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Graffiti in Easton. Photo: Kirsty Hall / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license and original photo linked at bottom of article

Graffiti in Easton. Photo: Kirsty Hall / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license and original photo linked at bottom of article

Starmer's tacit support for government legislation that will allow undercover police to commit crimes is a dangerous new low, argues Lucy Nichols

34 Labour MPs broke the Labour whip on Thursday to vote against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (CHIS), known as the Spy Cops Bill, that would allow government agencies such as the police to break the law with impunity. Seven MPs, including the Liverpool MP Dan Carden, quit the shadow front bench. Carden described the bill as paving the way for ‘serious abuses of state power.’

Jeremy Corbyn made an impassioned case for opposing the new legislation that would be a wholesale assault on civil liberties.

Various other MPs, including self-proclaimed socialists Sam Tarry , Cat Smith and Charlotte Nichols, decided to abstain and stay on the shadow cabinet based on the somewhat naïve pretence that they’ll be able to use their positions to push for serious change (within the most right-wing Labour party under the most right-wing government we’ve seen in years).

This collective decision was also described as a means ‘to push forward union issues, and have more high-profile campaigning using opposition time.’

In reality, the Labour whip’s forced abstention on this bill – which would indeed set a dangerous precedent in terms of human rights abuses – is the latest disappointment from a consistently disappointing Labour Party.

The British state already has a fairly murky history when it comes to clandestine military and police operations.

Whether this means infiltrating left wing groups such as the SWP (and seducing women in order to spy on them), or the army’s horrific record in the Middle East – Britain isn’t exactly a bastion of honest policing or just war. 

Nor does it shy away from targeting left wing organisations – or any group it deems ‘extremist’. It was only this year that the police released a list of campaign organisations it deemed to be threats.

This list included the famously dangerous Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War Coalition and even the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Anti-war, anti-fascist and environmental groups where featured alongside neo-Nazi organisations and fascist groups like the New British Union.

In addition to this being frankly insulting to socialist, anti-fascist and environmental organisations with nothing in common with groups such as the National Front; it proved the British establishment’s contempt for the left.

The new legislation will likely make it even easier to infiltrate left wing campaigns, for the military to commit war crimes, and for Britain to push for an imperialist agenda abroad.

Keir Starmer’s abstention from the bill – which let the Tories pass it without difficulty – is intensely infuriating. Starmer’s lack of opposition to the Conservatives essentially equates to support of them; another example of the rightward direction he is taking the Labour Party in. The fact that even ‘socialist’ MPs joined in with the abstention is frankly unforgivable and shows the danger of the parliamentary logic that sees principles as something that can be traded away.

It is therefore time to build a movement independent of Parliamentary politics, one that be relied upon to represent the interests of working people, rather than fold to the Conservatives at every given opportunity.

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