A cynical stitch-up—with the Tories trusting Keir Starmer to act in the role of a “national” leader—stopped MPs voting on Wednesday evening on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Amid chaotic scenes in the commons, the Tories and Labour combined to shield Israeli genocide. And, particularly in Labour’s case, they tried to slither away from a clear indication on whether its MPs backed a ceasefire or not.
Just before the crucial votes began, Tory Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt said the government would “play no further part in today’s proceedings”. Tory whips told their MPs to abstain on a Labour motion. This meant it passed—without a vote.
Therefore the Scottish National Party’s motion—which was supposed to be the subject of the debate—was not even put to a vote.
Just before the votes began, SNP and even some Tory MPs walked out of the Commons chamber in a protest over the way the speaker—the chair of the Commons—had handled the debate. The speaker then went missing.
All of these anti-democratic manoeuvres required trampling on parliament’s traditions (see below) something which British stuffy and conservative sham-democracy usually rejects. But they did it as their united service to imperialism.
The debate came as Israel had begun a countdown to slaughter in Rafah in the south of Gaza. It says its ground offensive against the area where over 1 million people are sheltering could begin 18 days from now. And it follows the International Court of Justice finding there is a plausible case that Israel is carrying out genocide.
But despite this, British MPs put their loyalty to imperialism and Zionism first and voted against an unconditional call for an immediate ceasefire. The SNP motion had called for a ceasefire without caveats and loopholes. The Labour alternative used words about a ceasefire but in practice did not push for one.
It supported “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts”. That’s a shift to using the word ceasefire because of the pressure of the millions-strong movement in Britain and recent changes in the US’s language.
But Labour’s motion made any ceasefire conditional, “noting that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7th October cannot happen again.”
So it defended Israel’s right to murder Palestinians if Hamas does not surrender. For Starmer, Palestinians can live only if they cease to resist extermination, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and dispossession. For Labour to oppose their deaths, Palestinians must become compliant with Zionism.
Labour leaders said they were particularly angry that the SNP motion called for “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.
How else to describe Israel’s murder of at least 30,000 people, its policy of starving more than 2.2 million Gazans and driving three-quarters of them from their homes?
A few hours before the debate began, Andrew Gilmour, UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights from 2016-19 said Israel’s onslaught against Gaza is “probably the highest kill rate of any military killing since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994”.
And a British International Development Committee parliamentary delegation has just returned from a visit to report on Gaza’s conditions. Its chair said, “Nothing that has been reported braces you for the true scale of the horror in Gaza. We’re simply not getting accurate information about the levels of destruction and brutality.”
The SNP’s Anum Qaisar told MPs during the debate, “Gaza is under siege from the air” and mentioned the F-35 bomber and other weapons being made in British factories. She added these weapons may be “used by Israeli authorities in the massacre of families and children in Gaza”.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy accused the SNP motion of being “one-sided”, saying Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence.
Previously Lammy has rammed home his party’s cowardice, opportunism and desire to suck up to imperialism. He said Labour doesn’t “want to do anything in an election year, in which the Labour Party might have the privilege of serving, that cuts across our ability to do that.”
There was one sensible Tory contribution. Conservative MP Kit Malthouse said there can be no military victory over Hamas. That is widely accepted across the world and “whispered even in Israel,” he added.
Around 3,000 pro-Palestine supporters gathered in the rain outside parliament before the vote. Reshma from East London told Socialist Worker, “I’ve always supported Palestine, I am angry and upset when MPs have a chance to vote for a ceasefire and don’t try to protect Palestinian lives.”
Josie who works in the music industry said, “Britain has blood on its hands, I felt helpless to be able to do anything but joining the protests has been something I can do.
“My MP said she’d vote for a ceasefire in November but at the last minute didn’t. I’ve no faith she’ll vote for a ceasefire tonight
“Britain has spread war across the Middle East for decades. Britain needs to stop arming Israel and bring in sanctions like we did against Russia.”
After this shameful day in parliament, the movement needs to stay active and militant. Campaigners, for example, need to be on the streets this weekend. The fact that it’s the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) annual general meeting should not mean there isn’t a huge day of protest—particularly as the bloodbath in Rafah nears.
And the next scheduled national demo on 9 March is too far away. Let’s be on the streets, build for a militant workplace day of action on 8 March, encourage action such as this weeks’ student occupations—and try to find ways to make Britain ungovernable.
Speaker bends rules for Labour
Earlier in the day, the speaker—the chair of the House of Commons—overthrew normal procedure to help out Starmer.
Senior Labour figures told BBC’s Newsnight programme that they made clear to Commons speaker Sir Lyndsay Hoyle that they would remove him from his position after the general election unless he called their party’s Gaza amendment.
John Craig, Sky News’s chief political correspondent said it was Starmer and Labour chief whip Sir Alan Campbell who had applied the pressure.
In almost every previous case, when the opposition puts forward a motion—as the SNP did on Wednesday—no other opposition party is permitted to put forward an amendment.
That would have meant Labour MPs would have been forced to choose between the SNP motion or the government’s one. Starmer feared lots of his MP, might have felt forced to back the SNP one.
But Hoyle tore up the usual methods and allowed a vote on Labour’s amendment. This gave its MPs an excuse not to back the SNP one.
The Clerk of the House, Tom Goldsmith, who’s the chief adviser on matters of parliamentary procedure in the Commons, wrote a letter putting on record his belief that Hoyle’s decision was a “substantial breach” of procedures.
These weird rules might not seem to matter. But the episode underlines Starmer’s fears of rebellion.
Hands up for genocide from the United States
The United States has again vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The move on Tuesday was the fourth US veto of such a UN motion. It came a day after the US circulated a measure that would support only a temporary ceasefire—and linked to the release of all Israeli detainees captured by Palestinian resistance groups.
The vote on a ceasefire in the 15-member council was 13 to one. Britain abstained—an act almost as vicious as the US, but with a dash of added camouflage and cowardice. Britain is nervous about alienating Arab regimes that it relies on for juicy contracts. It has also feared in recent years to use a veto in case other countries, rightly, seek to dump Britain from the UNSC. Its last veto vote was in 1989.
Britain and the US are urging on the genocidal logic of the Israelis. Their sighs about the number of civilian deaths are hypocritical and empty.
Hamas said, “President Joe Biden and his administration bear direct responsibility for derailing the resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza.
“The US position is considered a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres and kill our innocent people through bombing and starvation.”