If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
– Desmond Tutu, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes
This is who New Labour are now.
Their history of abstention is long and shameful, but let’s look at this parliamentary term. Thus far, New Labour have abstained on the following:
- Queen’s Speech — Spending Cuts, Welfare Changes and Trident (calling for the government to halt austerity, reconsider changes to the welfare state, and cancel Trident renewal)
- European Union Referendum Bill — Decline Second Reading (to decline the EU referendum bill on the grounds that the franchise fails standards of inclusivity and democratic participation)
- Scotland Bill — Clause 11 — Full Control Over Taxation, Borrowing and Public Spending for Scottish Parliament (giving the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation, borrowing and public spending in Scotland)
- Scotland Bill — New Clause 3 — Powers of the Scottish Parliament (giving the Scottish Parliament powers over all areas except the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence, treason and pension changes which would affect the UK’s liabilities. )
- Scotland Bill — New Clause 10 — Require UK Parliament to Have Consent of Scottish Parliament Before Legislating on Devolved Matters (requiring the UK Parliament to have the consent of the Scottish Parliament before legislating on devolved matters)
- European Union Referendum Bill — Schedule 1 — Publication of Campaign Material by Government and Public Bodies (allowing central and local government to publish campaigning material in the run-up to the referendum on if the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union which would come under purdah arrangements)
- European Union Referendum Bill — New Clause 3 — Publication of Campaign Material by Government and Public Bodies (as above, including public bodies)
- Scotland Bill — New Clause 54 — Devolution of Power Over Income Tax in Scotland (exactly what it says on the tin)
- Summer Budget 2015 Resolution 2 — Future Taxation: Rates of Income Tax (allowing the Finance Bill to cap income tax rates for future years)
- Summer Budget 2015 Resolution 21 — Application of Climate Change Levy to Electricity from Renewable Sources (a tax on energy delivered to non-domestic users, to electricity generated from renewable sources)
- Summer Budget 2015 Resolution 23 — Finance Bill Provisions Taking Effect in a Future Year (allowing the Finance Bill to include provisions taking effect in future years.)
- Welfare Reform and Work Bill — Second Reading (reducing the benefits cap from £26k to £20k, a 4 year freeze on benefits excluding disabilities and elderly, universal credit limited to 2 children, replacing mortgage aid payments with a loan)
- Bill Presented — Constitutional Convention (No. 2) Bill — Finance Bill (To decline a second reading of George Osborne’s Finance Bill)
- Bill Presented — Constitutional Convention (No. 2) Bill — Finance Bill (George Osborne’s Finance Bill)
(By the way, those last three were also the last three votes in Westminster before recess. They had three final chances to vote on something, anything – and they abstained.)
New Labour constantly talked about delivering Home Rule, Near-Federalism, and Devo-Max to the people of Scotland, and had the opportunity to vote for a bill that proposed it in all but name – yet they abstained. The Climate Change Levy is an attack on renewable energy sources which already have much opposition from Conservatives with vested interest in fossil fuels, making New Labour their natural opposition – yet they abstained. The Welfare Bill is nothing short of devastating to tens of thousands of families, and New Labour proclaim themselves the party of the common people – yet they abstained.
But remember: New Labour are not traitors. Historically speaking, treason was more specific than “to act against one’s own sovereign or nation”: it was an attack against your social superiors. This could mean a wife against her husband, a servant against their lord, or a subject against their king. The only way New Labour could be traitors to the common people is if they still represented them. It’s pretty clear from their abstentions and decisions that they have long preferred the company of the rich and powerful.
There are exceptions, most notably the “rebellion” in the Welfare Bill.
Diane Abbott. Debbie Abrahams. David Anderson. Richard Burgon. Dawn Butler. Ann Clwyd. Jeremy Corbyn. Geraint Davies. Peter Dowd. Paul Flynn. Mary Glindon. Roger Godsiff. Helen Goodman. Margaret Greenwood. Louise Haigh. Carolyn Harris. Sue Hayman. Kelvin Hopkins. Imran Hussain. Gerald Jones. Helen Jones. Sir Gerald Kaufman. Sadiq Khan. David Lammy. Ian Lavery. Clive Lewis. Rebecca Long Bailey. Andy McDonald. John McDonnell. Liz McInnes. Rob Marris. Rachael Maskell. Michael Meacher. Ian Mearns. Madeleine Moon. Grahame Morris. Kate Osamor. Teresa Pearce. Marie Rimmer. Paula Sherriff. Tulip Siddiq. Dennis Skinner. Cat Smith. Jo Stevens. Graham Stringer. David Winnick. Iain Wright. Daniel Zeichner.
If this party was truly as it says it was, a party offering succour an representation to the multitudes and the disadvantaged, these 48 New Labour MPs would not be “rebelling” at all, but loyal to their cause. As it stands, the New Labour party considers you rebels. In acting for the poor, the disabled, the many, you are defying your party’s leaders. In their eyes, you are disloyal. You are rebels. You are, in a word, traitors.
The Reverend suggested that the left and right wings of New Labour need to split as a matter of self-preservation. I certainly fail to see how electing another Blairite and shifting further to the right could possibly improve their chances. For my part, I would suggest that those 48 MPs just get out while they still can. Join the Greens, go independent, form a new party, anything. Being a bit more left-wing than the rest of the party didn’t save Anne Begg, Michael Connarty, Mark Lazarowicz, Fiona O’Donnell, Sandra Osborne, Katy Clarke, or Ian Davidson in Scotland: sooner or later, it will become a choice between your left-wing credentials, and your membership of a party which has capitulated everything to the neoliberal consensus.
Unless something truly monumental changes, the UK’s getting another Tory government in five year’s time. New Labour can either waste their time repeating the mistakes of the past, or they can take the Long Walk into the Cursed Earth, and rediscover who they are.