Why did UK Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy fail to vote to protect vulnerable children?

By EDRi · April 15, 2014

On Wednesday 3 April, British Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy sent an urgent e-mail to her colleagues about a vote on “net neutrality” (part of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation) that was scheduled to take place the following day. In her e-mail, she alleged that amendments tabled by the Socialist Group in the European Parliament (of which she is a member) would make the protection of vulnerable children ineffectual. She said that she hoped that her colleagues would join her in voting against the amendments and “ensuring online safety for the most vulnerable in society”.


(Click image to read McCarthy’s e-mail)

She then left Brussels, failing to turn up for the vote. This was not very surprising, as she missed a total of 1880 votes in the last 5 years and has a voting record worse than 88% of Members of the European Parliament. If she actually believed what she was alleging, on the other hand, it would be surprising.

She explicitly attacked her own Socialist colleague, former French Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann, implicitly also accusing her colleagues from the Liberal, Green and GUE/NGL political groups that had signed those (or identical) amendments, of undermining the protection of children.

Remarkably, Ms McCarthy also took it upon herself to invent proof to back up the case she was making (where she did not even identify the amendments in question). She said that campaign website argued that “preventing online censorship is worth more than protecting children online”. Neither the word “child” nor “children” appears anywhere on that website. This statement was simply never made.

We do not know what was happening elsewhere that Ms McCarthy thought was more important than the allegedly crucial vote in Brussels to protect, according to her, “vulnerable children”. All we know is Ms McCarthy left Brussels and chose not to vote.

In the end, the amendments that Ms McCarthy was presumably referring to were adopted by substantial majorities. In the final vote for the legislative resolution, which included the alleged child unfriendly amendments, all of the British Labour MEPs present voted in favour.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, either McCarthy was right or she was wrong. If she was wrong, then:

  • she has defamed Catherine Trautmann MEP and the MEPs from the other political groups and owes them an apology;
  • she has defamed La Quadrature du Net, Access and EDRi and owes us an apology

If she was right, then:

  • she failed in her duties by prioritising whatever it was she was doing when she was supposed to be voting, which is what is expected of a paid full-time Member of the European Parliament
  • all of her UK Labour colleagues voted, in the final legislative resolution, for measures that undermine child protection
  • Mary Honeyball MEP, “Internet Watch Foundation Champion” voted to undermine the protection of children when she voted for the offending amendment during the unanimous final vote in the Culture and Education Committee.

Ms McCarthy was, of course, completely wrong. For more information on what actually happened, click here.