It had to be the subject of Israel and Gaza which would cause Keir Starmer the biggest rebellion of his leadership.
More than 60 Labour MPs have called for a ceasefire and a raft of councillors have resigned. There are those on the left who smell blood, desperate for any opportunity to undermine Starmer’s leadership – they always prefer to be in opposition. Revolution comrades! Intifada!
Weakness, naivety, stupidity – call it what you want – there is a fundamental blindness among some on the liberal left when it comes to Islamic extremism. These good, condescending folks don’t understand that however much peace and love you give out to the world, terrorists want to exterminate you because of, not despite of, your liberal values.
Slightly more worrying for Starmer is the fact that some of soft left of his party, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, as well as centrist Jess Phillips, have also joined the rebellion. It would be churlish to ask whether this was more about elections than ethics – 71% of Muslims voted Labour in 2019 – but one does have to wonder how credulous they have to be to think that a ceasefire will do anything other than prolong the pain for Israelis and Palestinians for years to come.
No one wants to see innocent Palestinians being killed. The scenes of crowded hospitals, destroyed buildings and dead children are devastating. But Hamas started this war knowing that ordinary civilians would pay a brutal price. How would those calling for a ceasefire rid the world of an organisation which would rather kill its own citizens than give up its guns? Being nice to terrorists won’t make them stop murdering you.
The most myopic of Hamas’ useful idiots is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn – who can forget the Labour conference where there were no British flags but several Palestinian ones?
But he’s not the only left winger to regard violent extremists implacably hostile to Western values as his friends. Academics and feminists like Judith Butler have claimed Hamas and Hezbollah are ‘progressive’. Earlier this week, UCL academics said of Hamas: ‘It is the duty of the international movement of workers to support this struggle’. Tell that to the women Hamas terrorists raped, Judith. Tell that to the workers Hamas tortured.
So far Keir is doing a good job holding the line. Yesterday he sacked Andy McDonald for not only breaking an edict on attending a demo about the conflict but also quoting the bloodthirsty song ‘from the river to the sea’. Ask people singing that song what it means – how Jews will be protected if their utopia comes true – and they always shrug.
Starmer, the perpetual fence-sitter, has finally found a side to step on. At a Chatham House event this morning, the Labour leader explained rather patiently, as if to children, that a ceasefire won’t solve anything in the longer term. There had been an Egyptian brokered ceasefire since 2021. It is probably part of the reason Israel didn’t take whispers of a Hamas attack seriously. On 7October Hamas broke that ceasefire by murdering 1400 Israelis – first torturing many of them – and kidnapping around 230 people (the numbers are still unclear as many of the bodies are so mutilated they can only be identified by DNA).
I’ve spent the last few weeks interviewing survivors of the attacks – people who have lost everything. And the irony is that these were among the most peace-loving people in Israel. Normally they would be demanding a ceasefire too. They are kibbutzniks who also believed that if you showed kindness and friendship to your nearest neighbours across the border, they would love you too. Many are now dead at the hands of Hamas terrorists. So, forgive me if I sound callous, but a ceasefire is simply not possible.
It is important that Starmer continues to hold the line – I am worried that he will waiver. But this is not just about his party’s internal problems with antisemitism, but about British values. We must support our democratic allies in defending themselves against terrorism, and everyone in the West shares an interest in expunging the threat of Islamic extremism. On this occasion, for peace there has to be war.
The Prime Minister is doing a good job too. It is easier for him to be strong on this even though he too is facing a smaller rebellion of councillors. Yesterday he also fired an MP – Paul Bristow lost his job as a PPS for calling for a ceasefire and the end of ‘collective punishment’.
Starmer and Sunak are, in this policy, perhaps more closely aligned than on most things. And it is right that they emphasise the need for humanitarian aid to keep reaching Palestinians.
At a time when we need cool heads, strong leadership and people who recognise the importance of Western values – it is good to see both leaders standing shoulder to shoulder. It also means that they will be in a good position to influence what happens after this war.
Meanwhile, let the Labour MPs continue their wrangling – it won’t make a jot of difference in how Israel wages its war against Hamas.
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