Keith Vaz is hot on nice-sounding words (empty rhetoric) and even hotter on his support for war — that is, voting to enable the slaughter of the global working class. On October 26, 2016, a critically important Labour Party motion was debated in Parliament, which discussed the future of the lives of millions of people living in Yemen. The motion proposed by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated:
“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.”
Mr Vaz used this moment in the sun to defy Labour’s three-line whip by abstaining on what could have provided an important step towards obtaining justice and respite for the people of Yemen. But as you might expect, Vaz wasn’t alone in his reactionary rebellion, as more than 100 Labour MPs joined him in their open contempt for Thornberry’s motion. Hence the motion was defeated by 283 votes to just 193, a majority of 90, with the Labour Party’s rightwing once again demonstrating their natural preference for Tory policies, especially when it comes to protecting Saudi elites. As former Daily Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne wrote:
“To sum up… the British parliament sent the green light to Saudi Arabia and its allies to carry on bombing, maiming and killing. I have reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking parliamentary events.
“Shocking – but not surprising. The Yemen vote demonstrates something that has been apparent ever since the vote on 18 March 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons.
“It comprises virtually all of the Conservative Party and the Blairite wing of Labour.”
Sickeningly, just a week before this atrocious vote, Mr Vaz himself led a debate on the humanitarian situation in Yemen in the House of Commons (on October 18). During his introductory statement Vaz explained: “Through a sluggish, confused and weak approach to the crisis, the international community as a whole should be measured against a scorecard of shame…”
Yes the international community should hang its head in shame, but sluggish, confused and weak, are all words that more accurately describe Vaz when it comes to his willingness to represent the interests of the mass of humanity before the needs of big business. The only time that Vaz and his fellow Blairites actions appear fast, sure and strong are when it comes to their determined support of war!
Ever one to talk about peace, instead of voting for peace, Vaz fumed during the October 18 debate that “one would have expected… that the international community, led by the UK, would be urgently bringing the conflict to an end, and putting this at the very top of the agenda at the United Nations.” He added, “We failed to stop the escalation of violence in March last year, and we failed to stop the fighting over the last 18 months.” That is certainly true as far as Vaz’s own track record is concerned.
Of course Vaz is not so stupid as to fail to acknowledge the vile role played by the Saudi-led coalition whose “airstrikes, which are heavily impacting on the civilian population, have become counter-productive”. He continued: “These airstrikes, which Save the Children believes to be responsible for 60% of all civilian deaths in the conflict, are breeding hostility inside and outside Yemen.”
Thus when Douglas Chapman (SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife) asked Vaz whether he agreed that the Government should “stop arms sales [to Saudi Arabia] until a proper investigation into the atrocities in Yemen takes place,” Vaz replied “I agree.” This question was followed by a statement from Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP MP for Central Ayrshire) who noted “We should not be selling arms in this situation,” to which Vaz promptly replied “I agree with the hon. Lady wholeheartedly.”
Vaz noted the fact that “£3.3 billion of aircraft and bombs sales to Saudi Arabia” had taken place “in the 12 months from March 2015,” explaining:
“A generation of Yemenis now risk learning how to hate Saudi Arabia and the west. At a recent meeting organised by the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, journalists Nawal al-Maghafi and Peter Oborne, who had recently returned from Yemen, said that the long history of goodwill towards Britain was almost eroded.”
He also drew attention to the recent Saudi war crime which had seen them launch a series of airstrike on hundreds of civilians attending a funeral. “The first [bomb] killed the people at the funeral and the second was intended to deal with the first attenders,” Vaz explained. 40 people were killed and 500 injured, but all the same, Vaz preferred to give the Saudi’s the benefit of the doubt, by adding: “The Saudi Government have now apologised for that incident, blaming the bombing on bad intelligence.” He later stated: “To say that such incidents are the result of bad information is a terrible excuse and that must never happen again.” Tough words indeed for the ultimate war crime!
Nevertheless, Vaz concluded the October 18 debate on a high note, apparently determined that action should be taken to promote peace:
“It has been said to me that we hold all the pens on Yemen. We need to use every ounce of our considerable influence. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. To allow millions of people to die from hunger in the 21st century would consign Yemen to being one of history’s great tragedies. Let us seize the momentum of the past few days and prevent a humanitarian crisis from becoming a humanitarian catastrophe.”
This ringing endorsement for seizing momentum and preventing the humanitarian crisis brings us neatly on to the Opposition Day Debate on Yemen that resulted in the reactionary vote by Labour rightwingers (including Vaz) who opposed the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s motion that called for a full independent UN-led investigation “into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen”. As Labour’s Emily Thornberry made clear in speaking to her motion:
“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 bearing all this in mind, it is particularly disturbing that just prior to helping block the passage of this motion, Vaz made it plain that he was proud of the actions of the majority of the members of Parliament who would go on to join him in ensuring that Labour’s progressive motion failed. With a passion born of years of warmongering Vaz claimed: “Although my heart is breaking looking at the violence and humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, I am very proud of this Parliament.” He then recapped that “Yemen is on the brink of disaster” and apologised in advance for saying that he would be abstaining on the motion. “If the House could only vote as one in favour of peace in Yemen, I would be very happy,” he explained to the rest of the world, apparently with no sense of guilt or irony.