Israel-Gaza war: Apathy and anger at Sir Keir Starmer’s office, but MPs confident party will unite over Gaza stance
The Labour leader has called for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict, but declined to support a ceasefire, explaining it would only allow the terrorist organisation Hamas to regroup.
Following a disastrous LBC interview where he insisted Israel had the “right” to deny water and electricity to Gaza, pressure has been growing on Sir Keir, who has taken several steps to rectify the situation. His office have claimed his comments were misunderstood, he was answering a different question, and that he supports humanitarian law.
However, party discipline has now been called into question, following Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, quitting his role on Wednesday as shadow minister for the New Deal for Working People to be able to “strongly advocate” for a ceasefire.
At least 16 shadow ministers have either called for a ceasefire or shared others’ calls on social media, while around 30 councillors have resigned.
Speaking with figures across the party, The Scotsman has been told of widespread frustration with how Sir Keir has handled the crisis, with accusations he is not engaging with MPs who wish to discuss the issue. However, Labour figures are still not expecting more resignations.
One MP told The Scotsman they were sympathetic to those resigning, but questioned what it would actually achieve.
They said: “It kind of feels like it's laid a gauntlet down to all the other frontbenchers who have raised concerns and particularly those who have broken ranks on ceasefire calls already … but beyond massively increasing pressure on them to go, as it sets a clear precedent, I'm still not sure if it's the start of something bigger or a one-off event.
“I've seen there's an amendment to the King's Speech that calls for a ceasefire, so I guess that's intended to force people's hands and set the conditions for a potential series of resignations. But presumably that amendment has to be selected to be voted on, and there's no guarantee it will, so it might all be fruitless. I also don't think resigning from the front bench is seen as all that noble versus resigning the whip as various councillors have done.”
In a sign of the unhappiness in the parliamentary party, the MP also accused the Labour leadership of not engaging with fellow MPs, and even failing to meet with Jewish MPs – an allegation others have denied.
They said: “I think the morale thing is mostly frustration that LOTO [leader of the opposition’s office] just aren't engaging on any of this stuff. So of course people are acting out. Jewish MPs have been trying to get a meeting for three weeks now.
“Even with the substantive policy being the same, there is a way to actually take people with you on controversial stuff."
Another MP echoed the frustrations, claiming the leadership had “no interest” in listening, but admitting the policy has been working.
They said: “Ultimately we’re trying to win a general election, and have influence over situations in the Middle East.
“LOTO are not listening to us, but I suppose when they see the polling, they think they don’t have to do so. It’s frustrating, but why would more resign when on the brink of Government?”
One Labour MP expressed their sympathy for Mr Hussain, saying this was so “hard for everyone” it was difficult to get a clear idea of how the party was managing.
However, following numerous attacks from those on the left and the SNP, they suggested the debate was being politicised in bad faith.
They said: “It’s really telling that Labour’s opponents are trying to weaponise this, when this is an issue that transcends electoral politics. We are all sympathetic to Imran, he’s just come to a different route when we all want the same thing, peace and a two-state solution.”
Multiple Labour MPs told The Scotsman staff had been intimidated or verbally abused over their MP’s stance, sometimes for not taking one, so they were being more careful about what they said.
Others pointed out Sir Keir is seen as the de-facto prime minister, so to speak out could be seen as a damaging intervention.
One senior Labour source said it was “frustrating” to see a resignation, but insisted there was little chance of Sir Keir changing tact.
They explained: “I think for a host of political, practical and also morally sincere reasons he won’t move from this position. I’m not worried, but I don’t want to see anyone on the front bench resigning, I don’t want to see political instability. Them resigning doesn’t further the Palestinian cause, and means they aren’t in the tent advocating for a ceasefire.
“I don’t feel that LOTO is going to do anything that will make the community feel like it hasn’t got its back.”
There was also a suggestion the anger towards the Labour leadership was misplaced.
The source added: “I think it is such a classic Labour party thing to turn an international conflict into a discussion that’s all about the Labour party.
“It’s like the idiots who decided the best thing they could do to advance the accords of citizens in Gaza is to picket Wes Streeting’s office. What can the shadow secretary for health do?
“There is a constituency on this that isn’t factional, that is raising proper concerns about what is going on, what is happening in Gaza. But you can’t overlook there is a faction that isn’t. Those annoyed he’s more like a prime minister-in-waiting rather than a student union president.”
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