22 February 2024

The Gaza conflict has exposed Westminster’s arrogance


There’s a video that’s gone viral on social media of a man standing in the middle of a Sainsbury’s with a loudhailer, telling people which aisles have Israeli produce.

He is, of course, trying to ensure that shoppers boycott the avocado, hummus and samphire. But the genius of social media – and yes, it can actually be fun – is that he has been mocked relentlessly for doing Israel’s PR, helpfully informing people just which aisles they need to get in order to pick out produce to help support the world’s only Jewish state.

I thought of this chap last night, watching the ludicrous debate on Gaza in the House of Commons. The joy of the mockery of Mr Loudhailer-at-Sainsbury’s is that he is so fantastically pompous, assuming everyone in the shop shares his obsession with boycotting Jews and wants to hear his booming middle-class tones.

He surely has a career as an MP awaiting him if he chooses, since last night’s debate was essentially that video writ large. Pomposity, though, doesn’t come close to the monumental self-regard of a political class which thinks the world is waiting for it to debate, and vote on, its view of a conflict in which we have no direct interest, have no armed forces involved and have no serious role in helping to resolve.

As for the substance of the debate, supposedly on a putative ceasefire in Gaza, there is nothing – literally, nothing – we or any MP can do to bring about a ceasefire. The only way there will be a ceasefire, which has been the case since Israel first entered Gaza in October, is if Hamas decides both to return its hostages and to give up power in Gaza. And if you think either of those are in the gift, or even the aegis, of the UK in any way – let alone influenced by a debate in the House of Commons – then you need serious help. 

But none of what happened yesterday in the Commons was concerned with bringing about a ceasefire, of course. It’s about British domestic politics. That’s why what was already a ludicrously irrelevant debate turned into a farce, when Mr Speaker decided to shaft the SNP and bail out Keir Starmer over his internal difficulties by capitulating to the demands of the Free Palestine mob.

Let me explain. Labour had imposed a three line whip against the SNP’s motion (it was an SNP Opposition Day). That meant Labour MPs would have to vote No. This would then mean they couldn’t go back to their constituencies and tell the mobs protesting outside their offices, in their streets and – sometimes – in front of their homes that they had voted for a ceasefire. And for very good reason, that prospect scared many of them. The mobs demand with fanatical fervour that their conditions are met – and those who do not comply must suffer the consequences.

That is all yesterday was ever intended to be about – political posturing for a domestic audience. For the SNP it was about showing up Labour’s stance and its divisions (some Labour MPs would certainly have defied the whip and voted for the SNP’s motion). For Labour, it was about finding a way to have their support for a ceasefire recorded to pacify the mob. And for the Tories it was about – this is politics after all – exposing Labour’s divisions. Labour wanted its own amendment called for just that reason – so its MPs could vote together for a ceasefire and buy some time from the mob.

Meanwhile, far away from Westminster, the war continues.

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Stephen Pollard is editor-at-large of the Jewish Chronicle.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.