Last week the Labour Party Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry raised a mild-manner motion in Parliament, in which she called for an independent UN investigation into alleged Saudi Arabian war crimes in Yemen and the withdrawal of UK support for bombings in light of alleged atrocities.
Unfortunately for Labour supporters, the Blairite MPs who still dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party either chose to oppose this motion or abstained on the vote. Local Labour MPs Keith ‘Bomber’ Vaz (Leicester East) and Liz Kendall (Leicester West) both shamefully abstained (Keith doing so despite being present), while Jon Ashworth (Labour MP, Leicester South) did the right thing and voted to support the motion.
In the end the motion ended up being rejected by Parliament by 283 votes to 193 with around 100 Labour MPs either not voting for it or abstaining. The Labour Party motion, which was not backed by Vaz or Kendall, noted:
“That this House supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine; condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas that have exacerbated this crisis; believes that a full independent UN-led investigation must be established into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen; and calls on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations.” (October 26)
When putting across her arguments to defend this motion, Thornberry drew attention to the fact that “the UN has stated that 60% of civilian deaths [in Yemen] have been a result of actions by the coalition.” She added:
“There is evidence of a further disturbing trend in the way in which the conflict is being conducted. According to Yemen expert and London School of Economics professor Martha Mundy, detailed examination of Government agricultural statistics has revealed hundreds of cases in which farms, livestock, water, infrastructure, food stores and markets were targeted by Saudi airstrikes. Her analysis suggests that the extent of the bombing in rural areas where there is little activity besides farming is clear evidence that Yemen’s agricultural sector is being deliberately targeted. Some Members will doubtless argue that what was effectively a blockade imposed on Yemen in 2015 has helped to exacerbate the starvation crisis that we are seeing today, but Saudi Arabia did at least claim some UN mandate for that action. There is no UN mandate for the destruction of Yemen’s agricultural sector, which, if it is indeed deliberate and targeted, represents a clear breach of the Geneva convention.”
So in light of these clear arguments it was fitting that at the weekly anti-war vigil held in Leicester city centre by the Clock Tower, somebody chalked an “open letter” to Keith Vaz and Liz Kendall taking them to task for refusing to support the recent parliamentary motion.
The letter began, in huge chalk words that publicly shamed our local politicians, pointing out:
“More than 10,000 people many of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen through the actions of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia that has intervened in what was a civil conflict. Many civilian structures like schools, hospitals and homes have been and continue to be destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition is also using ‘double taps’ when it bombs…”
By failing to do the right thing (yet again), it seems that Vaz and Kendall are trying to incite furious members of the broader Labour movement to step up their campaign to hold Labour MPs democratically accountable to the Labour Party membership. This will mean reintroducing the mandatory reselection for all elected representatives.
The next Leicester Against War / Leicester For Peace vigil will be held, again at the Clock Tower, from 5.30pm till 6.30pm, on Friday, November 11.