Labour Party divisions

Labour Party divisions laid bare over Israel – Palestine war

Policy & Politics

Labour Party divisions are growing following Keir Starmer’s appearance on LBC, during which he appeared to concede that Israel was acting within its rights when cutting off fuel, medicine, and water supplies in Gaza. The Labour leader has been warned that internal divisions do not lead to electoral victory. Andy Durham and Sadiq Khan, alongside 49 MPs and many Labour councillors, have defied Starmer’s leadership by publicly calling for a ceasefire. Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, has also broken ranks, thus piling the pressure on Starmer and laying Labour Party divisions bare once more.

Meanwhile, Momentum, Labour’s left-wing, has urged Twitter followers to write to their MPS to demand they back a ceasefire. Thousands of Labour supporters joined mass protests in support of Palestine. Party members now worry that Starmer’s failure to condemn violence against civilians will translate into seat losses, especially among Muslim voters. For his part, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been vocal about his support for a ceasefire, condemning the killing of innocent civilians. He spoke at multiple Pro-Palestine rallies. On X, he wrote:

“A humanitarian “pause” is not good enough. How long should Palestinians be given to mourn the dead before the bombs restart? We need a ceasefire now.”

Starmer is aligned with the UK government and the US in merely backing a humanitarian pause, which, compared to a ceasefire, only lasts a few hours.


Statement published by Keir Starmer on X, 25 October 2023

Israel’s offensive against Gaza began after brutal Hamas attacks on 7 October, in which 1,400 Israelis were killed and over 200 hostages taken. According to the Hamas health ministry, over 7,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks.

While Khan, Durham, and others voicing support for a ceasefire initially conceded Israel’s right to defend itself, they quickly condemned “collective punishment”, an offence under international law. They spoke of their “profound concerns” about the killing of innocent civilians, adding that it is “vital that urgent support and humanitarian aid is allowed into the area”. They called for a “ceasefire by all sides”, with the Scottish Labour Leader also urging for the immediate release of hostages:

 “We need to see the immediate release of hostages, immediate access to humanitarian supplies… and the immediate cessation of violence with an end of rocket fire into and out of Gaza.

“And let me be clear, that means a ceasefire right now.”

Labour Party divisions as big as ever

The revolt against the Labour Party has since reached the shadow cabinet, with the shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood reportedly having privately warned Starmer that the party risked appearing callous in the face of untold suffering by Palestinian civilians. Public support for a ceasefire is stellar, leading to a ferocious backlash against Starmer’s LBC comments. The leader backtracked somewhat, but the mistrust remains.

Sky News published excerpts of a letter Mahmood, the first woman Muslim MP, sent to her constituents:

“Like thousands of my constituents that have been in touch, I share the upset and concern of you all as we witness the destruction and displacement of human lives on a horrific and unprecedented scale.

“The killing of innocent civilians in Gaza must stop immediately.”

In the letter, she called herself “a determined and lifetime supporter of the rights of Palestinians”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Bolton South MP Yasmin Qureshi read out parts of an email he received from a constituent:

“My heart can’t handle this anymore. We are being massacred, relentlessly bombed. Homes destroyed. No water, no food, no electricity.”

In a question which she appeared to direct at the Labour leader as much as at the PM, she said:

“How many more innocent Palestinians must die before the prime minister calls for a humanitarian ceasefire?”

Many junior frontbenchers with large contingents of Muslim constituents have been tweeting support for a ceasefire. The most well-known, Jess Philips, made it abundantly clear that she is at odds with the leadership. Starmer critics have estimated that the leader’s stance could lead to a loss of up to 30 seats come the next election, a claim sternly disputed by his supporters.

If the suffering and death toll among ordinary Palestinians continues, Keir Starmer may have to rethink his position to appease not only Muslim Labour voters and rebel MPs but also his colleagues in the shadow cabinet.

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