A Palestine protest against Keir Starmer in London this week (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Blackburn councillor Saj Ali used his break from driving a bus to speak to Socialist Worker about his decision to leave the Labour Party. That’s because he’s seething about the party’s position on Palestine—and it’s not just Keir Starmer he blames.

“I finally made up my mind to go after deputy leader Angela Rayner held a Zoom call for councillors,” he said. “We requested—we didn’t demand—that Labour back a ceasefire in Gaza.

“It’s such a small thing, such a limited move. But Rayner went on about the difficulties in calling for a ceasefire and said no more than that she would take it back to Keir. Well. That wasn’t good enough for me. 

“I resigned straight away afterwards with another councillor, and five other Blackburn councillors have resigned now too.”

Saj Ali has been a councillor for six years and is a member of the Unite union. He says he was brought up to think of Labour as “a socialist party”. His family has links to the party going back to the 1960s. But now he has “no faith in Labour at all”.

“When I see children being ripped apart by Israeli bombing and Labour doesn’t call for a ceasefire then I can’t continue in that party,” he adds. “I have been a bus driver for 24 years, and people say maybe I could move up and get a better position in Labour.

“I’m not going to try to build a political career on the bodies of children,” he says.

Saj Ali says he wants to know why Labour was so outspoken about the Russian invasion of Ukraine “but won’t do the same about Palestine”.

“It’s an issue of humanity,” he says. “I have been on the protests for Palestine and it’s not just Muslims who think this issue matters. There are Jewish people protesting, people who were born here and those who weren’t. There are Muslims and non-Muslims.

“Now that I have resigned I can stand tall. I don’t have to apologise for things that are completely unacceptable.”

Councillor Mustafa Desai has a similar story. But his unease has been growing for some years. He told Socialist Worker, “Keir Starmer hasn’t adopted Labour’s core values. I feel that they have been eroding for a while.

“Labour is supposed to represent working class people and it doesn’t do that anymore.

“I was a firm believer in trying to achieve change from within the party. I tried that with Labour colleagues and by myself. It hasn’t worked.”

Mustafa Desai has been a Labour member for around 20 years and has been a councillor for 12 of those. He became the cabinet member for social care and health, one of the most important responsibilities.

But the party’s refusal to call for a ceasefire has forced him out. “Of course I know Labour is not in government, so to call for a ceasefire is in some says a token gesture. But it exerts pressure.

“I want to see the suffering of civilians on both sides ended. There has to be sustainable humanitarian aid.”

He is a telecom worker and a CWU union member and “stood firmly with Jeremy Corbyn”. The resignations in Blackburn are part of a growing wave. And more senior figures are demanding a ceasefire.

By Thursday morning 16 Labour frontbenchers had broken from the party’s official line. Tan Dhesi, shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury, accused Israel of inflicting “collective punishment” on Palestinian civilians. 

“We must condemn indiscriminate killing. Urgently need cessation of hostilities to deal with the huge humanitarian crisis engulfing,” he said.

But David Lammy, the pro-imperialist shadow foreign secretary, made no concessions. He said that any member of the shadow cabinet who openly defied Starmer and called for an immediate ceasefire should resign. He might regret that soon.

If Labour MPs, councillors and members want to wipe away the shame of their leadership’s position, they have to openly rebel. It means being in the streets, urging on resistance to the Tories and Starmer and encouraging revolt. And the conclusion should be to leave Labour and help to build a socialist alternative.

Another Notts councillor leaves Labour 

A third Nottinghamshire councillor has resigned from Labour. Councillor Des Gibbons, who sits on Gedling Borough Council said he will now stand as an independent. He brings the total number of councillors who have left Labour over Gaza to at least 36.

Gibbons, has been a Labour Party member for around 20 years, said, “I did a lot of soul searching because my decision is nothing to do with Gelding Labour and I am fully supportive of them.

“Keir Starmer’s original statement set off alarm bells for me. My decision is against the leadership stance on not calling for a ceasefire.

“It is out of step with the public opinion in this country and with the United Nations.”

Gibbons previously suspended his Labour Party membership over Tony Blair’s decision to send troops into Iraq in 2003. 

He added, “I can never condone what happened on October 7 but we have the carpet bombing and strikes on camps playing before our very eyes. I’ve always supported Palestinian rights and it has always been close to my heart.”

The leaders of Burnley and Pendle Labour groups have called upon Keir Starmer to resign. Councillor Afrasiab Anwar said, “I joined the Labour Party because of the values of standing up and speaking out against injustices across the world. Sadly Keir Starmer has not stood up for Labour values hence why we are calling upon him to step down. 

“Blindly following the position of Rishi Sunak is not acceptable to us and our residents who we represent.”

Councillor Asjad Mahmood added, “I and my fellow Labour colleagues have seen the distressing loss of lives on both sides of this conflict and have been putting pressure on the party leader to lead calls for a ceasefire to stop the loss of innocent lives. 

“Unfortunately, he has failed to listen and we ask he consider his position and resign to allow someone to lead our party who has compassion and speaks out against injustice and indiscriminate killing of innocent human beings.”

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