“This is one of those issues that one has to follow one’s conscience. That’s why I will vote against.”John McDonnell MP
John McDonnell MP writes:
I have been involved in successive boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaigns for decades.
In the 1980s I remember one Christmas morning singing carols as part of the City of London Anti Apartheid Groups 24 hour permanent picket of the South African Embassy that went on for years, calling for sanctions to be used to secure Nelson Mandela’s freedom.
I was one of the organisers of the demonstrations opposing the royal visit of the Saudi leaders, over a decade ago where we called for no public contracts to be awarded to companies operating in Saudi Arabia at a time when they were beheading people for being gay. Later the ban focussed on UK military support for the Saudi attacks on Yemen.
The list of the BDS campaigns I have supported over the years just goes on;
Against the Bahraini regime for the ongoing brutal suppression of the country’s democratic movement and continuing imprisonment of opposition political leaders.
Against the Sri Lankan administration for its genocidal attack on the Tamils and the continuing abuse of human rights, the torture, the disappearances and colonisation of Tamil homelands.
Sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar to halt the attacks on the Rohingyas and to demand the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Supporting the boycott of goods coming from the Palestinian territories occupied illegally by Israel, when a large crowd of young people in my constituency protesting at the killings of Palestinian young people in Gaza visited local shops in Hayes town centre to ask them not to sell these goods.
There has been some reference to BDS campaigns being associated with antisemitism.
But that is not what I have witnessed in my constituency .
If there is any evidence of this, then we already have the laws to deal with it and I believe the full force the law against racist behaviour should be deployed.
More recently I have called for sanctions against the Chinese government for the barbaric treatment of the Uyghurs but also for the imprisonment of my Unite trade unions friends in Hong Kong simply for demanding adherence to the democracy they were promised.
And of course, as a founder of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign I have supported the sanctions against Russia because of the invasion and war crimes.
The focus of all these campaigns has been to press for action from government but also from local councils, pension funds, private companies and investors.
One of the pension funds that has been targeted is the Local Government Pension Fund of which I am a member.
The funds it invests are my money.
They are my stored wages. It should be for me and my fellow pension fund members to determine the investment policies of the fund not government dictat.
All my political life I have been involved in non violent boycott campaigns against regimes abusing human rights.
I have argued for and lobbied councils, pension funds and other public bodies to use their influence to uphold human rights across the globe by boycotting and divesting.
These campaigns have also reflected the demands of the diverse communities in my constituency.
The advice of dozens of rights organisations, human rights lawyers and the trade unions have made it clear that this activity will be outlawed and for decision makers to even talk about this strategy will become illegal.
The Labour whip is telling Labour MPs to vote for a “reasoned amendment,” which calls on the government to come forward with alternatives to its proposals, and once that is lost, we are being whipped to abstain, with the possibility that we vote against at 3rd reading.
This is despite every lawyer from human rights organisations and affiliated trade unions saying the bill is unamendable and urging a vote against.
It has been a long, worthy and honourable tradition from the foundation of the party that the right of a member to follow their conscience is respected.
This is one of those issues that one has to follow one’s conscience.
That’s why I will vote against.
I couldn’t look my constituents in the face or indeed myself in the mirror if I didn’t.
Given the factional behaviour of some exercising power in the party at the moment it’s very possible some will try to seize upon this to cause more division in the party.
I have to follow my conscience and I do not want to live a life where I am always having to look over my shoulder politically for fear of what attack may come from this right-wing faction for not following an ever changing party line or where people’s right to abide by their consciences and judgements is not respected.
So I will vote against this egregious and divisive Bill at every opportunity.