The Labour MPs boycotting Parliament today

April 10, 2013 8:33 am

Whilst the message of the Labour leadership has been that MPs should return to Parliament today if they can (the images of empty Labour benches would not, it is felt, give a good impression), several Labour members have said that they have no plans to return to Parliament today for the tributes to Thatcher being made today. For many Labour MPs, that would be a step too far.

John Healey has written at length about his reasons for staying away in a piece this morning, arguing that:

“Parliament is being used today for narrow political gain by the Prime Minister, as a platform for his Party’s ideology not just eulogy. He gave himself away on Monday. After properly measured reactions from Miliband, Clegg, Blair, Brown and Major late in the afternoon David Cameron issued an “updated tribute” alongside his announcement about recalling Parliament: “Margaret Thatcher didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country … Taking on the union barons. Privatising industry. Unleashing enterprise. Rescuing the economy. Letting people buy their council homes …she took a country that was on its knees and made Britain stand tall again”. This is partisan, divisive and diminishes the Prime Minister’s Office. He’s wrong to recall Parliament, and wrong to hijack it in this way. I will play no part and I will stay away, with other things to do at home in the constituency.”

Healey also argues that the “debate” in Parliament today is likely to be no sort of debate at all. It’s hard to disagree. Other Labour MPs who have said they’ll be staying away include John Mann, who told the Telegraph he’d be at the dentist’s (adding “I do not know why we are wasting taxpayers’ money on an additional session”) and Ronnie Campbell who said “Some MPs might think it is their duty to be there. I certainly do not. Her legacy here was the destruction of thousands of jobs”.

Amongst those who will be attending today, there will be tension within the Labour ranks about what it is appropriate to say. Whilst few Labour MPs had many positive things to say about Thatcher during her time as PM – or since – the response of the party as a whole has been remarkably restrained so far. However that can’t possibly be expected to last through today’s debate. One of Labour’s longest serving MPs David Winnick has already said that he thinks it’s right to criticise Thatcher’s record in the house. Over at Labour Uncut Kevin Meagher has made a compelling case along similar lines. Making the opposite case, David Blunkett – no fan of Thatcher after opposing her so thoroughly in the 1980s – argues that turning the debate today into a “slanging match” would be harmful to Labour. There are valid points on both sides – but it’s possible to criticise without turning an event into a slanging match. Even in the hot headed confines of the commons.

A Labour spokesperson has said that “It is possible to disagree, with respect. Ed Miliband has made his position clear. We expect people to take note of that” – although no formal note has been sent to Labour MPs on how they should react today. Miliband is right to say that it is possible to disagree with respect, but it is also possible to criticise and examine a record, with respect. I hope to see Labour MPs doing that today. To avoid criticism outright might be what the Tory benches want to see, but it would also be dishonest – especially when the country is facing something at least as damaging as Thatcher’s government again today.

  • AlanGiles

    I honestly can’t see why this debate (or whatever it is) could not have been held over till next Monday when Parliament returns, rather than held at our expense today.

    I think it correct for any MP who does not feel he/she should attend, to stay away: turning up to “keep up appearances” is just hypocritical.

    As it is, next week is going to cost the age of austerity at least £10 million in security alone, apart from the funeral itself.

    I repeat again, I find it insensitive in the extreme to gloat over her death, that said she was not Sir Winston Churchill, and I think the funerals that were good enough for the two Harold’s (MacMillan and Wilson) would be good enough for her. That is not being disrespectful, but merely honest.

    • Newham Sue

      Agreed. If Atlee, a PM who did so much good
      For country as whole and also realigned politics didn’t
      have one, why Thatcher?

      • Daniel Speight

        And Sue Attlee had at least been wounded in army service for his country, unlike Thatcher who had just the knife wounds her own party gave her in the back when they removed her.

  • Daniel Speight

    It’s quickly becoming a farce. I find myself smiling, not so much over this frail old lady, who long ago lost her marbles, dying, but in seeing humour in how the British elite and the Westminster bubble want so badly for the plebs to behave and the more they speak the less likely we are going to. Ed Miliband and co could easily be caught on the wrong side in all this. It would best if no Labour MPs turn up I suspect.

    • AlanGiles

      I think it is fair enough for the “Labour” MPs who followed her so slavishly and admired her, or continued with Tory-like policy and are frankly crypto-Tories to attend (I would even give special dispensation for Tony Blair to turn up in a tiara), but I really do believe there was no need to re-open Parliament for one special day to do it, but it would look very dodgy if those who genuinely opposed her and her beliefs to do so.

    • rekrab

      I’m with you on that Daniel.There’s not a lot to celebrate.I guess the best solution would be an opposition bench with Tony Blair on his toad.

