Starmer's Gaza ceasefire stance sees mass resignations and rebellion among Labour ranks

Starmer's Gaza ceasefire stance sees mass resignations and rebellion among Labour ranks
UK opposition party Labour is facing a growing backlash from members and community leaders over Keir Starmer's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza war.
4 min read
31 October, 2023
Starmer is facing a growing backlash in the Labour Party over his Gaza stance [Getty]

UK opposition leader Keir Starmer is facing a growing rebellion within the Labour Party over his refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Despite three weeks of Israeli airstrikes that have killed over 8,500 Palestinians, including 3,542 children, Starmer has backed the government in not supporting a ceasefire despite the tragic humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza.

On Tuesday, Starmer - likely the UK's next prime minister - went a step further by saying a truce would embolden Hamas, a claim that will likely infuriate many Labour members.

"While I understand calls for a ceasefire at this stage, I do not believe that it is the correct position now," he told delegates at Chatham House in London.

He and the UK government have instead suggested "humanitarian pauses" - limited truces - which aid agencies say would be unworkable given the intensity of Israel's bombardment of the besieged enclave.

Chris Doyle said his organisation, the Council of British Arab Understanding (Caabu), was present at a meeting between Starmer and aid agencies regarding the situation in Gaza, which the Labour leader mentioned in his Chatham House speech.

"Every single agency referenced the urgent need for a ceasefire. It was the united position of all the organisations, as it is also of UNICEF, UNRWA, and the UN Secretary-General that a ceasefire is essential to saving lives and allowing aid to flow," said Doyle in a statement.

"It is deeply disappointing that Keir Starmer, along with the UK government, has continued to rebuff this vital humanitarian call. Aid cannot be delivered under fire, and the catastrophic conditions facing 2.3 million Palestinian civilians who are on the brink of dying of thirst, hunger and disease if not the bombs, cannot be addressed merely by a pause."

Oxfam also said they were "deeply disappoint[ed]" by Starmer's comments and the precedence this sets.

"It matters what these leaders say, not least for ordinary Gazan people who need to know the world is listening to their pleas," Oxfam said in a statement.

"Without a ceasefire, any relief for millions of people trapped in Gaza will inevitably be wholly insufficient and many more civilians will die needlessly."

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Starmer's view on Gaza is contrary to that of the British public, with around three in four people wanting an immediate and long-term truce.

Members of the Labour "soft-left", including Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have also called for an end to Israeli bombing. As of Tuesday, 34 Labour councillors had resigned from the party over the leadership's stance on Gaza including nine councillors in Oxford where the party lost control of the council.

Eleven members of Starmer's inner circle, including opposition whip Kim Leadbeater and Shadow Domestic Safeguarding Minister Jess Philips, have shown signs they back the UN's call for an immediate end to hostilities.

Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Manchester, Gorton wrote an open letter to his constituents saying he will continue to call for "de-escalation measures and an immediate ceasefire".

The mass unease in Labour over Gaza has led some to call this Starmer's "Iraq moment" referring to the mass rebellion faced by former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his government's decision to commit UK forces to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

Muslim community and local party leaders are now applying pressure on Labour councillors and MPs to distance themselves from Starmer's Gaza war policy. This began with his refusal to condemn Israel for cutting water, power, and other essential supplies to Gaza early in the war.

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The internal divisions worsened when the Labour leader was accused of misrepresenting the views of Muslim community leaders during a visit to a mosque in Wales.

"The big story here is the pressure being applied on councillors by Muslim communities which I see as comparable to what was witnessed during the Iraq war," Taj Ali, co-editor at Tribune Magazine, told The New Arab.

"Gaza has really riled up many in the party and potentially we could see more resignations more resignations if Starmer doesn't take a tougher line in calling for a ceasefire. This isn't even the most radical stance on the Gaza war, it's one shared by a majority of the UK population."

For pro-Palestine activists in the UK, such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Starmer's recent comments are "morally unacceptable" and a "grave failure of leadership".

"Keir Starmer’s remarks today show a blithe disregard for the implementation of International Law. His position that he cannot decide whether Israel is violating International Law until told so by a lawyer, in the face of Israel’s imposition of a siege that cuts off all essential supplies and is killing of thousands of Palestinian children, is extraordinary," said PSC Director Ben Jamal.

"He has also consistently failed to condemn statements by Israeli leaders that dehumanise Palestinians, referring to them as 'animals'. His words and actions render him complicit in Israel’s ongoing commission of war crimes."