IAN AUSTIN: If Keir Starmer doesn’t get tougher, he’ll lose control of his party
Keir Starmer hasn’t faced a challenge like it since he took control of Labour three years ago. Ten members of his frontbench team have either quit or been sacked for defying his order not to vote for a ‘ceasefire’ in the war between Israel and Hamas.
In total, 56 Labour MPs joined the SNP and Liberal Democrats to demand an end to the fighting on Wednesday night – a move that, however appealing it might seem, Israel insists would allow the thugs of the Islamist terror group to plot fresh attacks.
To his credit, the Labour leader continues to stand up for the Middle East’s only democracy, against a growing weight of pressure from his own party.
What a contrast to the dismal Jeremy Corbyn years and the culture of rabid anti-Semitism over which he presided. In 2019, I felt I had no choice but to quit the party of which I had been a member for decades, including as a government minister.
I’m sure that parading through the voting lobbies made those Labour rebels feel virtuous this week – but it was still an utterly self-indulgent waste of time.
What makes ostensibly serious people resign over an issue over which they have no influence at all, and when their party is on the brink of power?
Keir Starmer hasn’t faced a challenge like it since he took control of Labour three years ago
One answer, at least, is clear.
There is a strong correlation between the Labour MPs who voted against their leadership and those with large Muslim populations in their constituencies.
Rachel Hopkins, until this week a shadow defence minister, represents Luton South – where over 30 per cent of the population is Muslim.
The same is true for ex-Women and Equalities shadow Yasmin Qureshi, a rebel whose Bolton South East seat also has more than a 30 per cent Muslim population. But this is not the only possible reason for Labour’s growing civil war on this issue. Many of the party’s MPs are being inundated by emails attacking Israel. Some have cheerfully joined marches at which other protesters have waved banners emblazoned with hateful anti-Semitic slogans, screamed in support of ‘intifada’ and called for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East.
MPs of every party should speak out loudly to condemn such racist displays on British streets.
It is not the case that everyone calling for a ceasefire wants to see Israel wiped off the map – but it is certainly true that everyone who wants to see Israel wiped off the map is calling for a ceasefire.
The fact Hamas, Hezbollah and the mullahs of the Iranian dictatorship are calling for a ‘ceasefire’ should be more than enough to give British MPs pause for thought.
Alas no. Instead, some flaunt their credentials all too openly.
In total, 56 Labour MPs joined the SNP and Liberal Democrats to demand an end to the fighting on Wednesday night
Take Afzal Khan, until this week shadow minister for exports – who apologised in 2019 after sharing on social media what appeared to be an anti-Semitic conspiracy.
Or Naz Shah, formerly the shadow home office minister, who was suspended in 2016 after claiming Israeli Jews should be ‘relocated’ to America and posted an article that likened Zionism to Al Qaeda. She said she ‘deeply regretted’ the posts. Needless to say, the Corbynite wing of the party will always reliably vote against Israel. It was no surprise to see the ultra-Left Richard Burgon rebelling – the same MP who denied having said that ‘Zionism is the enemy of peace’ until a video revealed he had said just that.
READ MORE: Labour rebels who defied Keir Starmer to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza could return to his top team
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell also has a long history of campaigning against the Jewish state.
What makes this mass resignation more shameful is that many of the more supposedly ‘principled’ MPs will no doubt come crawling back when the time comes. Some of them, like Dan Carden, Mary Foy, Sarah Owen and Hopkins, resigned over a privacy issue relating to another bill in October 2020 – and have just done so again.
This time, Starmer should stand firm and leave them languishing on the backbenches. If polls are to be believed, he will have plenty new MPs after the election.
Others like McDonnell, Burgon and the reliably hysterical Brighton MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle should be barred from standing for Labour at the next election. Voters want strong leadership and that would show the party has moved on from the Corbyn years. If Starmer fails to do so, he will find this civil war escalates beyond his control.
Lord Austin of Dudley was Labour’s minister for the West Midlands from 2008-10
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