Dan Carden, one of the most promising MPs from Labour’s left, has resigned from the front bench over the party’s position on the “spy cops” bill. The MP for Liverpool Walton has stood down as shadow financial secretary to the Treasury in order to vote against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, also known as the CHIS bill or MI5 bill, which makes provision for the police or intelligence officers to break the law during the course of undercover missions.
Labour has whipped its MPs to abstain on the bill, arguing that, although it is far from flawless, these provisions need to be put on the statute books in order to allow undercover sources to continue their work. In the Labour leadership’s view, while the party may not like many aspects of this bill, it is untenable to vote in a way that could undermine national security.
[see also: Starmer’s wager]
This hasn’t satisfied many of the MPs with concerns over the bill, which Amnesty International has warned does not prohibit undercover agents from conducting torture or murder. (A row continues over whether the provision against breaking international human rights law in the bill would be enforceable – the Labour leadership and the government argue it would be.) The front bench has sought to amend the bill to put in place stronger safeguards and to strengthen rights for victims, as well as excluding legitimate trade union activity from the remit of undercover surveillance. The government has rejected these demands, however, and without them, Carden has concluded that he must resign to vote against the bill “as a matter of conscience”.
His departure is an obvious disappointment both to Keir Starmer and the shadow Treasury team: a dynamic outfit that, before the departure of Carden, consisted of talented figures from across Labour’s political spectrum – a physical embodiment of the unified economic message that Starmer hopes to project.
It continues the gradual exodus of Socialist Campaign Group MPs to the back benches over votes that Labour, ultimately, lacks the power to determine. (Since June, Carden, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Olivia Blake, Nadia Whittome and Beth Winter have all departed.) The leadership is determined to avoid giving the Conservatives a chance to paint Labour as unpatriotic or unconstructive, and wants to abandon the approach to national security associated with Jeremy Corbyn. But it has meant the gradual departure of left-wing voices on the front bench, and wider unease within the party over its stance on security issues.
Despite the loss of a talent such as Carden, the leadership may be relatively relaxed about the exodus of the left. The unease in the wider party, however, might be a cause of some concern.