By Isabel Ringrose
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Kirklees councillor: ‘I voted Starmer in 2019, I left over his support for Israel’s war crimes’

Councillor Ammar Anwar quit Labour draped in a Palestinian flag at a full council meeting
Issue 2891
Protester holds placard on palestine demo which reads Tory Sunak and Starmer from Labour support Genocide, remember that

Thousands have left the Labour Party over Starmer’s support for Israel (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Rage at Keir Starmer’s support for Israel’s brutality in Gaza is still causing an exodus from the party. Councillors in London, Yorkshire, Newcastle and Hastings are part of a growing list who have torn up their membership cards.

Councillor Ammar Anwar from Kirklees has been a member of the Labour Party for almost 20 years. But, with Starmer continuing to defend Israel, Ammar decided to leave—and isn’t looking back.

“I thought I would bring change by staying in before. But I did the right thing by leaving,” Ammar told Socialist Worker.

“I don’t see a way back to Labour for me, especially under Starmer. In 2019 I voted for him as leader as I thought we needed to shift from the left to centre.

“He reminded me of Tony Blair in 1997—I had some faith that he might win us an election. But it’s been horrendous, Labour is now on the right. Starmer’s caused so much lasting damage.”

Ammar said he began to lose hope in Starmer mere weeks into his leadership. “He condemned Kashmir, and later retracted. He did the same during the Black Lives Matter movement—calling it a ‘moment’ then saying he made a ‘mistake’.” 

Then there was Starmer’s LBC interview in October where he said Israel “has the right” to cut power, water and aid supplies to Gaza. “I distanced myself after this, as did other councillors,” Ammar explained.

“A group of us sent letters and emails and we’ve had no response to this day. As soon as those remarks were made, my phone was bombarded with calls, voice notes and emails. My answer to people was that I’ll be a voice and stay in the party and fight. I thought I would bring change.

“But in January, when Starmer said he wouldn’t recognise a state of Palestine and dropped Labour’s previous policy, that was the final nail in the coffin.

“And my five-year-old daughter was asking me what I was doing about the videos from Gaza I was watching.”

Ammar quit Labour a day later at a full council meeting draped in a Palestinian flag. “I did the right thing. Nobody followed me. I think a lot of those who remain are protecting and serving their own interests,” he said.

“They don’t want to leave their chair and committee allowances. I wanted to be a voice and raise concerns, but you can’t do that internally.

“I also left the GMB union. I’ve not had anyone tell me it was the wrong decision. I’ve had some racial hate online, but I don’t let it get to me.”

Ammar expects Labour to lose many seats in an upcoming election. “Even if Starmer was to change his mind on a ceasefire, it’s too little too late,” he said.

“Muslims are not comfortable voting Labour. There’s going to be more independent parliamentary candidates. 

“I represent a diverse ward—there’s all walks of life. I’m going to run as an MP for Dewsbury and be the voice for the whole area.”

Ammar said a new alternative is needed to Labour and the Tories. “We need a party focusing on making sure everyone has food, clothing and shelter,” he said.

“Labour has lost its identity. If there’s a socialist leader again then maybe I’ll rejoin. But currently the only difference between the two is Labour is red and the Tories are blue.

“They’re pro-establishment parties and pro-Israeli—they don’t represent us.” And within Labour “there’s no democracy left from a high and lower level”.

“We’re told not to hold Palestinian flags or post on social media,” Ammar explained. “It’s a dictatorship. There’s no integrity and it’s not a place to voice opinions.”

Ammar said the decision to leave “was tough”. “It wasn’t made overnight,” he said. “I’m 33 now and have given a lot of my life to the party. I’ve always been a socialist at heart and always will be.

Kirklees Councillor Ammar Anwar

Kirklees Councillor Ammar Anwar

“I was a young member at 14-years-old—a poster boy for Labour’s campaigns locally. In 2022 I was selected as councillor for the area I live in on my first go.

“But on issues that should be at our heart—universal credit, poverty and wages—we’re aligned with the Tories.”

And when it comes to refugees, Ammar says Starmer “should be ashamed of himself”. “There’s no difference between a refugee from Ukraine, Syria or Palestine,” he said. “So why are we picking and choosing? If you’re from the Middle East or Asia, it’s double standards.

“People that came here on boats, ships and planes helped to reshape this country. My grandad fought in the First World War. He lived in India, but after partition had to move to the Kashmir area in Pakistan. He moved to Britain in 1956, and my dad came in 1966.

“Rishi Sunak and Starmer are making a mockery of refugees—they’re just trying to score points. People in my ward don’t have enough money for baby milk. Yet here’s money to support Ukrainian arms and fund the apartheid state.”

Ammar says that what Israel is doing is “mass genocide”. “It’s killing innocent people, and the Muslim world is asleep,” he said. “These countries are all silent and in their places because of the US. It’s put in leaders it likes and can influence.

“We need a recognised state of Palestine. Israel is an occupier and settler colonial state. There’s always been Palestine. We need one state where everyone can live alongside each other, Muslims, Jews, Christians and others.”

Ammar’s message to those still in Labour is “resign”. “What difference are you making inside?” he asked. “Absolutely none.”

The best thing for those inside Labour who are fuming at Starmer’s position is leave—and build the movement for Palestine on the streets and in the workplaces.

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