Labour has revealed that it abstained on the ‘rule of six’ vote in the House of Commons last night – despite supporting the Covid rule – because the government has an overwhelming 80-seat majority.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson pressed Keir Starmer on why Labour MPs abstained on the vote and whether the Labour leader agreed with the rule, which was backed by 287 to 17 votes on Tuesday.
The Labour leader confirmed that he did support the ‘rule of six’, but added that those living in communities under local coronavirus restrictions are concerned about rising infection rates in their area.
Asked why Labour abstained on the rule of six, Starmer’s spokesperson said: “We do support the rule of six. The government has a majority of 80, and we abstained to allow the vote to go through and the measures to go through.”
He added: “This is a government with a majority of 80. It doesn’t need Labour to get its business through, or at least it shouldn’t. The only reason there was a vote is because Tory MPs voted against it.”
Appearing on the BBC’s Politics Live, shadow minister Stephen Doughty similarly explained: “We support the rule of six. They can get their own legislation through without us trooping through exactly the same lobby as them at a particular time.”
Starmer’s spokesperson was also asked by lobby journalists this afternoon about whether Labour plans to vote against the 10pm hospitality curfew. He would not confirm whipping arrangements ahead of the vote.
“Keir has been clear about the need for the government to publish the evidence. We hope the PM does listen and does publish the evidence,” the aide said – but would not confirm whether Labour’s support was conditional on publication of evidence.
Starmer’s spokesperson was asked about Labour’s other recent decisions to abstain on key controversial votes in the House of Commons, which has led three frontbenchers to be stood down.
On whether Labour has a strategy of abstaining on second reading, as suggested by current backbencher Lloyd Russell-Moyle in a LabourList piece, the spokesperson said: “We take each bill on its merits.”
The aide would not be drawn on how Labour MPs will be whipped on the government’s overseas operations bill and covert human intelligence sources (criminal conduct) bill at their third readings.
Highlighting that Tory MP David Davis also raised concerns about the so-called ‘licence to kill’ bill, he said: “We’ll push our amendments and then we’ll take a decision on third reading nearer the time.”
There have been Labour rebellions over the two pieces of legislation, as MPs were given a one-line whip to abstain but between 18 and 20 defied the instructions and voted against the bills at second reading.
Starmer’s spokesperson was asked whether Starmer is concerned about Labour frontbenchers resigning to vote against the covert human intelligence sources (criminal conduct) bill at third reading.
He replied: “We don’t want any Labour frontbenchers to resign. That’s why whenever we take these decisions, we talk extensively with the frontbench and the whole [Parliamentary Labour Party].”
Unite the Union has decided to reduce its affiliation to the Labour Party by 10%, or 50,000 affiliates, as executive council members are said to be “angry” about the party’s decision to settle in the Panorama libel case.
General secretary Len McCluskey has said Unite will use the political funds to support “newer voices” and “very talented thinkers and energetic organisations out there who could do with our assistance”.
Asked when Starmer last spoke to McCluskey, the Labour leader’s spokesperson replied: “I don’t know, but I know that they speak regularly.”
Reacting to Unite’s decision this week to cut its Labour funding, the spokesperson said: “We’ve seen Len’s remarks. We acknowledge that. Labour will continue to take decisions in the best interests of the country.”
He added: “We have a funding strategy in place… Even before Unite’s decision, we were looking at how we can raise funds to win in 2024 and we’re looking at various different models.”
Asked whether Starmer agrees with Ben Bradshaw, who says “few people have done more to keep the Tories in power for the last ten years than McCluskey”, the aide said: “The whole Labour Party needs to take responsibility for the fact we lost four elections in a row.”
Rosie Duffield has attracted criticism from Labour activists over her views on trans people, after she asserted that “only women have a cervix” and liked tweets from people including Piers Morgan.
LGBT+ Labour demanded in August that the Labour leadership “take measurable action on this situation” and confirmed that it “will be writing to Keir Starmer on behalf of our members to ask for a response”.
Starmer’s spokesperson said: “The Labour Party is committed to updating the Gender Recognition Act. We stand by our belief that everyone should have the right to live with respect and dignity in an equal inclusive society.
“This is a very serious and sensitive issue, and it’s important that the public debate treats it seriously and with sensitivity. And we’d urge everyone to recognise that.”