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Labour Divided over War in Gaza

By Hiba Ul-Hasan BA History

Starmer…does not want to support a ceasefire because it will only ‘embolden’ Hamas”

On 15 November, Members of Parliament voted against a Scottish National Party (SNP) amendment to the King’s Speech, which called on the UK government to “join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire,” in Gaza. The vote in the Commons was defeated by 293 to 125.

The results sparked dissatisfaction and outrage among sections of the British people. On the eve of the vote, almost 15,000 people gathered outside Parliament, asking that their MPs support the call for a ceasefire. This protest followed a succession of notable marches in support of Palestine, some of which have drawn an estimated half-million people. The defeat of the motion has heightened the public’s disapproval of the UK government’s stance towards the war in Gaza.

According to The Guardian, the war is now affecting British politics, with Labour Party leader

Keir Starmer facing the resignation of ten frontbenchers and 46 councillors. According to reports, Starmer threatened to sack any Labour frontbencher who supported the SNP ceasefire proposal. Despite this, 56 Labour MPs voted in favour of the ceasefire, while 140 abstained.

Instead of endorsing an immediate ceasefire, Starmer called for “humanitarian pauses,” despite acknowledging the significant number of casualties in Gaza over the past month. He claims that he does not want to support a ceasefire because it will only “embolden” Hamas. 

Concurrently, Israel’s Defence Forces launched a ground offensive against Hamas, infiltrating Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main medical institution. As the death toll rises, the humanitarian situation worsens.

Concerns have also been voiced about the Labour Party’s standing in Scotland in the aftermath of the vote. Leader Keir Starmer attempted to strike a careful balance between party unity and his political views. His decision to oppose the SNP’s amendment reveals the tension of maintaining a united Labour front and a fear that support of the motion could have proven detrimental to the party’s cohesion. The move, however, may have unintended consequences, as it could induce a fall in support in Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar expressed disappointment with Starmer’s stance in an interview on LBC News. Sarwar called Starmer’s support for Israel’s actions, particularly the cutting-off of crucial supplies to Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, “hurtful.” Despite Labour’s recent by-election victories in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Sarwar’s comments highlight a deepening fracture within the Labour Party, particularly in Scotland.

The current situation poses a challenge to Starmer’s leadership as he attempts to reconcile party unity, especially given that many Labour MPs say they are under intense pressure from party members and constituents to adopt a stronger stance against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Londoners march for a ceasefire in Gaza (Credit: Tania Monica)

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