The Investigatory Powers Bill, colloquially the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, passed its second reading yesterday with an astonishing margin of 281-15. This was facilitated by Labour and the SNP kindly stepping out of the way and allowing the Conservatives to vote it through without a fuss, which can only raise the question – what on earth is Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition up to?
Since the election, Labour has been kidding itself, contradicting itself, and letting the Tories get away with pretty much whatever they propose. These are not the actions of an opposition, much less one that’s supposedly committed to left-wing politics and socialism in the United Kingdom. You’d think that, as someone who was under surveillance by MI5 during the Cold War, Corbyn would have a thing or two to say about the state giving itself the power to spy without cause on its own citizens. But alas, there was no whip – the party stood out, wringing its hands, while the Conservatives pushed through surveillance legislation among the most draconian in the world. This is absolutely nothing new, though. Remember when Osborne’s proposed tax credit cuts were struck down by the Lords? That wouldn’t have been necessary had there not been 184 abstentions from the Labour benches when it was debated in the Commons.
It is grossly unfair to pin the whole shambles on Corbyn itself, when it is the party as a whole that is crippled by infighting. But the fact that he’s got the leadership skills of General Custer certainly isn’t helping. One of the main problems is the Parliamentary Labour Party itself. It’s chock full of MPs with no real connection to their communities, and of no real political persuasions, who don’t really belong in the Labour Party, but who found themselves parachuted into a rotten borough and are now stuck. They’re far more interested in whispering sweet nothings about coups than they are actually stepping up to the pretty important task of scrutinising the country’s executive. Perhaps if they stopped sharpening their knives and looking at Corbyn, and instead focused on working with him, they’d have more success, but I won’t hold my breath.
Meanwhile it’s not the MPs who suffer, it’s the electorate. We’re left with a government that we overwhelmingly did not vote for, and we have no credible opposition to hold them to account on anything. It may make for good headlines when a rank outsider goes from underdog to populist hero, but in the real world, where your rights to expression, to religious freedom, and to privacy, are slowly being eroded, it doesn’t mean much. Every opposition member that abstains increases the government’s effective majority by 1. In that case, the Parliamentary Labour Party are the most effective Tory activists in the country.
The Liberal Democrats were derided for five years as propping up the Tories, as facilitating their policies, and as being traitors. Yet they’re been destroyed and reduced to a rump party, and as soon as they were out of government, we saw a raft of measures proposed that the Liberal Democrats had previously prevented the implementation of. As soon as the job fell to Labour to actually oppose these measures, to fight against them in Parliament, and to deliver effective scrutiny of the executive, we’ve been met with nothing but begrudging acquiescence, offset by posturing. Hours before the vote, we had a thinkpiece by Keir Starmer, who seems to think that offering his thoughts to the Guardian is more important than bothering to campaign or vote against the bill in Parliament. How stupid he must think we are, and how contemptible his view of the public must be.
Corbynistas may talk of kinder politics, and Momentum may talk about openness and democracy (just ignore the bullying and manipulation of Labour Students delegates, please), but it is clear that these are just empty words and baseless platitudes. The Labour Party has neither the desire nor the inclination to work for the good of the British public, and their unwillingness to even bother to turn up to yesterday’s vote could not have made that clearer.