Stephen Morgan’s Voting Record: War Crimes, ‘Spycops’, Brexit and Other Discrepancies

Since he was first elected to the Portsmouth South constituency in 2017, Stephen Morgan has almost always voted in parliament with the Labour leadership. But his loyalty to Keir Starmer, who since 2020 has taken the Labour Party in a very different ideological direction to previous chief Jeremy Corbyn, has – and not for the first time – raised questions about Morgan’s judgement and consistency on several key issues. S&C reporters explain.

According to the TheyWorkForYou website, Morgan has voted progressively on many issues. On 4 occasions in 2019-20, he ‘almost always voted for measures to prevent climate change’ and voted once in 2018 ‘for financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods.’

5 times in 2017-18 he ‘consistently voted for higher taxes on banks’ and ‘consistently voted against a stricter asylum system’ (3 occasions in 2020). He has also been ‘consistent’ in his support for ‘equal gay rights’ (twice in 2019) and voted once in 2019 ‘for allowing marriage between people of the same sex’.

But his record of ‘consistently [voting] for laws to promote equality and human rights’ (3 times, 2018-19) contrasts with his support of the 2020 Overseas Operations Bill, intended to grant British personnel legal immunity to war crimes they may have committed while fighting in the controversial Afghanistan and Iraq wars. (Morgan told Star & Crescent in 2017 that he opposed the latter conflict).

The international law scholar Indrasish Majumder has warned that the bill is ‘unconstitutional and misleading’ and that it may ‘[breach] obligations of the UK government under international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law.’

The bill has been condemned by academics, lawyers, lawmakers and human rights activists. While most Labour and Conservative MPs voted for it, 45 SNPers, 9 LibDems and 18 of Morgan’s fellow Labour members opposed it, including John McDonnell, Diane Abbot, Zarah Sultana and Nadia Whittome, whom Starmer promptly sacked from his shadow cabinet. Morgan worked alongside many of these rebels while serving firstly as Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Minister for Communities and then Shadow Minister for Defence Procurement.

The following month, Starmer whipped his MPs – Morgan included – to abstain from another contentious vote on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, also known as the ‘Spycops’ bill. ‘It grants a host of state agencies the power to licence its agents and officers to commit grave crimes in advance, even here in the United Kingdom,’ said Labour peer and former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti.

Meanwhile, Green Party peer Jenny Jones accused Labour’s abstention of making them ‘complicit in state oppression’ and, according to Amnesty, ‘this bill could end up providing informers and agents with a licence to kill’, potentially normalising torture and extra-judicial killing. It is difficult to square this with Morgan’s frequent declarations of support for human rights in various contexts, from international trade to the trans community.

There are also ambiguities about Morgan’s position on Brexit. As TheyWorkForYou shows, he ‘consistently voted for UK membership of the EU’ in 10 votes from 2018-19 and ‘generally voted for more EU integration’ (44 votes in favour, 2017-2020). Like Keir Starmer – whom Morgan backed enthusiastically during the last Labour Party leadership campaign – the Portsmouth South MP was one of 59 cross-bench politicians who called for a second referendum in 2019.

While all this would suggest a coherent approach, Morgan was one of 162 Labour MPs who voted – ‘controversially’, as Ben Glaze of the Mirror saw it – for the government’s 2020 European Union (Future Relationship) Bill. Critics called this post-Brexit trade agreement ‘a blunder’ for Britain’s fishing industry and goods exports to the EU fell by 41% in the 100 days after the deal was struck. Even Keir Starmer, who whipped Morgan and others to support the bill despite calling it ‘thin’ at the time, later lamented to the National Farmers’ Union conference that ‘the 11th-hour deal’ – which he and Morgan backed – was now ‘holding British businesses back and making it harder and more expensive to export to our largest market.’

In January last year, Starmer made his biggest flip-flop on Europe so far by claiming that there is ‘no case’ for re-joining the EU. Alex Gordon of the Leave, Fight, Transform (LeFT) campaign said, ‘Starmer’s latest repositioning confirms that his involvement in Blair and Mandelson’s People’s Vote campaign was always about undermining the left leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, rather than from sincere political conviction.’

While Morgan hasn’t indicated whether he has now made the same U-turn as Starmer, he did, like Starmer, undermine Corbyn while working for him. As S&C reported in 2017, all the while Morgan was serving Corbyn in shadow ministerial roles, his signature remained on a petition calling for Corbyn to resign. Furthermore, Morgan has been a member of Labour Friends of Israel at least since 2018, when the group organised a protest in which right-wing Labour MPs and others not only demanded Corbyn ‘go’ but chanted that he was ‘a racist’.

S&C has contacted Morgan’s office to find out his current thinking on this and other issues, but has had no reply. Where, for example, does Morgan now stand on Starmer’s original leadership election pledges, given that Starmer himself has since retracted many of them?

Does Morgan still agree with Starmer’s original vow to ‘support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water’ because ‘public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders’? Or does Morgan now support Starmer’s recent rejection of nationalisation?

In keeping with then-leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policy, in 2017 Morgan voted in parliament once to scrap university tuition fees and presumably endorsed Keir Starmer’s leadership pledge arguing for the same. But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said in a February 2022 New Statesman interview that Labour would now not abolish them. Does Morgan agree with her?

Regarding Starmer’s pledge #4 ‘to promote [..] Human Rights’ and pledge #9 on ‘Equality’, does Morgan have reservations about Starmer’s mass-expulsion of Labour members, some of whom were loyal to Morgan and campaigned on his behalf locally? (This S&C article by Pariah Garrie provides some useful local context.)

With reference to the same pledges, does Morgan back an ‘open door’ policy for Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion, like Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, or would he prefer, like Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development Preet Kaur Gill, a ‘simplified process’ for allowing them into the UK?

With regard also to pledge #9, does Morgan think Starmer should hand back donations made to the party by David Abrahams, given Islamophobic tweets he made?

S&C is aware that a number of Morgan’s constituents – many of them two-time Morgan voters – would like to know the answers to these questions before they decide whether to support him again.

Image ‘English: Close-up version of the official portrait of Stephen Morgan MP’ by ‘UK Parliament’ used here under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.