      • JoeDM

        To snub the memory of such an important PM by rows of empty opposition benches on live TV will be deeply damaging for Labour. It will be seen to be a shameful and cowardly act.

        • AlanGiles

          No it will not. It will show a degree of independence of mind and integrity.

          What would be the point of people who had nothing good to say about her policies while she was alive, turning up to mutter words of how wonderful she was.

          If they did that Joe you would be among the first to accuse them of hypocrisy.

          I deplore the antics of some of the people who have held “celebrations”, because I think that decorum and sensitivity to the feelings of the family should prevail. I don’t get “hate” even in life I don’t see what point there is to hate somebody after their death.

          I deplored her policies, and for that reason I won’t listen to any of the Parliamentary tributes, and I will avoid radio and TV next Wednesday as I have no wish to watch the funeral, but she was an old lady who had been in failing health for many years, to that extent I have sympathy for her and her family, regardless of who she was and what she did, but that’s as far as I go.

        • rekrab

          Hmmm! it seems Clegg’s retort was more critical than Miliband’s.

          So your happy that a labour leader is now joint at the hip with Thatcherism.
          Disgrace and dreadful let down of the million who suffered under a rotten woman.Cowardly? 12345678910, we the people, the ones that took those baton blows full on the head, don’t be so dam ignorant you charlatan.

      • AlanGiles



        17.18 Labour’s Frank Field, who was a friend of Lady Thatcher’s, speaks warmly about the former prime minister. He calls her an “extraordinary person” and says that “we should follow her example…and not be frightened of argument”.


        Why doesn’t it surprise me that Field and Mrs Thatcher were friends?. I wish she had persuaded him to “come out” and join the party he really belongs in.

        • rekrab

          Truly sickening, A little weasel of a man and never ever someone who belongs in the labour party.

          @Alan, we’re doomed, no one will believe that labour is an alternative and the dreaded Thatcherism goes on and on and on.

          • AlanGiles

            He is well past retirement age now, and I honestly think if they want to have credibility, his local party in Birkenhead should seriously consider if they want him to go on in his doteage after the 2015 election.

  • leslie48

    The Conservatives and a lot of media establishment including BBC 1 ( not C4) have created a massive London-led propaganda exercise which has got more and more disturbing as the week goes on. The lack of serious political, economic, sociological and cultural analysis of what Thatcher really inflicted on the UK has been seriously omitted from any debate ; the deep divisions and gaps in our economy and our class system which Neo-Conservatism left us, our low social indicators compared to France, Germany and the Nordics – all of this is washed aside in an appalling glorification of this right wing politician. Labour should be there to speak for all those who believe there were alternatives.

  • Amber_Star

    Every Labour MP who attends should take the opportunity to point out that her own Party sacked her. I’m wondering, will Michael Heseltine show up for her parliamentary wake?

  • Daniel Speight

    He’s wrong to recall Parliament, and wrong to hijack it in this way.

    Just to be a little downbeat. How come the Tories have been running rings around Labour for the last couple of weeks? First welfare and now this. Ed Miliband is beginning to look extremely weak. I would suggest he fires all his advisers and hangers-on. I suspect the second-rate handiwork of Tom Baldwin in all this.

  • JoeDM

    The sort of comments here demonstrate how out of touch Labour supporters are. I suggest they have a look at the Guardian poll today:

    That poll rather more accurately reflects true feelings of the country as a whole. Labour seem to be turning into the new Nasty Party.

    • rekrab


    • Daniel Speight

      Poor Joe, second time he uses his new nugget of Labour being the nasty party and nobody’s biting. Could someone join in just so he doesn’t feel lonely.

    • dave stone

      Don’t worry Joe. Maggie has gone but some great British traditions still thrive:

      • rekrab

        Uplifting @Dave, sure to be emulating all over.
        I wont cry for you Maggie Thatcher ‘the truth is a never loved you’ all through those bad days of real hardship’ you made loads of money while we suffered your savage.

        • dave stone

          I’m surprised that establishment rags like the Mail and Murdoch’s dirt-sheet the Sun have felt it necessary to denounce scenes of related merriment.

          The political and media elite must be trying to keep the lid on the upsurge of popular anti-Thatcher feeling.

  • Alexwilliamz

    This session is a trap set by the tories to draw out some venomous criticism from Labour MPs and then stand on the moral high ground. Be honest with yourself which bits will get cut into a news report, all the measured reasonable comments by Labour will be reduced to a 5 seconds section from miliband followed by a minute of any bits of less savoury comment from the back benches, no doubt distorting there overall comments. A handful of representatives to show ‘respect’ for the dead and a general boycott more tha n appropriate, after all who is it they think we would upset?


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