Protesters in London were furious with the Labour Party over Palestine (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Keir Starmer’s crisis over Palestine won’t go away. He is caught between Labour Party members begging him to break from the Tories and his commitment to imperialism, the ruling class and Zionism.

On Saturday Labour’s shadow ministers Naz Shah, Paul Barker and Afzal Khan all challenged Starmer’s refusal to support a ceasefire. Shadow veterans minister Rachel Hopkins, shadow local government minister Sarah Owen and shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips all re-tweeted calls for a ceasefire on Twitter.

It means 12 frontbenchers are now opposed to Starmer’s position—and this is not a parade of left wingers. The day before Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan had all called for a ceasefire. 

But for Starmer to back a ceasefire means criticising the Israeli assault and breaking from the US. 

This weekend shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds was sent to the media. He said, “Israel has a duty to defend itself, to degrade Hamas capability and to call for a full ceasefire would mean Israel couldn’t do that.”

None of the tumult inside Labour would have happened without the mass demonstrations in support of Palestine and people standing up against the murder by Israel.

This dissension follows the resignation of at least 23 councillors. Oxford councillor Jabu Nala-Hartley is one of them.

She told Socialist Worker, “I was elected in  2020 and felt very proud of this achievement for a black, working class woman. I was helped by good comrades who broke down the barriers that restrict access.

“I was also the chair of the Oxford Labour Party. But the disillusionment soon set in. The meetings weren’t open and friendly. It was a closed circle. They used the procedures and the obscure regulations and language to keep people like me out.

“They used the whipping procedures to keep down dissenting voices. Lots of us might oppose a particular policy, but we were forced to stay in line.

“Palestine was the last straw. Starmer is complicit in war crimes. It was a choice between serving our parties or justice, I chose justice.

“This should not have come as a surprise. In April 2021 I was one of a group of Labour councillors who said we were standing for election in support of ‘solidarity between Oxford’s residents with Palestinians living under occupation, apartheid and siege. If re-elected, we pledge to build on practical solidarity with Palestinians fighting for liberation, self-determination and to return to their homes.’

“The right didn’t like that and nor did some of the Labour left, who I have discovered are not very left.

“Labour just wants people to vote for them and them to be quiet. They are not interested in taking up people’s concerns of really representing them. We are now sitting on the council as local independent socialists.”

Jabu Nala-Hartley

Jabu Nala-Hartley is not alone. The editor of the Labour List website tweeted last week, “Just spoke to a Leicester councillor. ‘I’ve never seen the bottom fall out of the Labour vote so fast,’ they said, and from ‘predominantly very loyal’ local Muslim voters. 

“He said anger was ‘worse’ than over Iraq, and non-Muslim voters were raising it with councillors too.”

Politico news website reported, “One Labour MP in London says they have had 3,000 emails and letters. Even a colleague in a less diverse constituency has had 150. 

“One Starmer-friendly frontbencher says Muslim MPs ‘are being called traitors’ adding, ‘I think MPs will face protests outside their constituency offices, demands to make statements. There’s definitely going to be a huge amount of pressure on them’.”

Many Labour figures are principally concerned with the party haemorrhaging votes. One Labour MP said Starmer had made a “catastrophic decision” to stick with Israel “unconditionally”.

The backbencher told The Independent newspaper, “There is an existential threat to a lot of Labour seats with a large number of Muslim voters. I know it’s about a humanitarian disaster—but people do count numbers and worry about their seats. There are MPs on the right of the party and soft left who are very uneasy.”

They added, “A wide group are really, really unhappy. I would say around 100 MPs want a ceasefire. The numbers are moving away from him quite rapidly. So I can’t see how the position will hold, especially if there’s wider escalation in the conflict.”

A timeline of Labour’s support for war crimes 

On 11 October, speaking to LBC radio, Starmer said, “Israel must have that right, to defend herself, and Hamas bears responsibility.” His interviewer asked, “A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water, Sir Keir?”. Starmer replied, “I think Israel does have that right.”

The backlash inside and outside the party was so great that Starmer’s aides tried to pretend that he didn’t support starving Palestinians and that he had been answering a previous question.

But that didn’t work, so he then set up a trip to a mosque in Cardiff last Sunday. This made his crisis worse. Starmer said he had made clear at the mosque that, “It is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines. International law must be followed.”

But the South Wales Islamic Centre said it had been misled over the visit,  denounced Starmer for his attempt to cover up his crimes and restated its total support for Palestine.

So Starmer then underlined his backing for the US’s position of “humanitarian pauses”.  He said the amount of aid reaching Gaza is “completely insufficient”.

He added, “In the long term, there can only be a political solution to this crisis” and called for talks on a two-state solution to be restarted. But he won’t back a ceasefire, and that means the revolt against him continues. 

Protest over Labour in Tower Hamlets 

Local people protested on Friday last week against the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali’s failure to speak out in support of Palestine. 

Angry demonstrators blocked the pavement, spilling out onto the road outside the Labour Party office in Bethnal Green, east London. 

They chanted “Free, Free Palestine” and waved Palestine flags. One of the speakers reminded the crowd that they had removed Labour MP Oona King in the 2005 General election because of her support for the Iraq war, replacing her with George Galloway.  

The speaker argued that by not speaking out against the Israeli terror in Palestine, these Labour MPs once again do not represent the people who voted for them.

Mandy Brown

It’s time to break with Labour 

The opposition to Starmer can be contained inside Labour or it can lead to a break with Labour’s rotten tradition.

Figures such as Khan, Burnham and the frontbenchers want to strengthen their own position and protect the Labour vote. Others are going further. Louise Regan, a leading figure in the NEU union, said last week, “I have just resigned from the Labour Party. I cannot remain in a party complicit in war crimes. 

“I have been a member of the Labour Party for the majority of my adult life. I have watched and listened to the responses from the Labour Party Leader to the current atrocities in Gaza with disbelief.

“I am appalled that a party based in the trade unions and which once called itself a socialist party would unequivocally give absolute support for an occupying power to kill civilians the majority of whom are children.”

The weakness of the Labour left and the former Labour left holds back the movement. 

Jeremy Corbyn could have used his speech on Saturday to say, “Others may forget but I won’t forget, and you should not forget the last three weeks. 

“At the next election I will stand against Labour in Islington North and I want at least 100 other candidates with me. It won’t just be about Palestine, but Palestine will be front and centre. Let’s build for and vote for a socialist alternative to Labour.”

What better place to announce that than in front of half a million demonstrators? Socialist Worker does not think a Labour Party mark two is what we need. And elections aren’t the key. But it would have been immensely positive if Corbyn had made such a speech.

Instead, he is held back by the dead hand of Labourism, and worries about how he will embarrass his friends who are still wedded to the party.

Even the best of Labourism lags behind much of the mood on the demonstrations.

The alternative to Labour needs to come from the struggles in the streets for Palestine, the strikes and the campaigns.

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