Veterans slam Labour’s ‘blatant fence sitting’ as Starmer sacks ministers daring to vote against war crimes bill

Soldiers on tour
Joe Glenton

Military veterans have condemned Labour’s mass abstention from a Commons vote on the Tory Overseas Operations Bill which critics say could decriminalise torture during military operations.

Their comments come after a fiery debate in Parliament on 23 September which saw three Labour MPs, including the popular socialist Nadia Whittome, sacked for rebelling against party leader Keir Starmer’s orders to abstain:

 

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey argued that the bill:

creates the risk that the very gravest crimes including torture and other war crimes go unpunished

Defence minister Ben Wallace shot back by saying it was Labour’s illegal wars which had created the situation in the first place.

Voices of veterans

Veterans, whose voices are usually absent from such discussions, have now told their side.

Former soldier Jimmy Young told The Canary that he was concerned about how far the new Labour leadership would go to win right-wing votes:

I understand that they’re trying to take back the language of patriotism for the right and claw back voters in that way, but to abstain on a bill that would essentially make actual war crimes easier to happen/harder to prosecute, it looks more like blatant fence sitting than it does ‘We’re the party that looks after squaddies, lads’.

He added:

Moral principles should never have to play second fiddle to aesthetical voter reach, and its a bit unnerving of the direction Labour might lurch to.

Implications for domestic law

A former paratrooper and Iraq veteran, who asked not to be named, said the bill had implications not just for overseas operations, but also for the domestic rule of law:

The whole thing undermines the country, making it look like a tinpot dictatorship to the rest of the world. As a soldier, I never thought we should be above the law. It undermines the Army and the standards and ethos it tries to drill into us.

It is quite honestly an insult to ordinary soldiers who pride themselves on professionalism. And even from a selfish British pov [point of view] precedents set abroad tend to come back to the UK in one way or another. Ireland is the perfect example of that when we look at things like policing.

He also warned that the bill was an attack on the rights of current and former military personnel to make claims against the military for negligence and injury:

The bit on soldiers and veterans themselves [being] unable to make legal claims is infuriating. Spent years listening to words like “betrayed” being used by soldiers, civvies and politicians to describe particularly those on the left. Blokes aren’t daft, army life is precarious. And we have little to no say. Expected to damage our bodies and then when we are no good, unlike the officer class, we’re just thrown to the side. This feels like another betrayal.

Labour abstains…mostly

On 24 September, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell took a swipe at the party leadership:

The bill passed by 331 votes to 77. Most Labour MPs abstained but 18, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and McDonnell, opposed the new legislation which will have a third reading at an, as yet, unspecified time.

Before that third reading, MPs on all sides of the house should listen to the voices of these veterans who feel ‘betrayed’ by this bill.

Image via Elite Forces UK

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  • Show Comments
    1. There are four people who could be the core of a new leadership. We have now reverted to Labour-type in which the Party is determined to remain right-of-centre. Blair insisted on the same with disastrous results in Scotland. What happened there? Salmond saw the chance to suck up Labour votes by occupying left-of-centre territory. Of course, in the rest of the UK there is no Party to the left of Labour with the pull of the SNP. Sooner or later there will be. The disappointment and dismay of Labour members and voters who supported and voted for Corbyn implies that a resolutely right-of-centre Party will commit suicide. After all, people can vote for the Tories or the Lib Dems if they want right-of-centre policies. There’s also a curious effect: when Labour seeks to occupy Tory territory, it becomes more Tory than the Tories. Currently, Labour is appealing to Family, Faith and Flag. That’s well to the right amongst Tory opinion and thoroughly reactionary. What is meant by family? Which faith? Does the flag include Scotland where support for independence is strong? What is pushed aside is discussion of the kind of society we live in. Exactly what the appeal to country, tradition, Britishness is supposed to do.

      1. Excellent and very well put argument.

        The day a leftist new party comes along cannot come quick enough for me. As things stand I have no party that represents me, no organisation looking out for me (EU?) and nobody arguing for the things I stand for like fairness, compassion and equality.

        For me the main problem with a new party is that the Labour Party has so much history within my family and the wider population as THE party of the working class (no more I know) and its hard to let that bit of proud history go. However conviction and principles are more important than loyalty to a sad shadow of what was OUR party, which is why 9 people in my family including me have left the party which leaves 1 more to go and that’s just a matter of time.

        I now believe in not voting ever again until I have someone to vote for, I’m not interested in making the tories loose power as what’s the point if you just get another version elected instead? So by voting I think we legitimise the con of people representation and what they do in our name.

        It’s a sad time for me and my family

    2. “Defence minister Ben Wallace shot back by saying it was Labour’s illegal wars which had created the situation in the first place.”
      Not entirely true, but he does have a point. Blair, co-instigator of this century’s greatest war crime so far, didn’t even receive an ASBO for his dangerously violent extremism.

    3. “Defence minister Ben Wallace shot back by saying it was Labour’s illegal wars which had created the situation in the first place.”

      Curious that the Uk State under the Tories then legalises torture and breaking International Law – rather than prosecuting for that “ILLEGAL WAR”!

      It’s almost as though the Tories supported the wars, and Tony and Kier are regarded as Tories…

    4. What do you expect from a pig but a grunt? I daresay Starmer is already picking out what kinky gear he is gpoing to wear to the next “country house orgy” (the ones the tories hold for their sycophants and running dogs, and for “anyone important enough to matter”- Diane Keen, as “Bianca”, in the film “Sweeney!”, 1976). At least John Major was only George Bush’s poodle, but Starmer is Boris’ poodle as well! He is a bigger “Lick lick slurp slurp cringe fawn” merchant than Alistair Burnet!

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