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The Labour party faces an internal revolt over Keir Starmer’s positioning on Gaza, as the Palestinian strip continues to face an Israeli blockade on most water, fuel, electricity and food supplies.
Starmer has so far resisted calling for a ceasefire, leading a significant number of its MPs to challenge the official position. In an LBC interview shortly after the Hamas attacks, Sir Keir told presenter Nick Ferrari that Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Gaza. He subsequent attempted to ‘clarify’ his comments and call for humanitarian aid to be allowed in.
But the Labour leader’s comments triggered a backlash among some in the party. The party is witnessing a growing number of resignations from councillors, with at least 25 quitting the party over the issue. Resignations in Oxford have led the party to lose its majority on the council.
Momentum, the grassroots left-wing campaign group that backed Jeremy Corbyn, has confirmed that the tally of Labour MPs supporting a ceasefire stands at 40, including figures like moderate Stella Creasy, plus former leader Jeremy Corbyn and suspended MP Diane Abbott. Over 80 MPs from various parties have now backed left-winger Richard Burgon MP’s parliamentary petition (EDM) backing a halt to the conflict.
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The numbers suggests that almost half of the party’s backbenchers are now publicly demanding a ceasefire. The push for a ceasefire is particularly strong among socialist and Muslim MPs, as well as MPs from constituencies with a significant Muslim voter base. Thousands of Labour supporters have also voiced their support for this stance, using Momentum’s new lobbying tool to urge their MPs to change tack.
Over 5,000 Palestinians have now been killed according to the World Health Organisation, following Israeli bombing in response to Hamas’ terrorist attacks which killed over 1,400 civilians.
The Labour Muslim Network released a letter on Tuesday from 150 Muslim Labour councillors that calls for an immediate ceasefire. Sensing mounting anger, Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner are scheduled to hold a crisis meeting with Muslim Labour MPs later today.
Wednesday also sees the Conservatives reintroduce their anti-Boycott bill during its report stage, the same day as its third reading. The move suggests it is being rushed through the Commons, in what Momentum believes is an opportunistic attempt to gain political advantage. The bill aims to ban councils from backing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, and the Labour party abstained during the bill’s second reading.
A Lib Dem peer told Byline Times: “Sunak is pushing bills like this that seek division…Doing the boycott bill in the middle of what’s now going on, is just seen as unbelievably irresponsible.”
Momentum is currently pressuring the leadership to oppose the bill. To date, over 2,000 supporters have used Momentum’s lobbying tool to send emails to Keir Starmer, urging the Labour party to oppose what they see as an anti-democratic and authoritarian bill during its third reading.
Starmer avoided bringing up the situation in Gaza at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, perhaps in recognition it was a weak point for the party.
The View Inside the Labour Left
The Left of the Labour party is mounting its largest challenge to the leadership position seen for some time. Around 26 councillors have now submitted their resignations over the leadership’s position on Gaza.
A senior Momentum source said: “About a week or ten days after Starmer’s Nick Ferrari interview on LBC, he appeared in an ITV clip where he claimed he either didn’t say or mean certain things.
“But we clearly heard his statements. And [frontbenchers] David Lammy and Emily Thornberry, in separate interviews for the BBC – one on Newsnight and another on Sunday morning – echoed Starmer’s lines. So backing the blockade is clearly the party line.”
However, there is little hope on the Labour left that Starmer will change position – despite the Greens, SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru all backing a ceasefire. “I genuinely hope he can adapt and improve [on the Gaza issue], but based on recent events, I’m sceptical,” the source said.
Backbench MPs will meet with Starmer on Wednesday afternoon following Prime Minister’s Questions, where they are expected to push for a ceasefire. “Muslim MPs and councillors are exerting more pressure on the leadership,” the source said. There’s speculation about whether some MPs might feel compelled to dissent publicly from the official line if Sir Keir does not reassure them.
The results of a “Muslim voting census” are set to be released on Thursday, shedding light on the Muslim vote across various constituencies. A significant number of MPs are understood to be concerned about the potential backlash over Israel/Palestine and the possibility of losing their seats.
Momentum has also created a tool that lets members lobby their MPs over Gaza. “Thousands of members have utilised the tool to express their views. But beyond these measures, there’s limited action that can be taken,” the Momentum source added.
Starmer Changes Tone
Update 6pm: After Keir Starmer’s meeting with backbench Labour MPs on Wednesday afternoon, the leader put out a statement calling for a “humanitarian pauses” to the fighting, adding: “It’s clear that the amount of aid and essential utilities getting into Gaza is completely insufficient to meet the humanitarian emergency on the ground.
“That’s why we have repeatedly said that aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines must be urgently ramped up both through what can come in through the Rafah crossing and through Israel turning back on the supplies it controls.”
Momentum branded the statement “mealy-mouthed,” with a spokesperson saying: “Brief pauses in bombing are not a ceasefire – it is clear that Keir Starmer’s Labour is continuing to back Israel’s war on Gaza.” Richard Burgon MP added that there must be a “negotiated ceasefire that is binding on all parties.”
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