The right-wing media are, predictably, making much of supposed Labour division over the government’s EU withdrawal bill last night, as a number of MPs broke the whip to support the bill, which Keir Starmer and others have rightly identified as dangerously facilitating a power-grab by an unscrupulous government – which of course the current one is.
Left-wing Labour members have been particularly troubled by the decision of veteran Dennis Skinner, joined by long-serving socialist Ronnie Campbell, to cast his vote in favour.
This consternation is understandable, but so are those votes – both men have a long history of opposition to the EU and would be likely to vote on principle for anything against it. Even the likes of the right-wing and disliked Frank Field can be respected for consistency, having campaigned to leave the EU.
However, the MPs who seem abstained last night are a different matter – and the list includes some of the most entrenched and unlikeable ‘Usual Suspects’.
Six Labour MPs abstained last night, apparently not considering the damaging ‘Henry VIII clause’, which allows the government unilateral power to change laws, important enough to vote against – but without the courage of conviction to vote for it:
Or simply wishing, in spite – or because – of Labour’s polling lead, to undermine Corbyn without being willing to actually take a stand.
Seen from a commonsense perspective the stand-out story of last night was, in fact, Labour’s unity, with only a handful of MPs voting for the bill and a craven half-dozen abstaining. That the vast majority of previous rebels got in line shows Corbyn’s strength drawn from the massive support of the membership and the ‘Corbyn surge’ at the ballot box.
Those who voted for the bill last night have a number of mitigating circumstances, including long-held principles and – especially – the fact that last night was an unwinnable vote: no Tories were going to rebel against the government at this stage, when they still hope to achieve amendments. Even the deeply pro-EU Conservative Ken Clarke could only bring himself to abstain on the main vote.
Those Labour MPs who abstained showed only a willingness or even eagerness to provide the Tories with a propaganda victory without even the mitigation of deeply-held principle.
But the vast majority of MPs, including previously implacable opponents, got in line behind Jeremy Corbyn even in an unwinnable vote – however much the mainstream media tries to divert our attention away from it.
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