Socialist Worker

Labour activists furious after MPs’ vote on Yemen

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2528

An airstrike in Sanaa in Yemen

An airstrike in Sana'a in Yemen (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)


Labour Party members and activists were outraged last week as more than 100 Labour MPs refused to vote for their party’s motion on the war in Yemen.

The motion called on the government to suspend support for Saudi Arabia in the war.

Saudi airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians since it launched its intervention in the war in March last year.

But a total of 102 Labour MPs abstained or failed to turn up to vote on Labour’s motion. The motion fell by 193 votes to 283—suggesting that if at least 91 more Labour MPs had voted they could have beaten the Tories.

Labour activist Stephen Barnes asked, “If I do a Labour doorstep, how to I explain the PLP’s policy on bombing children in Yemen?”

Swansea Labour councillor Nick Davies said, “Labour rebels either back Tories’ support for Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war, or they just pretend to just weaken Corbyn. Contemptible shower.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed the motion along with shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and four other Labour MPs.

Thornberry pointed out that the United Nations had found that 2,067 civilians had been killed in Yemen by the start of July this year. Of these, 60 percent by Saudi airstrikes.

But several Labour MPs interrupted her to object to suspending support for Saudi Arabia.

Focused

John Woodcock led the attack. He suggested that Britain’s support for Saudi Arabia would “create fewer civilian casualties” because it was “focused on training Saudis to be better able to be in compliance with international humanitarian law”.

He earlier accused Labour’s leadership of “dangerous anti-West posturing”.

Labour’s motion did not call for Britain to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia—despite the fact that British-made cluster bombs have been found in Yemen.

Corbyn had previously said Labour would oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia “when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committed”.

There were suggestions that leaders of the Unite and GMB unions, which organise workers in the defence industry, were against demanding an end to arms sales.

The vote followed reports last month that backbench Labour MPs were organising their own “shadow shadow cabinet” to directly undermine Corbyn’s leadership.

There was speculation that last week’s vote was the first example of that operation in action.

It showed most Labour MPs would rather support British-backed wars in defence of “British interests” than support their own anti-war leader.


Row over Momentum conference stitch-up

Labour left group Momentum is engulfed by infighting.

Momentum is set to hold its first conference in February next year, focusing on establishing permanent democratic structures.

Its 50-strong national committee was set to meet this Saturday to decide how the conference will run.

But an “emergency” meeting of Momentum’s steering committee voted to cancel the meeting.

The meeting of just ten people then decided how the conference would run.

Momentum director Jon Lansman pushed through a proposal to broadcast the conference on the internet, allowing members to vote online.

Proposal

It was in opposition to a proposal by FBU union leader Matt Wrack, who is also on the steering committee.

He and other left activists say local Momentum groups should elect delegates to vote on motions at the conference.

Wrack said Lansman’s manoeuvres were “quite staggering” and “insulting” to Momentum’s members and affiliated unions.

He added that Lansman had “no trust or confidence” in local groups.

Momentum says it has 20,000 members and 200,000 supporters. It has organised rallies that show the potential to mobilise Corbyn supporters.

But Lansman’s proposal relies on the relative passivity of its membership


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