Pressure mounts inside the Labour party over Starmer’s support for Israel’s onslaught

By Mark Buckley

Israel’s revenge assault on the population of the Gaza, along with its lower-level terrorist activities against the population of West Bank, continues to exert significant pressure on the Labour party

The Labour Leader has given complete backing to the Israeli war machine, including its collective punishment of denying food, water, fuel and medicines. At the same time powerful forces are being exerted in defence of Palestinian human rights and in support of a ceasefire.

Although there are many long-term supporters of Palestinian rights inside the Labour Party, with Jeremy Corbyn as their most consistent and prominent advocate, the bulk of the pressure is being exerted by various organisations of the Muslim communities. An important factor which needs to be taken into account is those brave organisations among the Jewish community who have resolutely argued for peace, including Jewish Voice for Labour.

This pressure has already yielded results. At the time of writing, 19 Labour frontbenchers have either stated their support for a ceasefire or shared those calls on social media. One of those, Imran Hussain has since quit his frontbench position over the issue, reluctantly in his own words. 96 MPs from eight different parties have re-signed Richard Burgon’s Early Day Motion calling for ceasefire. This total includes 39 Labour MPs as well as a number now excluded from Labour’s Parliamentary Party such as Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Andy McDonald and Claudia Webbe.

The greatest pressure is being felt in the lower ranks of the party, including among councillors. 250 Labour councillors signed an open letter to Keir Starmer demanding a ceasefire.  More than two dozen have resigned from the Labour Party over the issue. Labour has lost control of both Oxford and Burnley councils as a result.  A dozen Birmingham city councillors defied the leadership’s instructions not to attend pro-ceasefire or pro-Palestine marches.

Further turmoil seems likely while the Israeli assault continues and Starmer’s position remains intransigent.  These divisions within the party will be highlighted as an SNP amendment to the Bill on the King’s Speech will reportedly be called for debate and voted on. The amendment also raises the key demand for a ceasefire.

The pressure should not be mistaken for fundamental change inside the party. The stance of many elected representatives is very welcome. But they have clearly responded to external pressures in many cases and some have acted hesitantly. A key motivation is the fear of losing votes at the forthcoming general election. The majority of elected representatives are sticking with the pro-Israel party line.

Nor is Starmer in any political danger. The party machine is behind him. Leaders of unions affiliated to Labour are generally notable on this issue only for their silence. Starmer himself is clearly taking his cue from US foreign policy, which he referenced in his recent Chatham House speech. His subservience to the US line sometimes reaches farcical levels with the gaps between Blinken calling for a pointless ‘humanitarian pause’ followed by Sunak and then by Starmer being about 3 hours and 5 hours respectively. No-one on the Labour frontbench had ever previously uttered the phrase before the US Secretary of State did.

Even so it is important to remember that the pro-peace, pro-Palestine coalition in this country represents the views of the overwhelming majority of world’s population and in this country. The widely-shared YouGov poll showed 76% of Britons supported the call for a ceasefire. Within that, just 1% of Labour supporters opposed an immediate ceasefire. Starmer and his faction represent solely that 1% on this issue.

The international movement in support of Palestinians is enormous. Most governments in the world support the Palestinian cause, to one degree or another. Tens of millions have taken to the streets globally. Fractures have even appeared within some of the European governments. Belgium, Spain and Ireland have all seen ministers and parties speak up for Palestine. Activists and dockworkers are reported to have blocked munitions to Israel in the US, Australia and Belgium.

Labour metropolitan mayors have also spoken out against the Israeli assault, and the Welsh Senedd passed a motion for a ceasefire, with the Labour vote splitting 3 ways.

Here the current coalition for a ceasefire relies primarily on the Muslim communities. They are supported by many on the Labour left, Jewish activists and the wider peace movement. This coalition can be strengthened and widened for as long as the carnage wreaked by the IDF remains centre stage.  

CNN reports concern at the US Embassy in Oman over losing any influence on Arab public opinion for a generation. This can be a conscious aim of the entire movements calling for ceasefire – the complete isolation of the Israeli war machine and its US/NATO backers.

The immediate priority for all those who support human rights, including those within the Labour Party, is to keep building support for the demand of a ceasefire, increase the campaigning directed at elected representatives and within social organisations, including trade unions. As part of this the demonstrations called by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and its allies need to be fully supported.