Labour MPs defy leadership to vote for ceasefire

16 November 2023

By Andy Yorke

A HOUSE of Commons vote on 15 November on amendment tabled by the SNP calling for a ceasefire in Gaza fell by 293 to 125 votes (with nearly half of parliament absenting themselves). In doing so, all of them share responsibility for the ongoing genocide.

Of course, the SNP’s amendment to the King’s speech, the government’s legislative agenda for the next year, was purely symbolic. It would not have changed Rishi Sunak’s policy on Gaza or bound the government in any way. And with a big Tory majority it was always certain to fail.

As thousands protested outside Parliament, and with Israel’s brutal assault on the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City ongoing, parliament endorsed the cowardly ‘humanitarian pauses’ that US President Joe Biden, and Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer have presented as an ‘alternative’ to ending the bombardment and the murderous siege.

Indeed, the UN Security Council has passed just such a feeble resolution calling for ‘urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip.’ But even this was treated with contempt by Israel’s representative who insisted the mass murder would go on.

Starmer’s own amendment, criticising Israel’s military actions but stopping short of calling for a ceasefire, also instructed Labour MPs members to abstain on the SNP motion. Many chose to vote for both, however, amid anger among Labour members over how he has handled the issue.

Over 250 Muslim Labour councillors have written to Starmer in an unprecedented letter organised by the Labour Muslim Network calling for an immediate ceasefire. Others have have resigned their positions. This has resulted in Labour losing its majority on Oxford Council.

In the end, 56 Labour MPs defied the whip to vote for the SNP amendment. Though that is a minority of the 193, it included ten in the shadow cabinet members. Afzal Khan, Paula Barker, Yasmin Qureshi, resigned from the frontbench, along with Mary Foy and Dan Carden, both parliamentary private secretaries, while Starmer has sacked Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, Naz Shah, and Andy Slaughter.

Even the right wing Labour Friends of Israel MP Jess Phillips, whose Birmingham Yardley constituency has a large Muslim population, resigned in order to vote for the amendment.

The outcome of the vote may give Starmer momentary relief but also highlights that his policy is indistinguishable from the Tories, and that he is well to right of the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and SNP. It also shows the growing cracks in the Starmer leadership, hammered by the mass outpouring of anger over Gaza.

The resignations show that the mass protests, direct action, and pressure on MPs is having an effect. But the vote reinforces how much further we have to go to break the Labour’s leadership’s ‘unconditional support’ for Israel.

The way forward

To sustain and deepen the movement, we need to draw in the organised working class—the trade unions—as well as the thousands of young activists who have led the way so far.

Every locality should organise an action committees composed of delegates from local trade unions, Labour Party branches, and campaigning organisations. Initially these could be elected by general assemblies drawing in as many workers and young people as possible, but our aim should be to organise regional and national delegate conferences to agree a common strategy for escalating the action.

As long as Labour can rely on the money handed over by trade union leaders it can resist the pressure of demonstrations. As long as the trade union leaders refuse to mobilise their members for the solidarity action called for by Palestinian trade unions, they are putting their sectional, caste interests ahead of the class question of stopping Israel’s genocide.

The antiwar movement, Labour councillors and MPs should demand a meeting with the TUC council—headed by pro-Palestine FBU general secretary Matt Wrack—and call on it to endorse the movement, take part in it, and withdraw funding for the pro-Zionist Labour MPs.

As long as Labour is backed by the money and resources of the trade unions, as long as it relies on the votes of millions of working class people, who see it as the vehicle to kick out the Tories, we must do all in our power to prevent Starmer winning an election on a duplicate of the Tories policies.

Starmer’s support for Israel is ultimately rooted in the Zionist state’s role as guard dog of Anglo-American imperialism’s interests in the Middle East. The Labour leader marches in lockstep with the Tories and US Democrats, hoping to persuade the ruling class Labour can be trusted to defend their interests where it really matters. But as long as Labour is backed by the money and resources of the trade unions, as long as it relies on the votes of millions of working class people, who see it as the vehicle to kick out the Tories, we can use this support as a vise to increase the pressure on the leadership to abandon their pro-imperialist policies.

The recent rebellion shows that stepping up pressure on Labour works. Now we need to apply the same pressure within the trade unions.

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