LABOUR’S decision to abstain on the Overseas Operation Bill on Wednesday was strange enough.
Keir Starmer pledged in February that his leadership would put human rights at the centre of the party’s foreign policy.
But his MPs were whipped to abstain on the Bill, despite shadow defence secretary John Healey arguing it risked breaching the Geneva conventions that outlaw torture and war crimes.
In the end, a hardy band of 18 Labour MPs – all from the suppressed left-wing of the party – voted against, including three frontbenchers. They were joined by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.
“I thought the bill was a matter of conscience,” Whittome told ITV’s Robert Peston, before learning she was sacked – on air.
Another who voted against – Bell Ribeiro-Addy – wrote in LabourList that “this bill effectively decriminalises torture, violates essential rule of law principles such as judicial and prosecutorial independence, and defies international human rights law.”
How apt, then, that a former human rights lawyer decides not to take a stand.
The Labour leader this week pushed the party’s new ethos of focusing on patriotism, national security and family values. Perhaps this was his first chance to show it.
But in abstaining, he showed the fallacy of Labour’s new philosophy. You can’t out-flank the Tories on the army – or any form of social conservatism.
Rather than placing Labour as the sensible, centrist party that New Labour held for over a decade, all Starmer acheived was, once again, to invoke the wrath of the left.
By taking an approach that fails morally, politically and causes the sacking of one of the party’s rising stars, Starmer is well on his way to guiding Labour into no-man’s land.
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