November 12th 2023:
Yesterday saw the biggest demonstration on London’s streets since the anti-Iraq wat protests of 20 years ago. And like those protests then, this was a march for peace. Clips from keynote speakers Apsana Begum MP and John McDonnell MP here and here underline this.
These protests will continue until their demands for a ceasefire are met. The pressure on the Labour leader in particular grows ever greater.
Keir Starmer’s personal ratings have taken a hit, with the latest Opinium poll for the Observer showing a slump in the proportion of voters who regard him as a strong leader compared with a month ago.
Starmer faces a further challenge to his authority this week if Parliament gets a chance to vote on a ceasefire motion. Senior Labour figures are urging MPs not to “undermine the party in Scotland” by supporting the SNP’s motion demanding a ceasefire, the Guardianreports.
Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, however, has made up his mind, tweeting: “I will vote for an immediate ceasefire next week. I do not say that to provoke anyone. This is a moral question of principle for me & not a party political issue. MPs should be allowed to follow their own conscience & judgement not have a party whip.”
Beyond Westminster, 25 of the UK’s leading climate and environmental justice groups have called the Labour Party leadership’s refusal to support a ceasefire in Gaza a “disastrous moral abdication.” They added that the “notion of a ‘humanitarian pause’ to such an unspeakable crime is insulting”, for it would fail to stop the mass killing of Palestinians by Israel, as the death toll exceeds 10,000.
The comments were made in a letter sent to Ed Miliband, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. In it, groups call on the former Labour leader to “immediately speak out for a ceasefire,” declaring that his reputation for leadership on the climate crisis “will be irreparably damaged” if his “silence on Gaza continues.”
The letter recalls that, as Labour leader during Israel’s onslaught against Gaza in 2014, Miliband both spoke up for a ceasefire and condemned then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s “inexplicable” silence on the mass killing of Palestinian civilians.
The letter – an unprecedented foreign policy intervention by leading climate justice groups in the UK – adds to growing pressure on the Labour Party leadership from across British civil society to speak out for a ceasefire to stop the mass slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, said: “The climate movement stands with the Palestinian people. Not just because they face the sharp end of the same politics that fuels wars, extracts resources, and destroys our planet – but because our commitment to humanity is what defines us.”
“We demand that those who claim to represent progressive values stand up for them. The shameful complicity of both Labour and the Conservative government in this moment will be remembered – by the climate movement, and by a whole generation who are watching the horror of Israel’s crimes unfold, and wondering why politicians who pose as defenders of human rights and international law refuse to demand an end to the killing.”
Chris Saltmarsh, co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal, said: “There can be no politics as usual while Israeli forces wage a genocidal campaign in Gaza with consent from both sides of British politics.”
“The UN Secretary-General, Human Rights Commissioner, and General Assembly, not to mention countless respected international humanitarian agencies and rights watchdogs, have demanded a ceasefire. Yet Labour, a party led by a human rights lawyer and supposedly committed to a rules-based international order, continues to drag its feet. There is no excuse for it.”
Farhana Yamin, a leading international climate lawyer and activist, said: “We demand a ceasefire in Palestine for the same reason we demand climate justice; because preserving life comes first.”
“If Labour’s leadership cannot even show moral and legal clarity and courage over this clear-cut humanitarian catastrophe, what hope do we have of a global effort to protect the future of people and planet?”
The full list of signatories is: Labour for a Green New Deal, Green New Deal Rising, Extinction Rebellion, People & Planet, Friends of the Earth Scotland, UK Youth Climate Coalition, War on Want, Stop Rosebank, Feedback Global, Tipping Point, Greener Jobs Alliance, Platform, Positive Mone, The Democracy Collaborative, London Mining Network, Medact (Health for a Green New Deal), Campaign Against Climate Change (Trade Union Group), Extinction Rebellion (Scotland), Fridays for Future Scotland, Parents For Future Scotland, Glasgow Community Energy, Walking Forest, Brazil Matters, Bolivia Solidarity Campaign and Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.
Ed Miliband’s principled call for a ceasefire in Gaza in 2014 stands in contrast to his current silence. The refusal to make a stand is all the more disappointing given the clear call for a ceasefire from his historically more right wing brother, David, now President of the International Rescue Committee.
Ten years ago, Ed Miliband again broke with the US Administration and the Cameron government to take a stand against the plan to bomb Syria. The late Michael Meacher MP wrote at the time:
“The breaking news that Miliband has decided that Labour will tomorrow vote against the Government’s motion for an almost immediate attack on Syria will not only be greeted with heartfelt relief across most of the country, it will also be recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader. The pressures for conformity with the joint US-UK establishment at a climactic moment like this on the potential edge of war cannot be overstated. It singles out Ed Miliband as a man of inner strength and integrity who can take the gritty decisions when they are most needed, and this is undoubtedly one of those times.”
It’s a shame that Ed Miliband today cannot find that same inner strength and integrity. But it’s also worth remembering that Labour’s refusal to back the Syrian adventure at that time actually prevented it from going ahead. Without UK backing, the Obama Administration did not want to undertake a unilateral bombing campaign. Innocent civilians who would otherwise have been killed were not. It’s a sign that grassroots pressure can save lives.
Image: March for Palestinian rights in London on November 11th, c/o Labour Hub.