Comment Writer Samir Sehgal considers the so-called ‘Spycops’ bill, arguing its implementation is both dangerous and indicates a further cultural shift to the right
On 15 October, with a majority of 215, the House of Commons passed the second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, meaning the bill will now be debated and passed through the, largely toothless, House of Lords. This seemingly obscure bill is evidence of the more serious implications of the governments ‘culture war’ on liberalism and our institutions.
It is now commonplace in the UK for Ministers of the Crown to comment on a perceived ‘Cultural Marxist’ bias in institutions such as the BBC. What is Cultural Marxism you may ask? Plainly, it’s an anti-Semitic dog whistle derived from ‘kultureller Bolschewismus,’ a century old conspiracy theory peddled by the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s in order to delegitimise progressive culture, with the modern incarnation stemming from the work of infamous psychologist Jordan Peterson. Effectively, the theory runs that powerful, left-wing and normally Jewish figures are perverting society by promoting liberal values in our culture. Just as strange, Ministers have taken to condemning ‘Critical Race Theory’, which is plainly the notion of white privilege, a largely agreed upon concept. With this in mind, we can infer that the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, more commonly known as the ‘Spycops’ bill, signals that steps are being taken in order to shift the culture of our society to the right. We are beyond rhetoric.
Early evidence of such policy shifts came when the Department of Education guidance in September was released, which strictly forbade schools from teaching ‘anti-capitalist’ materials, classifying said materials as ‘extremist.’ This had the effect of hoying books such as 1984 and plays such as An Inspector Calls into the same category as Mein Kampf and The Bell Curve. While sinister, this is but the natural next step in the broader movement on the right to stifle academia. Look no further than Turning Point UK, the UK version of ‘an organisation seen as Trump’s youth wing’, who have created a registrar of left-wing lecturers to whom they are attempting to subject a form of McCarthyism. A major point of concern with the ‘Spycops’ bill is that it solidifies the leap from dog whistling to the array of English nationalists who handed the Tories an 80 seat majority in 2019, to material and lasting changes to government policy.
Unwrapping the contents of this bill is honestly gut-wrenching, from making it much harder to prosecute British soldiers for war crimes committed on foreign soil, including torture, to immunising the Ministry of Defence from legal action from veterans and ex-personnel, for example, in cases of undelivered veteran’s benefits. Moreover, this bill would allow for state agencies such as MI6 and MI5 to license officers of the state, such as undercover police officers or spies, to break the law. This means, as a result, bolstering these agencies’ abilities to overthrow foreign governments or influence elections and giving agents protection from prosecution if crimes against humanity are committed.
Note the inclusion of MI5. This bill would give the state the power to break the law they are themselves tasked to enforce at home. Such activities include the infiltration of trade unions as well as effectively legalising abuses, including rape and murder, committed by undercover police officers. A point of note is that had the ‘Spycops’ bill been enforced a decade earlier, it would have been legal for police officers to infiltrate Stephen Lawrence’s family to dig dirt, in order to intentionally botch the investigation into the murder of Lawrence. In the year of Black Lives Matter, this is an utter disgrace.
The other side of this story is hidden in the breakdown of how MPs voted on the third reading of the bill, which was eventually passed in the Commons, revealing that the Labour party was whipped to abstain. Only 34 MPs broke the whip, 27 of whom are members of the Socialist Campaign Group, which includes Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. This led to much outrage from trade unions, socialist societies and left-wing commentators such as Aaron Bastani and Paul Mason. One year ago, it would not have been a question of whether the Labour party would have stood up for human rights abroad and at home. However, in my opinion, the bland and utterly milquetoast Keir Starmer is not keen on principles, or opposition for that matter. It does not appear to bother him that the bill would lead to significant persecution of trade unionists abroad and potentially at home, the very class of people who founded the Labour party, nor does his past as a human rights lawyer seem to factor into his decision making process. Labour’s approach of neutrality towards the government, in what looks like the hope of securing the ‘racist northerner’ vote, will only isolate those who make up the party, which is its core base of ethnic minority voters and urban tenants. Ironic for the leadership candidate who pitched himself as the man who would rid Labour of racism and would restore ‘Labour values.’ If this is what constitutes Labour values, then I am not comfortable identifying with the Labour party. Something I honestly never thought I would say.
For those of you reading this who are shocked that in 2020 such a bill can be law in a matter of months, I plead with you to join a trade union, if you have not already, to organise and educate your mates and, lastly, if you have a direct debit with the Labour party, to cancel it following the NEC elections. That money would be better redirected towards grassroots campaigns for human rights and social justice, which the Labour party does not seem to believe in anymore. Exit Corbyn stage left, enter Blair stage right.
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