Labour’s whip to abstain on the Overseas Operations Bill in Parliament earlier this week has rightly provoked outrage amongst rank-and-file party activists.
Starmer is yet again proving in practice to be a loyal defender of the establishment. Members must fight back against the jingoistic politics of patriotism, and instead defend the principles of socialist internationalism.
The Overseas Operations bill essentially legalises the tactics British imperialism has used (and denied using) for centuries. And denial is a costly affair. The slew of allegations from Afghanistan and Iraq – including midnight executions of children, torture, and sexual abuse – has cost the Ministry of Defence (MOD) some £30 million already.
Operation Northmoor, which investigated atrocities in Afghanistan, and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team were prematurely halted after a single lawyer was found to have paid terrified victims to come forward.
The recent government bill also places a five-year limit on accusations being investigated. Under these new laws, any prosecutions for historic crimes would be thrown out.
This evening MPs are voting on the Overseas Operations Bill.— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) September 23, 2020
A former chief of defence staff says it "lets torturers off the hook" & provides "room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture".
The prohibition against torture must be absolute.
I am voting against this Bill.
Despite their rhetoric, the Tories’ concern is not for individual soldiers and protecting them from false accusations. In fact, the bill protects the MOD from being sued by soldiers mistreated or suffering disabilities from their time in the armed forces.
The primary purpose of the bill is to prevent investigations and prosecutions that lift the lid on what is tolerated, encouraged, and ordered when the forces of British imperialism are deployed abroad.
The brutality required to maintain the interests of the capitalists across the world is enormous. If every breach of international law were investigated, then the ability of British imperialism to act unimpeded would be severely hampered. The legitimacy of the state itself would be questioned.
Starmer himself knows as much; hence his whip to vote against. But he has long been a loyal attack dog for the ruling class. For instance, this ‘human rights lawyer’ was responsible for bringing charges against Assange when he was Director of Prosecutions. Now, as Labour leader, he is continuing to defend the establishment.
Under his stewardship, the PLP has finally become the ‘credible opposition’ so desired by the discredited Blairites – that is to say, no opposition at all. Already, much of the 2019 manifesto’s left-wing policies have been jettisoned. Events this week mark a huge shift to the right on foreign policy also.
This latest manoeuvre is a glimpse into a parallel timeline where Corbyn remained a backbencher. From Harriet Harman’s whip to abstain on the Tories’ Welfare bill in the summer of 2015, through to Wednesday’s vote, Labour MPs would have sat on their hands for five years, quietly collecting their £90,000 salary.
Corbyn’s leadership – and the galvanising effect this had amongst workers and youth – showed the potential for a genuinely socialist and internationalist party. The contrast between the Corbyn era and the Starmer regime is causing demoralisation amongst grassroots members. We must organise and fight back.
Breaking the whip
18 Labour MPs have shown the way this week, breaking the whip to vote against the bill, and thereby refusing to excuse the crimes of British imperialism.
As a result of their opposition, MPs Olivia Blake, Nadia Whittome, and Beth Winter were all removed from their roles as junior shadow ministers.
Olivia Blake is the MP for Sheffield Hallam. At our CLP meeting this week, Blake explained her decision to disobey the whip. For her, it was a matter of conscience, taking on board concerns from human rights organisations.
Local members are overwhelmingly supportive of her stance, and did not hold back from criticising the leadership heavily. Many wonder where the much-vaunted ‘internationalism’ of the Blairite Remainers has gone!
An emergency motion, drafted by Socialist Appeal supporters, is shown below. This was passed overwhelmingly.
We as a Constituency Labour Party stand firmly behind our MP @_OliviaBlake and the other 17 Labour MPs who opposed the Tories' Overseas Operations bill at 2nd reading.— Sheff Hallam Labour (@ShefHallamLab) September 24, 2020
Olivia explains her reasons for voting against the bill here: https://t.co/JhGpGJFYLu pic.twitter.com/IfNQwAbWMc
No more compromises
The stand taken by Blake, Whittome, and co. is to be applauded. But there are 34 members of the Socialist Campaign Group in the PLP. Clearly many of them abstained, rather than voting against this bill that effectively endorses British imperialism and its heinous actions abroad.
This demonstrates the weakness of the left in the PLP. And this, in turn, is a direct result of the failure to bring in open selection over the last five years. Instead, Corbyn and the left leaders attempted to compromise with the right wing.
We must learn from these mistakes. Members must get organised against Starmer’s attempts to return the party to Blairism, and instead carry the torch of genuine socialism forward.
Motion passed at Sheffield Hallam CLP: Oppose imperialism! Fight for socialism!
This CLP notes:
- That the Overseas Operations Bill effectively decriminalises torture and defies international human rights law.
- The whip to abstain from the vote on the Overseas Operations Bill was a disgraceful manoeuvre, aiding and abetting the Tories regardless of stated intention.
- This follows recent statements by Starmer and his leadership which pander to patriotism and undermine a socialist foreign policy. One such example is the defiance of conference’s vote in support of the people of Kashmir and their right to self-determination.
- That the abandonment of internationalism and a socialist approach in favour of nationalism and patriotism, whether on policy at home or abroad, will only further embolden the Tories and the far-right and is doomed to fail.
- 18 Labour MPs voted against this bill, including parliamentary private secretaries Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake which has resulted in their removal from these posts.
- These MPs have stuck fast to socialist principles of internationalism and an injury to one is an injury to all.
- That the Labour Party should unequivocally stand against imperialism, jingoism, war, torture and state-sanctioned murder in all forms (regardless of legality).
This CLP resolves:
- To post this motion to our social media and publicly support Olivia Blake and the 17 other MPs for defying the whip, condemning the whip to abstain and reiterating this CLPs opposition to war, torture, and all crimes of imperialism.
- To send a copy of this motion to the Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey and the leadership’s office