Keir Starmer’s approach on security comes with a big risk attached

Keir Starmer looks shifty.

The Labour leader’s argument is that the problems with the government’s new intelligence and security bills are remedied by the Human Rights Act – but the Conservatives are planning to dismantle the Act, too.

On the whole, political journalism is more likely to cover rows than policy, so as far as the low politics of the Labour leadership’s decision to abstain on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill are concerned, that multiple frontbenchers have quit in order to vote against the decision, joining 35 Labour MPs in defying Keir Starmer, is a good day in the office.

There will be more written about the fact of the rebellions – chief among them and most disappointing for the Labour leadership that of Dan Carden from the Shadow Treasury team – than the content of the Bill, and with it, Starmer’s preferred message: that Labour is taking a tougher and more authoritarian line on security and related issues than it did under Jeremy Corbyn. That the rebels are – with the exceptions of Geraint Davies, the Swansea MP, and Sarah Owen, the MP for Luton North – either have unimpeachable Corbynite credentials, like Bell Ribeiro-Addy or Clive Lewis, or came to be heavily identified with Corbyn over the course of his leadership, like Ian Lavery or Barry Gardiner, will further fuel another of the leadership’s preferred narratives, that the party is moving away from its Corbynite past.  But politics is about more than just positioning and the search for electoral advantage, and the contents of the Bill are the most important part.

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There are two ways to read the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill from a liberal perspective: the first is that it legally regulates the lawbreaking activities of covert operatives for the first time – behaviours such as the Spycops scandal – which is a welcome move. Important work of the security services now has a legal underpinning within the framework of humans rights law: so the Bill, while imperfect, is a forward step that it would be wrong for Labour to impede. This is the official position of the Labour leadership, and Conor McGinn, the shadow security minister, sets that out in greater detail over at LabourList.  The second interpretation of the Bill is that it greatly expands the scope and freedom of the security and intelligence services to break the law, which is a retrograde step.

The problem with the first interpretation is it rests upon the continuing presence of the 1998 Human Rights Act on the statute book, and is highly unlikely, to be frank, that the Human Rights Act will survive the 2019 parliament. It has long been the aim of the Conservative party to repeal and replace the 1998 Act, and now they have a majority big enough to escape the objections and opposition of the liberals on their own benches they will almost certainly do so sooner rather than later.

Labour’s position is strategically vulnerable because it’s incoherent in policy terms: the party’s position is essentially, …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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