This morning, Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden has resigned as Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury and from Labour’s frontbench over the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill.
The CHIS Bill – otherwise known as the Spy Cops Bill – would grant wide-ranging legal rights to undercover agents to commit crimes in the course of their work, up to and including murder, torture or sexual violence, subject to these actions being part of operations which “prevent disorder” or maintain “economic well-being.”
The broad immunity offered by the legislation has prompted considerable civil society opposition, with a letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer on Tuesday receiving the support of fourteen trade unions, human rights organisations and victims’ justice campaigns in addition to twenty Labour MPs.
In his resignation statement, Dan Carden casts his own opposition in the same light. “As a Liverpool MP and trade unionist,” he says, “I share the deep concerns about this legislation from across the labour movement, human rights organisations, and so many who have suffered the abuse of state power, from blacklisted workers to the Hillsborough families and survivors.”
Labour movement opinion is likely to be particularly significant for Carden, the son of a leader in the 1995 Liverpool dockers’ strike and long-time member of Unite the union. The ongoing Spy Cops inquiry has revealed that undercover police infiltrated six national trade unions in the course of their operations since the 1960s, going so far as to pass information about trade union activists to blacklisting companies.
As Tribune reported earlier this month, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill has been the Blacklist Support Group, who were themselves surveilled by undercover police as they sought to publicise the state’s involvement in the illegal blacklisting of workers. But the infiltration by spy cops of victims’ justice campaigns – from Stephen Lawrence to Jean Charles de Menezes – is also a sensitive topic for a Merseyside MP, given the effective impunity such activities would enjoy in future under this legislation.
It has long been suspected that the justice campaign for Hillsborough victims was also subject to police surveillance. In recent years, twenty-four relatives of those killed and injured in 1989 have brought forward allegations that they were spied on by police – although they remain allegations at this point. Anfield, where the annual memorials for the victims and their families take place, is situated in Carden’s constituency of Liverpool Walton.
The CHIS Bill has proven controversial with MPs beyond the party’s Left. On Monday, a meeting of 180 MPs saw considerable opposition to Keir Starmer’s insistence that Labour should not oppose the bill even if its amendments were unsuccessful. Yesterday, LabourList reported that Starmer was meeting personally with MPs to dissuade them from breaking the party whip.
Carden’s resignation marks the highest profile left-wing departure from Labour’s top team since Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking as Shadow Secretary of State for Education in June and follows those of Olivia Blake, Nadia Whittome and Beth Winter as PPS over the Overseas Operations Bill. But in many ways Carden stands out from previous left-wing departures – for months, he has been seen as one of the most conciliatory figures among Left MPs towards the Starmer leadership.
In July, when many on the party Left criticised the leadership after The Times reported that Labour intended to backtrack on its commitment to a wealth tax, Carden mounted a public defence of Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds. “This is false,” he tweeted in response to the story, before maintaining that the party continued to explore options to ensure that “the cost of the crisis [was] borne by those with the broadest shoulders.”
In his letter, Carden emphasises his “full support” for Starmer’s leadership of the party but says that despite the leader’s “sincerity” on the issue, it remains a “matter of conscience”:
“I am resolute that as a matter of conscience I must use my voice and my vote on behalf of my constituents to object to legislation that sets dangerous new precedents on the rule of law and civil liberties in this country.”
You can read Dan Carden MP’s resignation statement in full below:
Tonight I intend to vote against the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, thereby breaking the party whip to abstain. In these circumstances, I am offering my resignation from your front bench.
I am hugely grateful to you for appointing me to serve as Shadow Financial Secretary back in April and for your personal encouragement and engagement throughout.
On this occasion I am resolute that as a matter of conscience I must use my voice and my vote on behalf of my constituents to object to legislation that sets dangerous new precedents on the rule of law and civil liberties in this country.
At the Second Reading, I followed the party whip to abstain in the hope that I could work constructively to shift the party’s position towards opposing the bill at Third Reading. It is now clear that this has not been possible. We have spoken at length on these matters and I know you have settled on yours and the party’s position from your own experience and with sincerity.
You will understand that as a Liverpool MP and trade unionist, I share the deep concerns about this legislation from across the labour movement, human rights organisations, and so many who have suffered the abuse of state power, from blacklisted workers to the Hillsborough families and survivors.
Looking ahead, let me make clear that you have my full support for your leadership of the party, broadening our base of support throughout the country and securing a Labour government when that opportunity comes between now and 2024.
My focus now and in the months ahead will remain on representing by Liverpool Walton constituency and fighting for the people of my city as we face the huge challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
MP for Liverpool Walton