Middle EastAnalysis

Starmer allies play down Labour rebellion over Gaza vote

Labour leader loses 10 front benchers who voted for Scottish National Party ceasefire motion

Allies of Keir Starmer, the UK’s Labour leader, attempted to play down a backlash to his leadership over Labour’s stance on Israel’s war in Gaza, and suggested that rebels who voted this week against the party could yet return to its front bench.

Ten Labour front benchers resigned or were sacked after voting in the House of Commons for a Scottish National Party (SNP) motion on Wednesday that called for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. About 56, or one third, of Labour MPs defied the party whip on the issue, the biggest challenge to Mr Starmer’s authority since he took over in 2020.

Prominent MPs such as Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow domestic violence minister and a respected voice on the party’s left wing, were among the front benchers to quit.

The SNP ceasefire motion conflicted with Labour Party policy set by Mr Starmer, who has led calls instead for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict. He has argued that a full cessation of hostilities would only embolden the Hamas militants who attacked Israel on October 7th.


Meanwhile, Labour rebels have called for a full ceasefire in the conflict after many MPs, especially those in constituencies with large Muslim majorities, were overwhelmed with complaints.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said on Thursday that Mr Starmer was correct to banish rebels from his front bench, but he suggested that they may be welcomed back in future.

“I know how difficult that decision was for them, but Keir was right to be firm,” he said. “We’re acting as we would in government. We’re not a protest party, we want people to give us the confidence at the next election to be in government and this is part of the job that we have to do.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, told a gathering of Westminster journalists on Thursday that the resignees were “a real loss” from the front bench. But she said she could not apologise for refusing to call for a ceasefire while more than 200 Israeli hostages remained in Hamas captivity and the group’s leaders were at large.

Ms Nandy said that if Labour wins the next general election, Mr Starmer could be in the Middle East next year attempting to start dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“Our international partners would need to be sure that he speaks with the authority of the entire government,” she said, adding that MP rebellions were okay for a party in opposition but not one with designs on government.

“I’m sympathetic for why many people would call for a ceasefire ... but humanitarian pauses are the only viable prospect,” said Ms Nandy. She said Labour, however, has “reservations” about whether Hamas can ever be militarily defeated by Israel. “There is no military solution to the conflict,” she said.

While the rebellion against Labour’s party line was the most substantial yet faced by Mr Starmer, there was relief within the party, where there had been fears that it could have been even worse. Allies of the Labour leader suggested his refusal to yield to the rebels may even benefit him in the long run by demonstrating his fitness for office.

“I want us to move forward as united as we can as a party, but you wouldn’t expect me to stand here today and say my concern is the Labour Party management rather than the hostages and the innocent civilians and children that are dying in Gaza,” said Mr Starmer on Thursday. “My focus and attention is there, and that’s where it is and where it will always be.”