Former Labour Councillors Yvonne Tennant and Asjad Mahmood

“The Labour Party leadership no longer reflects our views—it’s time for a change.”

That’s the view of 20 Labour councillors in Lancashire who resigned from Labour on the same day last week. This is the biggest single group of resignations from Labour since Keir Starmer became leader. Tens of thousands of people have left Labour over Gaza and other issues in the past two months.

In a report to the national executive last week, the party’s general secretary, David Evans, revealed that membership, which had stood at 390,000 in January, had plummeted to 366,604. Membership reached a peak at the end of 2019 under Jeremy Corbyn when it hit over 532,000. 

The councillor’s reasons for leaving are mixed. For many the party’s stance on Gaza has been a final reason to go, but that comes after months or years of growing disenchantment.

They say the party is targeting local councillors, influencing selections and using bullying tactics to suppress free speech over Israel and other issues.

Some were alleged to have supported Azhar Ali, the Labour candidate at the Rochdale by-election who was disowned by the party after claims of antisemitic remarks.

The councillors will form independent groups on Pendle borough council, Brierfield town council, and Nelson town council.

Leader of Pendle borough council and the newly formed independent group, councillor Asjad Mahmood, said, “I always felt that the party’s policies were aligned with my own beliefs. Sadly, over a recent period, senior party officials have attempted to impose their ideas at a local level.”

Councillor Yvonne Tennant added, “At a time when 14 years of Tory cuts are affecting local people across Pendle, the Labour Party leadership should be allowing councillors the opportunity to challenge the Tories. Instead, colleagues are being hindered from fulfilling their roles.”

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal said, “I joined the Labour Party over 30 years ago. Senior figures within the party are attempting to stifle free speech and threaten councillors with removal as candidates. The bullying needs to stop.”

The local elections in May will see dozens of former Labour councillors and their supporters challenging their former party at the polls.

All will demand support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and will bitterly criticise Starmer over his support for Israel. But that’s not enough. They also need to pledge to vote against council cuts and for resistance to the Tories or a Starmer government. 

In the past some of those now resigning have accepted cuts. Challenging Labour effectively means standing with all the oppressed, not just over Palestine.

Socialist Worker supports viable candidates who help build the movement over Palestine and break from the politics of manoeuvring and rotten political compromises that are endemic in Labour politics.

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