With all the mess the Tories are putting themselves through, it should be hard to imagine Labour officials breaking their united front at this time. Yet on Wednesday evening, they managed to do just that.
Sir Keir Starmer suffered what has understandably been described as the biggest rebellion of his leadership yet, as eight shadow frontbenchers and almost a third of Labour MPs defied him over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza.
The motion was brought forward by the Scottish National Party, which described the vote as “a question of values and a question of conscience.” But while Sir Keir backs ‘humanitarian pauses’ in Gaza and has urged Israel to “submit to the rules of international law” in its response to Hamas terrorists, he has repeatedly refused to support calls for a ceasefire.
He said that any frontbencher who backed the motion would be sacked. In the end, he lost eight, perhaps the most significant of these being Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence Jess Phillips. Phillips resigned from her position with a “heavy heart” following what she described as “one of the toughest weeks in politics” she has been through.
One Labour source told The Times that the rebellion was a “massive, damning indictment of Starmer’s judgement on this issue.” Labour has been in crisis over its official Israel stance since the initial October 7th terrorist attacks, despite having no say on the matter. One frontbencher, Imran Hussain, quit last week over Sir Keir’s response to the war—particularly over his suggestion early on that Israel “does have that right” to cut off water and electricity from Gaza—and Muslim councillors across the country have threatened to stand down from their positions if they haven’t already.
Illustrating the strength of feeling on this issue, now-former Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction Naz Shah said after the vote (emphasis added):
Had we called for a ceasefire yesterday, 144 children might still be alive.
She failed to point to evidence that suggests a vote in the British Houses of Parliament would affect the decisions of Israel and Hamas.
Journalist John Rentoul has pointed out that, because of the fallout of this vote, there are no longer any members of the Socialist Campaign Group on the Labour front bench. The “self-purge,” he added, “is complete.”