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Starmer battles to maintain Labour discipline over Israel-Hamas war

31 Oct 2023 5 minute read
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a speech on the situation in the Middle East at Chatham House in central London. Photo Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Sir Keir Starmer is battling to maintain Labour discipline with members of his frontbench in open revolt about his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Labour leader has resisted pressure from within his own party to call for a ceasefire, instead urging both parties in the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause to allow aid in and people out of the war zone.

Shadow ministers are among senior Labour figures demanding a change in his stance, with frontbencher Alex Cunningham calling for an “immediate ceasefire” less than an hour before Sir Keir delivered his speech.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also criticised Sir Keir, claiming he had made “hurtful” comments about the conflict and there was “repair work to do” to mend bridges with Muslim communities.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank where Sir Keir was speaking, holding banners reading “Starmer Shame” as they demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Sir Keir said his response was shaped by responding to both the massacre of Jews in Israel by Hamas and the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza.


Hamas would be “emboldened” by a ceasefire and start preparing for future violence immediately, the Labour leader said.

Sir Keir said: “While I understand calls for a ceasefire at this stage, I do not believe that it is the correct position now for two reasons.

“One, because a ceasefire always freezes any conflict in the state where it currently lies. And, as we speak, that would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and the capabilities to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7.

“Attacks that are still ongoing. Hostages who should be released still held.

“Hamas would be emboldened and start preparing for future violence immediately.”

A humanitarian pause is the “only credible approach”, which could see “the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering”.

“Aid distributed quickly. Space to get hostages out,” he said.

“And it is why it is also a position shared by our major allies in the US and the EU.”

Sir Keir said the consequences of events in Israel and Gaza would “last for decades” and “the trauma might never fade”.

There was a “rising temperature on British streets” as a result of the conflict, he acknowledged.

The Hamas attacks were “the biggest slaughter of Jews – and that is why they were killed, do not doubt that – since the Holocaust”.

In an apparent message to his critics in the UK, Sir Keir said: “This is terrorism on a scale and brutality that few countries have ever experienced, certainly not this one, and that is an immutable fact that must drive our response to these events.”

But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was also on a “previously unimaginable scale” with “thousands of innocent Palestinians dead, displaced, desperate for food and water, reduced to drinking contaminated filth, hiding out in hospitals for shelter whilst in those same buildings babies lie in incubators that could turn off at any moment”.

Wales’ first minister has backed Keir Starmer’s calls  for a humanitarian pause in Gaza, despite 12 of his backbenchers signing calls for a ceasefire last week.

In a statement issued to the BBC at the weekend, Mark Drakeford said: “I endorse the calls made by Keir Starmer for humanitarian pauses so that aid can urgently get to those who need it.

“A pause could create conditions which lead to a ceasefire and then on to the crucial next steps to provide a credible route to the peaceful resolution which is so desperately needed.


Before Sir Keir’s speech, Mr Sarwar used a Daily Record interview to criticise Sir Keir’s handling of an LBC interview in which he appeared to endorse Israel cutting off water and power to Gaza – comments the Labour leader later clarified by insisting he was merely stating the Tel Aviv government had the right to self-defence.

The Scottish party leader said: “It was hurtful and I think he would accept it was hurtful. He accepts that it is not his position and it never was his position. But (that) language, framed as it was, did cause hurt.”

He went on to say that the comments could have been clarified and “rebuffed” sooner.

Shadow justice minister Mr Cunningham used a social media message to say there “must be an immediate ceasefire to get vital aid to Palestinians, give the UN chance seek the release of Hamas-held hostages, and end the deadly attacks on Palestinian and Israeli people”.

Yasmin Qureshi, Jess Phillips and Imran Hussain are among other frontbench figures who have joined calls for an end to the fighting.

Sir Keir has also been at odds over its stance on Israel with devolved mayors like Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, and with Labour-led councils across England.

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8 months ago

What is the difference between an Israely death and a Palestinian death?

8 months ago
Reply to  David

Well, apparently one went through a previous Genocide, so they obviously can’t do no ill. They wear it like a shield!

8 months ago

Can’t believe we live in a world where politicians get sacked for not wanting children to die. Replace the Isrealis for anyone else in this world and they would have been stopped inside three days.

8 months ago

The language is all important. Jews being killed is a massacre. Palestinians being killed, being deprived of water, food and power, that’s a humanitarian crisis. An earthquake creates a humanitarian crisis. The deliberate killing of men women and children who are civilians is either a massacre or genocide.

John Brooks
John Brooks
8 months ago

Starmer is effectively saying no ceasefire until Israeli aims have been achieved regardless of the number of civilians killed. Green light to Netanyahu

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
8 months ago
Reply to  John Brooks

What Kier seems to forget is that Israel always does the same thing in response to any attacks by Hamas. They claim to be defeating Hamas, but if we care to look at the historical evidence (as in evidence based decision making) the Israeli actions are always a failure and Palestinians always revolt again later. Why can these politicians not see that the only way for Israel to be at peace with the Palestinians and undermine the Hamas doctrine is to set up the Two State solution. Obviously it will involve Israel giving up a big chuink of land that… Read more »

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
8 months ago

I wonder if his position has anything to do with his support of zionism and his family connections with Tel Aviv,

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