Subscribe to the View from Westminster email to receive expert analysis directly in your inbox.
Receive our complimentary email newsletter: A Perspective from Westminster.
Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership has been significantly weakened as members of the Labour party rebelled against his position on a ceasefire in Gaza.
A total of 10 members of the Labour leader’s frontbench either resigned or were fired, as over 25% of his MPs went against him to back an immediate end to the conflict.
Jess Phillips, the opposition spokesperson on domestic abuse, was the most prominent frontbench member to resign as 56 Labour MPs in the House of Commons supported the request for a cessation of hostilities.
Ms Phillips stated that she had stepped down with a feeling of sadness, but noted that she was unable to see any way in which the ongoing military action would not jeopardize the possibility of peace and safety for all people in the region, both presently and in the long term.
The leader of the Labour party has requested a temporary break in the fighting and cautioned against a complete ceasefire, stating that it may only strengthen Hamas and allow them to strategize for further acts of violence.
The Labour MPs were instructed to support the party’s alteration to the King’s Speech, in accordance with that stance.
The members of Parliament were under pressure to refrain from voting on the Scottish National Party’s proposal for a ceasefire. In the vote, 293 MPs voted against the amendment proposed by the SNP, while 125 voted in favor, resulting in a majority of 168 rejecting the amendment. However, 56 Labour MPs supported the idea of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Yasmin Qureshi, the Member of Parliament for Bolton South and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, was the first to announce her resignation in support of the SNP’s call. She expressed her concern over the extensive violence in Gaza, stating it to be “unprecedented,” and urged fellow MPs to join in calling for an end to the violence and protection of innocent lives to alleviate human suffering.
Afzal Khan, the Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton and the shadow minister for exports, stated that supporting a ceasefire is the minimum action we can take, following the individual mentioned before him, She.
Paula Barker, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Devolution and the English Regions, has announced her resignation, citing the need to follow her conscience.
In addition to the shadow ministers who resigned, frontbenchers Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, Naz Shah, and Andy Slaughter also stepped down for defying party orders and supporting the amendment.
The positions held by Dan Carden and Mary Foy as parliamentary private secretaries have also been vacated.
Keir expressed disappointment that his fellow party members did not support his stance, but also stated, “I wanted to make my position and future actions clear.”
Prior to the vote, over 70 Labour Members of Parliament had openly supported the call for a cessation of hostilities in Gaza. However, a spokesperson for the Labour party stated that a vote in the House of Commons would be treated differently, stating, “This is a mandated vote and each MP is aware of the implications that come with it.”
On Wednesday, in the House of Commons discussion, Ms Shah was the initial Labour spokesperson to announce her backing of the amendment. She was then joined by shadow minister Helen Hayes, who represents Dulwich and West Norwood, in stating to the Commons that “a cessation of hostilities is the least we should be asking for in light of the appalling distress.”
Labour’s choice to not support a ceasefire has led to several party councillors leaving, and Sir Keir had to hold a crucial meeting last month with a group of Muslim Labour MPs to address their frustration with his handling of the situation. This includes his remarks implying support for cutting off power and water to Gaza.
Unfortunately, Imran Hussain, a frontbencher, ultimately stepped down last week with reluctance. He stated that he was leaving his position as a shadow minister in order to actively promote a ceasefire.
The confrontation at the Commons occurred when Israeli soldiers entered Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, claiming that it was being used as a military base by Hamas. Medical professionals have expressed concern for the safety of civilians, as the hospital has been surrounded by troops and several patients have already lost their lives.