»

Including protecting the citizens from the police and the secret services.
Again consider why the secret services are secret and the police is not: is it because police investigations are public, so criminals too know they are being investigated and by whom and how? Obviously not, as police investigations are secret too, especially from criminals. But they are no longer secret when it comes to accountability: the police are accountable to the public.

The secret service activities are meant to be secret not just from criminals, but from the citizens, and the obvious reason for that is that they can target any citizens too, not just the suspected criminals

The secret service agents are switching from being accountable to both politicians and the law (but only if caught), to being accountable only to politicians, the same politicians who give the orders for them to commit those that used to be crimes.

Imagine a conversation like "So he is a future threat to the realm like Corbyn was, the police should be able to find a pedo stash on his cellphone" "But minister if our undercover agent who is his receptionist put one there it would be a crime" "Not since 2020...".

Of course many would agree that "the protection of its citizens" from the threat of power being given to someone many citizens consider a "genocidal racist terrorist trot tyrant" is the first duty of any government, by any means. :-)

Anonymous said...

Fuck it, let the operatives of the government/state do whatever they want with total impunity. What could possibly go wrong? Death squads, anyone?

Keir Starmer is a total waste of space, as are the majority of the PLP.

KevM said...

If any suggestion of opposition is able to be successfully put down by facile claims of 'not supporting national security' then we have no opposition to speak of. An opposition leader should be able to make their case.

Blissex said...

«What could possibly go wrong? Death squads, anyone?»

That's old news, they were used as an electoral boast by Gavin Williamson:
«Gavin Williamson signalled he was prepared to hunt down and use air strikes against the remaining 270 UK passport holders who have travelled to Syria and Iraq. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he said: ‘Quite simply, my view is a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.’ [...] Earlier this year, the Mail revealed that RAF pilots had been secretly assassinating British jihadists in Syria and Iraq, using drones and fighter jets to work through a ‘kill list’ of targets»

The USA DoD/CIA have an even larger set of abduction/torture/death squads, and GW BUsh, GH Obama and D Trump have all boasted about them also for electoral purposes, while some members of the UK armed forces have objected to being complicit with them:
Some senior British officers were unhappy at what was going on and the involvement of the UK’s SAS and the SBS. “Why are we helping to run Latin American-style death squads?” One British commander, himself ex-SAS, demanded to know. The SAS were, on at least two occasions, barred from carrying out such missions in the British-run south of the country.
Questions were asked about how information was being obtained from suspects in Balad. There was an unofficial inquiry into the treatment of prisoners at the base, although no evidence was found to implicate Maj Gen McChrystal. ...
But the reverberations from special forces operations in Iraq continued. Six years later Maj Gen McChrystal, by now a four star general and commander of international forces in Afghanistan, had received a complaint from the UK’s director of special forces (DSF) for speaking about operations carried out with the SAS and SBS in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile an SAS lieutenant colonel, who had served with distinction under Maj Gen McChrystal in Iraq, was told to stay away from the Regiment’s headquarters in Hereford.

Try to imagine that in current politics boasting about spending taxpayer funds on running a network of junta-style death squads given monthly "kill lists" of people suspected of having the potential to be a future criminal is a vote winner, and goes unremarked, even by J Corbyn.
In part the popularity of junta-style death squads is because they mostly (but surely not only) operate abroad, and the USA or UK citizens targeted by them are "unpeople", and many voters believe fervently in "Blow you! I am alright Jack" (whether "blow you!" is with a missile from a drone or a sniper's bullet) as they think that middle aged and retired affluent "Middle Englanders" will never be targeted.

While some major governments boast openly about death squads going through "kill lists", the media drop on us a long series of ridiculous, ever-changing conspiracy theories about Putin or Trump.

BCFG said...

"However Labour cannot be seen to be weak on National Security because it affects all of us. The first duty of any government is the defence of the realm and the protection of its citizens."

Only if you are a right wing nationalist it is. The Iraq war was sold on defense of the realm but that actually created the terror legislation we have today. And the Iraq war was not a defence of the realm but the defense of imperialist supremacy.

This is why the real left are always anti imperialist because as soon as you are not you have to pay lip service to this defence of the realm bollocks.

If Starmer is so keen on the defense of the citizens why did Keir Starmer push for a exit strategy from lockdown at the height of the covid deaths? Why did Keir Starmer not push for a lockdown strategy to protect the realm and its citizens.

Protect the realm, stop watching Game of Thrones you fecking dickhead.

You will be telling me next that Andy Burnham is king of the North!

Blissex said...

«telling me next that Andy Burnham is king of the North!»

Andy Burnham is a bit of an opportunist, but there is an enormous difference between him and some other brownistas (including Gordon Brown himself), who are still part of Labour, and the Mandelson Tendency entrysts, for example that both him and Jon Ashworth remained in J Corbyn's front bench during the vile "chicken coup" (while Keir Starmer resigned), and Andy Burnham pointedly remarked (2016-06-16) on Twitter that:

«It is for our members to decide who leads our Party & 10 months ago they gave Jeremy Corbyn a resounding mandate. I respect that & them»

He had previously (2015-08-13) said, as the runner-up to J Corbyn in 2015, with a lot of distance between him and the others:

«but he also praised Corbyn for having brought the contest to life. “The attacks we’ve seen on Jeremy misread the mood of the party because what people are crying out for is something different. They are fed up with the way Labour has been conducting policies in recent times,” he said.»

Blissex said...

«“[...] what people are crying out for is something different. They are fed up with the way Labour has been conducting policies in recent times,”»

Which reminds me that New (or New, New) Labour attitudes are not that "New", as demonstrated by one of my usual quotes, this old poem by "trot" B Brecht, which I think describes how Mandelson Tendency MPs view party members:

"After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?