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Keir Starmer’s painful road to a ceasefire

Keir Starmer considers a permanent pause in fighting. Credit: Getty

February 20, 2024 - 4:10pm

The Labour Party’s language on Gaza shifted another incremental notch this afternoon, calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza.

Back in the autumn, Starmer refused to call directly for a ceasefire, prompting 56 Labour MPs to defy their leader and back an SNP motion which explicitly advocated an immediate end to fighting in the Middle East. In a neat bit of symmetry, this latest party announcement comes ahead of another SNP-tabled vote in the House of Commons tomorrow. The Scottish Nationalists are lobbying for an “immediate ceasefire”, which Starmer appears to have broadly accepted, albeit with the word “humanitarian” carefully sandwiched in between. 

The linguistic journey for the Labour leader has been fascinating to observe. On Sunday, at the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, Starmer called for a “ceasefire that lasts” in Gaza. This followed the “sustainable ceasefire” he championed earlier this month, itself a successor to December’s “further cessation of hostilities” and November’s “substantial humanitarian pause”. How long is a substantial pause? Is the Leader of the Opposition a secret Harold Pinter fan? Starmer has finally overcome his allergy to the word “ceasefire”, but it will do little to win back those on the Labour Left he has alienated in recent months. 

In the subtle rubric of party relations, this afternoon’s update is not to be seen as a wholesale endorsement of the SNP’s Gaza motion but instead as an amendment. It stresses that Israel’s planned ground offensive in Rafah “risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place”, and calls for both sides in the conflict to observe the ceasefire. Though the party is providing a fuller outline than before of what exactly an end to hostilities would entail, the next question will be whether Starmer owes an explanation — or an apology — to the 10 shadow frontbenchers who either resigned or were fired after disobeying him in November.

“While I understand calls for a ceasefire, at this stage I do not believe that is the correct position,” the Labour leader told Chatham House in late October. Two months later, in his “sustainable” era, Starmer added that the party did “not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward”. 

The pressure from Scotland is emanating not only from the SNP, but also from Labour’s own branch at Holyrood. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has consistently backed a full and immediate ceasefire, and reiterated that stance at the weekend’s conference as a motion was passed in favour of calling for an end to the fighting. 

This included, in Sarwar’s words, “the immediate release of hostages; immediate access to humanitarian aid; [and] crucially, immediate efforts by world leaders to forge a path to an enduring peace and a two-state solution”. Starmer’s statement today essentially chimed with all these points, and one wonders whether it was really the basis of his view the whole time. Yesterday, even the loyalist Wes Streeting conceded that his party’s stance was practically indistinguishable from the SNP’s.

Labour’s Gaza slow-motion pivot arrives a week after the party distanced itself from Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali, who alleged that Israel “allowed” the 7 October massacre to take place. It seems unlikely that this latest clarification will put an end to the infighting.


is UnHerd’s Deputy Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago

I’m reminded of the man who, standing at the edge of a chasm, couldn’t make up his mind whether to jump over or not. So he compromised and jumped half way.

Angela Thomas
Angela Thomas
5 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Always preferred this ‘last year Labour was on the edge of a precipice but they have taken a giant step forward since then’

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Very apt!

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
5 months ago

The Blairites are still not sure about Keir Starmer, but if he meant a word of what he had lately taken to saying about Gaza, then their anti-Semitism scam would be back in full cry, and since Starmer is a vastly less experienced politician than Jeremy Corbyn was, then he might very well have been gone by now. They are saving him for a reason.

David McKee
David McKee
5 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Sigh. Another person who thinks that antisemitism is the product of overactive Jewish imaginations. And yet, I imagine he would be terribly hurt if anyone accused him of being an antisemitic conspiracy theorist.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Well, whatever you say about Starmer, he’s not Corbyn….

Robbie K
Robbie K
5 months ago

Encouraging news, this is a major step forward in the peace process.
Said no one.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Perhaps Starmer could parachute in to Gaza, and sort the whole thing out.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

And take Humza Useless and his cronies with him. Lets see how well the terrorists they support treat them… And they can take Queers for Palestine with them!

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

After he’s done that, he could pay Putin a visit. Read him the Riot Act, and get him to “pull his head in”.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
5 months ago

Hamas are never going to release the hostages except one at a time to extract concessions. They thought that their Arab neighbours would step in and help once Israel responded but that hasn’t happened. So what have they got left now? They don’t care about the Palestinians and will quite happily let the war continue.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
5 months ago

Once Starmer becomes PM, the fun will be onlooking which faction of his party will eat him for breakfast, which for lunch, and which for dinner. And that’s not counting those who will do it for all three. Get the popcorn and the beercans in!

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
5 months ago

I am totally baffled as to why Starmer thinks anyone with the power to achieve any sort of ceasefire cares in the slightest what he says.
What we are actually seeing is the true mark of Starmer’s “principles”.

David McKee
David McKee
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s a balancing act. It ain’t pretty, but it’s trying to keep the elephant from falling off the high-wire. Starmer is trying to keep 3m Muslim votes onside, but without alienating 300,000 Jewish votes (not to mention all the non-Jewish votes which found Corbyn’s Labour Party actively repulsive).

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I seem to recall Corbyn’s Labour Party did rather well against May’s Tories…

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

….and rather badly against Boris’ Tories….

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Corbyn’s Labour Party did rather well against May…low bar, but still..

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Not to mention the Jewish lobby

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I can’t imagine that Labour has that many Jewish votes left.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I have principles and if you don’t like them I have others

John Tyler
John Tyler
5 months ago

Nicely expressed!

Ian_S
Ian_S
5 months ago

Starmer needs an advice book, maybe with the title “So, You’ve let 4 Million Muslims into Your Country”.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago

Well I think all wars should end tomorrow. And bad countries with the most big weapons should not be allowed to use them. It’s immoral.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
5 months ago

Also, we should outlaw crime. 😉

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Abolish death

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago

I appreciate that it is tricky for him, given that he leads a party chock-full of anti-semites.

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
5 months ago

Strange, neither Starmer nor anyone else in Labour is as vocal about Yemen, Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, Syria or Ethiopia – places with death tolls adding up to millions. Can’t for the life of me think why not?

Tharmananthar Shankaradhas
Tharmananthar Shankaradhas
5 months ago

Contortions of UK politicians will have zero impact on peace or otherwise in the Middle East. Politicians will have to take a side on some issues and some have no inner compass to guide them so they end up relying on semantics!

James Watson
James Watson
4 months ago

Judging by the opinion polls, it would seem that every Muslim voter in the UK could boycott Labour and the party would still win in a landslide.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

Whatever up with the rights and wrongs particular conflicts, these ritualistic calls for ceasefires between parties at war are ludicrous. It shows of fundamental misunderstanding of why wars occur. The causes are actually of fundamentally important to the parties involved. I must want to build an anti-israel coalition and uses the most brutal and cynical means to do so; Israel wants to eliminate an.ultimately
potentially existential threat to its existence. Perhaps Hamas miscalculated on 7th October, but they can hardly just now surrender, without losing all credibility to their Iranian backers and other fanatics who support them.

These calls are therefore little more than ritualistic virtue signalling at least in the case of the UK which has next to no influence on this conflict. When it becomes convenient convenient or opportune for one or both of the parties to have a ceasefire then only then will international actors perhaps be called as brokers in some way.

I wonder why there seems to be no similar calls for a ceasefire in Russia and Ukraine? Of course really this is about domestic politics, with Keir Starmer trying to show that he has anti-semitism under control in the Labour Party and possibly failing.