Top Labour MPs face councillor mutinies in their constituencies amid growing party revolt over Keir Starmer’s Middle East stance in wake of Hamas attacks
Sir Keir Starmer is facing a growing revolt over his stance on the Middle East crisis with half of Labour backbenchers having now signalled their dissent amid a swathe of local councillor resignations.
A total of 37 Labour MPs have signed a parliamentary motion expressing their ‘deep alarm’ at Israel’s military bombardment and siege of Gaza.
The motion, tabled by former shadow minister Richard Burgon, also attacks the ‘collective punishment of the Palestinian people’ and demands an immediate ceasefire.
Although it is nominally aimed at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Government, the motion is piling pressure on Sir Keir.
The Labour leader has consistently defended Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks earlier this month.
But Sir Keir’s response has angered parts of his party with more than 20 local councillors having quit in protest at their leader’s stance.
Labour have suffered councillor resignations in Cambridge, Gedling, Gloucester, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Milton Keynes, Newham, Nottingham, Oxford and Stroud.
The swathe of resignations will likely concern those Labour MPs where the council mutinies are happening in their local constituencies.
These include frontbenchers David Lammy, Lucy Powell, Anneliese Dodds, Lilian Greenwood, Emily Thornberry, Seema Malhotra, Catherine West, Afzal Khan, Ruth Cadbury, Daniel Zeichner, Alex Norris, Gerald Jones, Lyn Brown, Mike Kane and Jeff Smith.
A number of leading Labour MPs have suffered local councillor resignations in their constituencies over the party’s stance on the Middle East crisis
Sir Keir Starmer has consistently defended Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks earlier this month
Half of Labour’s backbenchers in the House of Commons are now calling for Israel to stop bombing Gaza as Sir Keir faces a growing Labour revolt
A total of 37 Labour MPs have signed a parliamentary motion expressing their ‘deep alarm’ at Israel’s military bombardment and siege of Gaza. The motion, tabled by former shadow minister Richard Burgon, also attacks the ‘collective punishment of the Palestinian people’ and demands an immediate ceasefire
A number of local councillors cited Sir Keir’s interview with LBC on 11 October for having prompted their resignations.
The Labour leader appeared to suggest during the radio phone-in show that he backed Israel’s ‘right’ to besiege Gaza – by cutting off supplies of electricity, food, fuel and water – following the terror attacks.
But Sir Keir has since backtracked and stressed he only supported Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the atrocities.
He said at the weekend: ‘It is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines. International law must be followed.’
Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy recently struggled with a line of questioning from the BBC over why it took so long – nine days – for Sir Keir to clarify his comments.
‘He’s clarified this week that he was answering the previous question and then went on to talk about the importance of international law,’ she said.
‘I completely understand why people in the Muslim community are in extraordinary amounts of pain right now and heard those words and felt very concerned.
‘I’m glad we’ve clarified that, I’m glad we’ve been consistent about that – Keir, David Lammy and myself – and continue to be consistent about that.’
Three other Labour frontbenchers – Shabana Mahmood, Louise Haigh and Wes Streeting – are reported to have warned Sir Keir at a shadow cabinet meeting that he risked a backlash over his LBC comments.
Most resignations are on heavily pro-Labour councils in areas like Oxford and Manchester, but there have been warnings that the party could cede power on some local authorities if more councillors stand down.
A parliamentary source said: ‘Over the past week, Starmer’s team started the fire by ignoring prominent MPs sounding the sirens around the LBC interview.
‘Privately, Muslim MPs were furious and vocal with the leadership. Council resignations are continuing and the traditional vote bank has, in just a fortnight, collapsed.’
As well as the pressure being piled on Sir Keir over his stance from outside of Westminster, Labour backbenchers in the House of Commons are also signalling their dissent through support for Mr Burgon’s motion.
It calls for ‘an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages, to end to the total siege of Gaza and allow for unfettered access of medical supplies, food, fuel electricity and water, to guarantee that international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected in accordance with those laws’.
Among the motion’s 76 supporters are 37 Labour backbenchers – which is around half of the party’s MPs who are not on Sir Keir’s front bench.
They include former shadow Cabinet ministers John McDonnell, Barry Gardiner, Rebecca Long Bailey and Dawn Butler.
Ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who both now sit as independents in the House of Commons following their suspension as Labour MPs, have also signed the motion.
Twenty-four SNP MPs have backed the motion, along with Green MP Caroline Lucas and Tory backbenchers Sir Peter Bottomley and Crispin Blunt.
In a recent article for the LabourList website, Labour MP Zarah Sultana – one of the sponsors of the motion alongside Mr Burgon – suggested Sir Keir’s stance on the Middle East conflict could damage the party’s standing among Muslim voters in a similar way to the Iraq War in 2003.
She wrote: ‘Just as the Iraq war did lasting damage to Labour’s relationship with Britain’s Arab and Muslim communities, there is a real risk that could happen again – unless the party starts to highlight the war crimes being committed against the Palestinian people and calls for an immediate ceasefire.’
Sir Keir yesterday risked further fuelling Labour tensions as he backed a police crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests.
The Labour leader – a former director of public prosecutions – said ministers had to look at ‘gaps in the law’ amid a row over weekend demonstrations in which people chanted ‘jihad’ while police officers looked on.
Asked about the chants on a visit to the Port Talbot steelworks, Sir Keir told broadcasters: ‘There’s been a huge increase in hate crime in the last couple of weeks, tragically.
‘We’ve all got a duty to clamp down on hate crime whatever political party we’re in. Obviously, the police are independent operationally, so these are decisions for them.
‘I think there have already been identified some gaps in the law in a previous review under this Government and I think the Government needs to look at whether there are gaps in the law that need to be addressed as well.’
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Corbyn clashed with Mr Sunak as the PM criticised the ex-Labour leader for describing Hamas as ‘friends’ in the past.
The Islington North MP has previously said he regrets the comments from 2009, in which he described both Hezbollah and Hamas as friends.
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