As the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg filibustered for 35 minutes of a two hour debate stating that you have to be in Parliament to participate, I waited to be called, to deliver just a three minute speech. Less than half of all MPs who wanted to speak were called, only 15 in total. This hardly franchises MPs.
The heart of my contribution would focus on why this dangerous Parliament is failing everyone.
“I witnessed the voting last Tuesday from the steps of Westminster Hall. MPs chatting in little groups; getting to close to the person in front and people having no control over their space behind. But worst of all, having total disregard for the staff; being in their space.
It was unsafe so I joined the back of the queue. But after the vote I was kettled in a locked corridor where MPs crowded forward, my personal space violated. I witnessed MPs not keeping 2m from House staff, not issued with PPE, as if they were invisible. These dedicated servants are here to keep us safe, voting in person denies us reciprocate.
Parliamentary privilege is not about the ancient rites of sitting in some palace with the pretence that this is the only way to do business. No, Parliamentary privilege is about calling out injustice, speaking on behalf of those denied a voice, pleading for their safety, Mr. Speaker, pleading for their lives. I beg you stop this.
I was elected to make our society a better and safer place. I am not doing my duty if I am complicit with a system that puts the lives of working people at risk. I cannot call myself a trade unionist or Labour MP, unless I take this stand.
There are times when we have to challenge the system, the institutionalised elitism of Parliament, when we have to call out the betrayal of working people, when we have to act not just speak.
I have talked to staff, I have heard their fears, they are unsafe, a third of them are Black or Asian; 45% of catering staff are Black Asian or Minority Ethnic people – Black Lives Matter. Their voices are ignored, yet they watch the stats of Covid-19 deaths wrack up at a pace. They know people on that list; they fear they may be next. Covid-19 discriminates by race, by class, between those with privilege and those with none.
If we on the Labour benches do not call out this injustice, we would not be speaking up for every working person forced out of their homes into dangerous work environments; Parliament is one of them.
Proceedings work on line, there is no excuse, we can work remotely like anyone else – we must immediately.
I have been left with no choice but to boycott voting until it is safe. I’d rather sacrifice my vote than sacrifice a life as a silent super spreader of this killer virus. I will record my vote, each time, but in the struggle for the justice of others, I will not compromise their lives. I urge colleagues across the House to stop this dangerous farce, show you have guts and principles and stand with me; stand up for our staff; stand up for those less privileged than yourselves.
The indulgence of rites and privilege cannot sit with any of us who uphold humanity, who are trade unionists, who are Labour. We were sent here to fight for working people, today I am in that battle. Stay Home. Stay Safe.”