Labour elected members refuse to tow party line over leader’s Gaza remarks
Cracks in the unity of the Labour Party among elected members, started to appear in the days following the Labour leader, Kier Starmer’s controversial appearance on LBC Radio on 11th October, when he responded to questions about the bombing of innocent civilians in Gaza and his defending of Israel's right to cut off fuel, water and food to the Gaza strip, by saying that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’.
Calls for the Labour Party leader to resign as elected members submit their own resignations
Labour Party supporters, members of parliament and local authority councillors up and down the country were aghast, as the party leader appeared to be endorsing the collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza and effectively supporting the committing of war crimes by the state of Israel, in direct contravention of international law and the Geneva conventions.
The initial trickle of resignations of Labour councillors in Leicester and Oxford, threatened to become an exodus as open letters demanding a retraction, an apology and a condemnation, poured into the Labour leader’s in-tray. Muslim party members – MPs and councillors were most prominent among them, with some suggesting that Starmer should actually resign. So far, a total of 23 Labour Councillors have resigned. Urgent meetings have been held in parliament and in regions between senior figures in the party such as Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy and a series of ‘elected representatives’, in order 'to reduce tensions and provide reassurance' it was reported. A group of Muslim Labour MPs met on Wednesday with the party leader and made clear their anger at the stance he had adopted in respect of the continued assault on the innocent civilians in Gaza. But it seems that the party leader’s words of explanation and a mild attempt to alter the meaning of his earlier comments, still did not contain the necessary definitive condemnations and retractions sought by an increasing body of parliamentarians and local authority officers.
Earl Day Motion urging the protection of civilians in Gaza signed by 95 MPs
A week ago on Tuesday 17th October, the Labour MP for Leeds East, Richard Burgon, tabled an Early Day Motion calling for government intervention with Israel. It read:
EDM 165: Protecting civilians in Gaza and Israel
‘This House utterly condemns the massacre of Israeli civilians and taking of hostages by Hamas; agrees with the United Nations Secretary-General that these horrific acts do not justify responding with the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; expresses its deep alarm at the Israeli military bombardment and total siege of Gaza and the resulting deaths and suffering; believes that the urgent priority must be to stop the deaths and suffering of any more civilians in Gaza and Israel; welcomes the joint statement from 12 leading aid agencies, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Medical Aid for Palestinians and Islamic Relief, calling for the Government to use its influence to help protect civilians, to ensure adherence to international humanitarian law and to guarantee civilians have access to critical life-saving humanitarian support; and to this end supports their call for the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages, to end to the total siege of Gaza and allow for unfettered access of medical supplies, food, fuel electricity and water, to guarantee that international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected in accordance with those laws’
The motion has gained the support of 95 MPs from across 8 political parties, over half of which were Labour MPs. Despite the overwhelming discourse in the media, within government and across the labour leadership, which has presented a continuing and resolute support for Israel and which has shown a complete disregard for the atrocities being perpetrated against innocent and mostly children in Gaza, independent polls suggest that the mood of the public at large supports an immediate ceasefire. In fact a YouGov poll indicated that 76% of ‘British adult citizens’ supported an immediate ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor into Gaza.
Historic marches in major cities worldwide follow intensified bombing of Gaza and record death toll
In the last few days, as Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has intensified and the death toll has risen beyond 8,000, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in capital cities all over the world to demand that their governments use their influence to press for a cessation of hostilities. Over 1.5 million people marched in Istanbul, Turkey, in support of the Palestinian people and demanded a ceasefire and record numbers also marched in New York City and in central London, where as many as half a million people marched through central London to Parliament Square on Saturday.
Labour MPs defy party line and participate in pro-Palestinian marches
A fortnight ago, the unofficial position of the Labour Party and most of the Labour run councils, was that its officials should not take part in pro-Palestinian marches and protests. Yesterday, 28th October, the second of two major marches demanding a ceasefire, made its way through the streets of central London before arriving at the houses of parliament. Independent sources have suggested that as many as 500,000 people participated in the march, which dominated the landscape from SE1 to SW1. Crucially, the prominent speakers on the stage in front of Westminster Palace, included high profile Labour MPs such as Richard Burgon, the MP for Leeds East, Apsana Begum, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, Zara Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, Dianne Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and the former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Call for an immediate ceasefire
All spoke with passion about the failures of the political leadership in government and their own party, to respect fundamental human rights and to live up to their obligations to protect against the commission of atrocities. Their call for an immediate ceasefire was loud and unanimous.
The most senior Muslim Labour Party elected members speak out against the party line
Although not present at the historic march on Saturday, other prominent Labour MPs were reported as having broken ranks with the leadership over the conflict in Gaza. The Shadow Justice Secretary no less, Shabana Mahmood MP, was reported in Sunday’s Telegraph as having:
‘broken ranks with Starmer over Israel Hamas conflict’ and it said, she had become ‘the most senior figure to join the revolt against Sir Keir’s position in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks, which killed 1,400 people in Israel.’ ‘Ms Mahmood, a barrister’, reported the Telegraph, ‘said that she had told individuals at ‘every level’ of the Labour Party that the remarks caused ‘immense distress’.
The newspaper cited Ms Mahmood’s tweets which read:
‘What we are seeing is not defence, it is disproportionate attacks on a civilian population. I continue to call for a ceasefire to stop the killings of innocent civilians. We cannot be silent…I am also unequivocally clear that wars have laws, and democracies have the responsibility to ensure international humanitarian law is followed at all times. My position, as well as that of my party, has been that it is absolutely essential that there is a clear distinction between a terrorist group and the innocent civilians of Gaza, who have suffered for so long and do not deserve collective punishment…Many of you have been in touch about the position of the Labour Party and the recent LBC interview. I understand the immense distress that has been caused by the clip in our community’
The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has also broken ranks and called openly for a ceasefire saying that a ceasefire:
‘would stop the killing and would allow vital aid supplies to reach those who need it in Gaza…A widespread military escalation will only deepen the humanitarian disaster. It will increase human suffering on all sides. No nation, including Israel, has the right to break international law’
Anas Sarwar, The Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, also failed to tow the party line and publicly stated:
‘We are all so desperate for peace and are desperate to see the end of violence, and that is why we need to see the immediate release of hostages and immediate access to humanitarian supplies, food, medicine, electricity and water into Gaza’
The Labour Party Mayors of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, his deputy mayor, Kate Green and 10 leaders of Manchester councils, issued a statement stating that they were joining 'the growing international call for a ceasefire by all sides and for the hostages to be released unharmed'.
Blackburn Labour Councillors resign on mass and form an independent group
Labour council members in Blackburn: Suleman Khonat; Salim Sidat; Salma Patel; Akhtar Hussain; Irfan Malik; Shamim Desai; Saj Ali; Mustafa Desai; Abdul Patel, who had all resigned the Labour Party whip last week, announced that they were setting up an independent group in Blackburn.
It has been suggested that this crisis over Gaza, could see the Labour Party lose as many as 36 seats in Muslim majority constituencies, and it will be interesting to see whether the rebellion by MPs forces a meaningful change in the stance adopted by the Labour Party leader.