In fact it’s not just right it’s a positively deliberate act.
Sometimes abstaining is a cop-out, a ‘can’t be bothered to make up my mind position’. That’s laziness and it’s wrong. Get your head around the decision and take a position.
At other times though it’s a clear statement of position, a recognition that neither option on offer is deemed to be the right one and that the voter wishes to make it clear that it supports neither.
And so it is today with the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill in the House of Commons today. The options on the table are either Johnson’s trade deal or ‘no deal’.
Labour says it will support and, bizarrely, that it will not commit to improving it. The Lib Dems it seems intend to vote against it. Both are wrong.
My position, and I’m not going to pretend that I am privy to all of the thinking behind Keir Starmer and Ed Davey’s position, is that they should abstain.
They should do so because they both know that there are deals to be had today that are far superior to the one negotiated by Johnson. As had been said by others it is Johnson’s deal, let him own it and let us not be seen to be supporting him or it. However the alternative on the table today, viz the consequence of Johnson’s deal not being approved, is much worse and who in their right mind would vote for that?
If Johnson were to be in danger of losing today’s vote maybe there’s a case for supporting his deal in which case there would surely be some quid pro quo. But since he’s not we have the luxury of ‘actively abstaining’.
Johnson’s deal thus gets implemented and we and the country see what it’s like: warts and all. Then there will come a time 5 years in when it gets revisited. The argument can then be made to improve it, by rejoining the customs union and accepting the rules of the single market for example. Abstaining today gives a clear message that we will do just that.