Clive Lewis For Norwich South
A week or so ago I made clear my concerns, in a post on this page, about the Labour Party’s whipped position to abstain on the 2nd reading of government’s Covert Human Intelligence Bill (CHIS) aka the ‘spycops’ bill. In it I explained how I would abide by the whip and abstain at 2nd reading in the hope our frontbench would, failing suitable amendments, whip to vote against this bill. Whipped party politics are often an opaque and at times obscure and confusing state of affairs. To cut a long story short there are times at 2nd readings where by obeying the whip on a difficult issue, you maintain the ability to lobby your own party to move towards you on an issue. If you’ve already rebelled at the 2nd reading there is a calculation from the frontbench that you have made your choice and therefore your bargaining position is lessened. With that calculation in mind I voted with the whip despite my deep reservations. Since then others and I in a similar position have applied pressure to move the party’s position to one of whipped opposition. Alas that has not happened and many of us now find ourselves with no alternative but to break the whip (to abstain) and vote down this bill. A little now about why this bill is so dangerous and why it should be opposed. Much has been written on the flaws and dangers of this bill: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/14/spycops-bill-undermines-rule-of-law-green-light-serious-crimes-undercover-officers However, I wanted to note two key issues that for me make this vote a deal breaker. The first is a fundamental principle. Whatever the alleged checks and balances in this bill, at its heart it breaks a fundamental element of natural British justice. That is that without a written constitution, without a Bill of Rights, we accept that ‘everyone is equal before the law’. It sounds silly to have to state this, and yet this is a principle that has been hard won by the people of this country over many centuries. And yet this bill undermines that principle. It basically allows a wide range of public and arms lengths bodies to award in effect ‘a license to kill’ – putting them out of the reach of the law we all are accountable to. The second issue is strategic. It it is increasingly clear that across the globe there is an attack taking place by the authoritarian hard-right (of which this govt is a part of) on both the rule of law and established liberal values. This erosion, whether on human rights (the Overseas Operation Bill), the undermining of established democratic principles or the dehumanising of migrants for example, is part of a disturbing, concerted attack on values that were once taken as established. Unless progressives of all political hues acknowledge this second point, we will continue to make short-sighted, tactical decisions which fail to acknowledge the bigger, strategic picture that is unfolding all around us. The fact some are still either refusing to see this, or worse still have calculated it is too politically difficult to face down, should incentivise all who seek a better, fairer world, to win the argument and get them on side.