Raging outside Starmers’ recent speech (Picture: Guy Smallman)

NO ONE can have been at all surprised that under Keir Starmer Labour has followed Rishi Sunak’s Tory government in supporting Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinians. This stance provoked 56 Labour MPs to defy the whip and vote for a ceasefire last week. They included ten frontbenchers who either resigned or were sacked.

We saw the ripple effects of this revolt last weekend in a wave of local protests outside the offices of pro-war Labour MPs, among them Starmer. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor of exchequer, whined about “intimidation”. She underestimates the fury sweeping through the party since Starmer told radio station LBC that Israel had the right to deny Gaza power and water.

Starmer’s stance is predictable in part because it is a continuation of the phoney campaign against antisemitism that he has used to drive his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party and to purge wide sections of the left.

This is reflected in the absurd suspension of one MP, Andy McDonald, for saying, “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.”

But there is a deeper reason as well.

Labour is well ahead in the opinion polls. Sunak’s efforts to revive his government look doomed. Sacking Suella Braverman as home secretary and appointing as foreign secretary David Cameron, who is despised by Leavers and Remainers alike, won’t save him.

So Starmer is grooming himself as a future prime minister and seeking to reassure the ruling class that British capitalism will be safe under him. Purging Corbyn and the left is part of this process. So are Reeves’s efforts to court the City by dumping what sycophants had praised as “bold” economic policies to address the climate emergency.

And so too is the approach taken by Starmer towards the Gaza war. Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme before the vote, “We want to be the government in a year’s time, we don’t want to break that consensus of the G7.”

The G7 is the club of leading Western imperialist powers. They have largely—though not completely, since France is always an outlier—followed the United States and Germany in giving unconditional support to Israel’s war. US president Joe Biden is as firm in rejecting calls for a ceasefire as Israeli prime minister Binyamin  Netanyahu.

Starmer wants to show he can be one of the big boys. And if that means provoking a rebellion in his own party, so be it.Again, there’s nothing particularly new about this. Labour in office has consistently sought to defend the interests of British imperialism–for example, playing a central role in the construction of the Nato military alliance in 1949.

And of course Tony Blair, still a political hero to many in the shadow cabinet, was a vehement champion of George W Bush’s “War on Terror” and of Israel’s savage repression of the Second Intifada between 2000-05.

In the past, however, Labour prime ministers were willing to distance themselves occasionally from the US. In December 1950 Clement Attlee was so worried about US threats to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War that he flew to Washington to protest to president Harry Truman. In the late 1960s, Harold Wilson resisted pressure from president Lyndon Johnson to send British troops to Vietnam.

Any such room for manoeuvre seems to have vanished now.

Starmer is eager to brand himself as a loyal servant of Western imperialism. No wonder he says that Corbyn’s “days as a Labour MP are over”. One of the main reasons why the ruling class targeted Corbyn when he was Labour leader was his record as an anti-imperialist campaigner.

The evolution of Labour under Starmer poses a choice, not just to Corbyn, but to all the decent socialists left in the party. Do they allow themselves to be marginalised and silenced or do they find a new venue to fight for what matters to them? The giant anti-imperialist movement in solidarity with Palestine offers a great opportunity to build a socialist alternative to Labour.

Moments such as these come rarely. They must be seized.

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