On 14 March, the Labour Party whipped MPs to abstain on the Investigatory Powers Bill, the “Snooper’s Charter”, that would give the government unprecedented powers to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens without warrant, regardless or not if they are accused of committing any crimes.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will require all internet service providers (ISPs) to store the browsing data of their clients for up to a year, will ban any service using end-to-end encryption, including SnapChat, WhatsApp and iMessage (much as many of us would remained dry eyed if SnapChat closes, it shouldn’t be at the expense of civil liberties) and forces ISPs to aid the secret service in hacking and bugging clients computers. Abstaining on this bill, rather than vehement opposition, is a catastrophic miscalculation on the part of the Labour Party that will serve to undermine their role in opposing the attacks on ordinary people by the Cameron administration.
Firstly, this decision compromises the integrity of the labour movement. What is a labour movement if not protecting ordinary citizens from repressive state apparatus? Our lives are reflected online, our views, our hobbies, our activism, all for the government to view without warrant. Secondly, this decision expresses the flaws of forcing consensus politics. In striving to appease a “middle ground” (which in this case simply did not exist, the vast majority of Labour members and MPs are opposed to this bill), debate and diversity in the party has been sacrificed in favour of an unwelcome uniform. Thirdly, this decision reinforces the whip system, arguably the greatest affront to accountability within parliamentary parties. MPs should exist to serve their constituency, and be held accountable accordingly.. An unaccountable higher body effectively forcing MPs to make decisions completely against the interests of their constituency lest they compromise future platforms to effectively influence state policy is a mockery of representative democracy. Finally, this sets a dangerous precedent for civil liberties within the present political status quo. The decision to abstain effectively tells the government the Labour Party are either not interested in defending, or too cowardly to defend, civil liberties.
Though this decision may have originated from Andy Burnham, not the main players of the Corbyn administration, but I struggle to have faith in a leadership that cannot challenge the reckless decisions of a single shadow minister, or are ideologically not concerned with such an ostentatious attack on civil liberties.