Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, warns rebel shadow ministers to toe the line, as he reaffirms his opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza
In a speech delivered to a select audience at Chatham House (International Affairs Think Tank), on Tuesday afternoon, 31st October, the Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, chose to completely dismiss the growing disquiet from Labour elected representatives who have called for a ceasefire in Gaza. These include a number of senior front bench MPs. In a statement which has been read as a warning, he said that he takes collective responsibility ‘extremely seriously’. This was a clear indication that he does not intend to tolerate dissent, although in answer to a question about disciplining those who stray from the official party position, he replied that he believed any actions should be proportionate and that he was ‘sensitively engaging’ with them.
Andy McDonald MP has the party whip removed for 'offensive comments' at pro-Palestine rally
This it seems was not the principle that was adopted in respect of Andy McDonald MP, who yesterday had the Labour Party whip removed for comments made at a pro-Palestinian protest march in London on Saturday. The words spoken by McDonald, which he argues have been misconstrued, were:
‘We won’t rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty’
A Labour central office spokesperson, issued a statement saying that McDonald’s statements were:
‘deeply offensive, particularly at a time of rising anti-Semitism which has left Jewish people fearful for their safety’
Sir Keir Starmer is 'out of step with public opinion' and members of his own party
The contents of the Labour leader’s speech today, say activists and increasing numbers of his own party, remain completely at odds with public opinion. Earlier this week, a YouGov Poll revealed that 76% of the UK population is in favour of a ceasefire. Starmer will also be aware that his position contrasts with the majority of members of the UN Security Council, who voted this week in favour of a ceasefire: 120 members voted in favour, 45 against and 14 abstentions - including the UK.
Labour Party leader cites the words of the US President to justify his position
In an attempt to pacify his critics, both inside and outside the Labour party, in respect of his perceived lack of compassion for the devastation caused to the thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza as a result of the Israeli campaign – recognised as a war crime by human rights organisations and the UN, Starmer recited the words used by the US President Joe Biden, when he said:
‘And I echo President Biden’s sage advice to Israel. To understand, in its own interest, why a whirlwind of understandable emotion and rage must not blind it to the fact that it is Hamas it must target, Hamas that is the enemy, Hamas brutality that must be prevented, and not the Palestinian people, who must be protected’
While Starmer spoke of the ‘biggest slaughter of Jews …since the holocaust’ and the ‘200 hostages including British citizens’, there was nowhere in his speech a reference to the 8,300 Palestinians killed and 1.4 million displaced (according to UN estimates) as a result of the Israeli bombardment. There was also only a limited recognition of the full impact of the trauma and devastation caused as a result of the blockade of fuel, food, water, medical and relief supplies. The exception to this was Starmer’s call for:
‘…more aid trucks across the Rafah crossing. We have to get food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza. We have to preserve innocent lives’.
Starmer suggests a ceasefire would 'embolden' Hamas
Instead Starmer held fast to his publicly stated position and made the point that a ceasefire:
‘always freezes any conflict in the state where it currently lies. And, as we speak, that would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and the capabilities to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7’
He went on to echo what to many seemed to be the language of the Israeli press office, when he added a statement that a ceasefire would mean that:
‘Hamas would be emboldened and start preparing for future violence immediately’
Failure to address Israel's 'egregious ongoing violations'
In his speech, Keir Starmer put forward the idea that a ‘humanitarian pause’ was the correct alternative to a ceasefire. A subsequent statement published by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign argued that Starmer:
‘fails to grasp the scale of loss of civilian life and destruction of infrastructure in Gaza’
The PSC statement added that:
‘Whilst stating that all parties must abide by international law, Starmer continues to fail to address the issue of Israel’s egregious ongoing violations of it’
Disregard for the implementation of international law
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Director, Ben Jamal, said:
‘Keir Starmer’s remarks today show a blithe disregard for the implementation of International Law. His position that he cannot decide whether Israel is violating International Law until told so by a lawyer, in the face of Israel’s imposition of a siege that cuts off all essential supplies and is killing of thousands of Palestinian children, is extraordinary. He has also consistently failed to condemn statements by Israeli leaders that dehumanise Palestinians, referring to them as “animals”. His words and actions render him complicit in Israel’s ongoing commission of war crimes. Those who believe in the primacy of International law and respect for all civilian life, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, should condemn his remarks and demand a reversal of the Labour party position’
Protesters challenge the Labour Party leader as he exits Chatham House
Despite the date and venue for Starmer’s speech being kept a secret until the morning of the event, the event was greeted outside with a snap protest of several dozen members of the ‘Palestinian Youth Movement’ who attempted to confront Starmer as he left the Chatham House building. Police were forced to wrestle with protesters as they tried to get close to the Labour leader during his departure from the building and he was bundled into a waiting car, which sped off as protesters banged their fists on the windows chanting ‘Keir Starmer, you can’t hide!’; ‘ceasefire now’ and ‘Keir Starmer shame on you, Palestinians are humans too’.
Jeanine Hourani, a spokesperson for the protest group, which she described as ‘a Palestinian Youth Movement, which is a grass roots transnational organisation of Palestinian and Arab youth living in exile because of the Zionist colonisation of our homeland’, explained the reason for the protest at the event. She said:
‘We were here today protesting Keir Starmer’s presence at Chatham House. We are here protesting the really shameful position that Labour has had in the current genocide that we are seeing unfolding in Gaza. We’ve seen almost 30 Labour Councillors resign. We’ve seen half a million people turn up in the streets of London on Saturday and that just goes to show that despite the fact that the people and multiple people within the Labour party, are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Keir Starmer remains to be out of step with his party and with the people of Britain’