Keir Starmer Keir Starmer. Photo: Rwendland / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article

Sir Keir Starmer’s lack of opposition and support for the spy cops bill is letting the government get away with murder, writes Terina Hine

The Labour Party has come to resemble the Tories in more ways than one. Under Starmer, the party has a leader who demonstrably fails to lead.

In a frankly pathetic performance on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Starmer tentatively suggested the government’s current Covid measures may not be tough enough” –  his strongest line was that nursery schools probably should close”.

Yesterday, following the poor reviews of his Marr appearance, and having no doubt seen the negative polls on the government’s own Covid response, Starmer attempted to up his game.

And there were some positive moves – we heard calls to extend the ban on evictions and repossessions, support for pay rises for key workers and he spoke out against cuts to universal credit. These are very much welcome. But as a set of demands, they do not go nearly far enough. They fail to address the structural inequalities laid bare throughout the last nine months and they fail to provide any solution to the current crisis.

Starmer also accused Boris Johnson of being “indecisive” and of acting “too slow” throughout the pandemic.

Accusing the PM of doing too little too late is quite something coming from the Labour leader who failed to support the closure of schools in January until just before the PM changed tack, and who demanded a national lockdown on the eve of its announcement.

Let us not forget that what we are witnessing today – the near-collapse of the NHS and a thousand people dying each day – is a consequence of infections transmitted before Christmas and mainly in schools; at exactly the time Starmer remained silent about imposing tighter restrictions as case numbers rose, and gave his full support to the reopening of schools.

Let us not forget that neither Starmer nor the Labour Party supported the teacher unions’ call to act. Nor did they support the advice of Sage or the scientists they now suggest should be listened to.

What is even more astonishing is that it has taken nine months of a pandemic for the penny to drop that indecisive leadership is a problem.

And although Starmer’s latest pronouncements supporting key workers and universal credit claimants are very welcome, it is important not to be fooled. For on the very same day he was wooing voters with actual opposition policies, he was whipping his peers in the House of Lords to support the government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) or ‘spy cops’ bill – one of the most draconian and authoritarian bills the Tories have put before the House.

This bill is a direct attack on the trade union movement, on protest groups and on equality before the law; it is a bill that Labour should be fighting with all guns blazing. The government is rushing it through parliament helped by the distraction of the pandemic and a compliant opposition.

The legislation gives a green-light to undercover agents from 13 different government agencies to break criminal law. This includes the police force, the armed forces, HMRC and even the Food Standards Agency. And there are no restrictions on the laws they can break – it truly is a licence to kill.

Amnesty International director Kate Allen described MPs approval of the bill as “signing off on a licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder.”

Dan Carden MP, the former Labour frontbencher who resigned over his opposition to CHIS, claimed The bill is written so badly and broadly that its effectively a license to criminally disrupt working people taking action to support themselves, their co-workers, their families.”

Labour supported the passage of the bill in the Commons, and yesterday, did so in the Lords.

Shami Chakrabarti, former Shadow Attorney General under Jeremy Corbyn, proposed amendments which would have ameliorated the worst aspects of the bill by removing immunity from prosecution. The amendment received support from the Lib Dems, but not from Chakrabarti’s own party.

And Labour MPs and peers were not content to simply vote against Chakrabarti’s amendments, they also used the opportunity to accuse her of deliberately trying to split the party by proposing the amendments in the first place. Her request that Labour opponents to her amendments “play the argument, and not the woman” fell on deaf ears. Her own side briefed against her and voted against her. The amendments fell.

So now, with the polls showing rapidly decreasing support for the government and for Johnson’s premiership, Labour has decided to be little more critical. But this is merely playing politics and following the polls. It is clear that Starmer’s Labour has few principles and displays no leadership. By refusing to hold the government to account, Labour is literally helping them get away with murder.

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