Starmer’s dirty tricks sabotage parliament ceasefire call

23 February 2024

Dave Stockton

THE RECENT Parliamentary debate on an immediate ceasefire for Gaza quickly descended into absurdity. The SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire and condemning Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza was hijacked by Labour, leading to the spectacle of the majority of MPs leaving the chamber of the House of Commons. While Israel is threatening a wholesale massacre amongst the 1.5 million internally displaced Palestinians in Rafah, Parliament has instead passed a toothless Labour motion which would make a ceasefire dependent on the release of all hostages and the effective disarmament of the resistance.

The Scottish National Party had submitted a short Opposition Day motion to the Commons that is worth quoting in full.

‘That this House calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel; notes with shock and distress that the death toll has now risen beyond 28,000, the vast majority of whom were women and children; further notes that there are currently 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, 610,000 of whom are children; also notes that they have nowhere else to go; condemns any military assault on what is now the largest refugee camp in the world; further calls for the immediate release of all hostages taken by Hamas and an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; and recognises that the only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians is to press for a ceasefire now.’

A dirty manoeuvre by Labour prevented any debate or a vote on the SNP’s resolution. Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, under pressure from Keir Starmer, broke with the commonly accepted rules and took Labour’s amendment first, thus aborting any discussion of the SNP’s motion.

Whilst Labour’s amendment did call for ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts and is observed by all sides,’ it caveated this heavily by stating that ‘Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence, and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October 2023 cannot happen again.’ These are the pretexts that Netanyahu continuously repeats for why a ceasefire is not possible until Hamas is completely eliminated.

Starmer’s evasive resolution, avoiding any criticism whatsoever of the state that has caused the humanitarian catastrophe and now threatens Rafah with genocide, was facilitated by SNP and Tory members leaving the chamber en masse, thus allowing it to pass.

For the Tories this was a cynical ploy, avoiding debate of the issue and, as Penny Mordaunt proclaimed smugly on leading the walkout, meant they could also ignore a meaningless vote on Labour’s amendment. Whether stunned by events or fuming with rage, the SNP largely followed suit. But Labour was full of self-congratulation and considered it a great outcome.

The official reason Starmer gave to persuade Mr Speaker to break his own rules was that Labour MPs faced enormous pressure and indeed threats of violence from their constituents if they did not vote for some sort of ceasefire. Thus Labour had to provide a duplicitous alternative to the SNP’s unequivocal call.

But this version of events has been questioned, with some saying Labour raised party political reasons and even threatened Hoyle. The Whips had warned Starmer that without such an alternative, as many as 100 Labour MPs would vote for the SNP resolution, in a damaging repeat of the 15 November rebellion. Lisa Nandy had to vigorously deny allegations that Labour had threatened Hoyle with his job after the election. Either way, it is highly unlikely that Labour’s half-hearted call, let alone Starmer’s pose as a strong man, will win him any support.

In fact, a huge majority of ordinary people—not simply those of Muslim heritage and especially amongst working class and young people—reject Starmer’s support for the settler state and its rulers’ determination to totally deprive the Palestinians of their homeland. A YouGov poll on 13 February showed 66% of respondents supported a halt to Israel’s attacks and an immediate ceasefire, whereas only 13% supported its continuation. Of those who voted Labour in the 2019 general election, 83% are for a ceasefire now. And this despite the blanket support given by the press and the broadcast media to Israel’s justifications and the narrative that all those who reject them are antisemites.

The truth is Starmer and Labour support Israel’s atrocities—that ordinary people can see quite clearly—not simply out of his oft-declared personal commitment to Zionism but because Israel is the guard dog for British and American imperialism and their European Union allies in the Middle East. It has been so right from the foundation of the state in 1948 and the driving of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land (the Nakba). Because Jeremy Corbyn, when he was Leader of the party, had long supported Palestinian rights, he was smeared and slandered as at the very least tolerating antisemitism, then ousted and suspended as a Labour MP.

If this is the kind of duplicity and trickery we get from Starmer while he is in opposition, including dumping all the more worthwhile parts of Labour’s programme inherited from the Corbyn years, then what will he be able to do, when armed with the far greater powers of a Prime Minister? The relentless quashing of party democracy, the expulsion of anyone who criticises Israel, even when it is carrying out a genocide, points to the next Labour government trampling on democracy wholesale—not just in parliament, but on the streets—to push through a pro-imperialist agenda.

Tags:  •   •   • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter