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KEIR STARMER is emerging as a threat to Labour prospects. Whether the Labour leader believes what he says or simply doesn’t regard it as a legitimate subject for reflection is no longer a matter open to debate.
There is a growing conviction that Starmer speaks with conviction only to endorse Britain’s imperial foreign policy, express unshakeable loyalty to every manoeuvre by Nato, unchanging fealty to the United States and any act of the Israeli state.
For a British electorate largely convinced that politicians are liars he is mendacity personified. So permanent is the shadow of darkness cast by his mendacity that it has now begun to eclipse that even of Boris Johnson.
Where the former prime minister made light of his tenuous grasp on truth, the present leader of the Labour Party has told us with a carefully considered sobriety that each of the commitments made on his assumption of Jeremy Corbyn’s mantle is abandoned.
So, how to reconcile the contradiction between Starmer’s low popularity rating with the last two by-election results that resulted in stunning Tory defeats?
In Mid Bedfordshire, a 24,664 Tory majority melted away. In Tamworth there was a 23.9 per cent swing from the Tories to give Labour the seat.
Conservative Central Office spun the Labour swing as merely “statistical.” This misses the bigger point which is that while the Tories were telling a kind of truth — the reason for the defeat is that Tory voters stayed at home and Labour voters didn’t — the total of Labour votes barely changed. On a turnout down one-third on the general election Labour held its vote but didn’t experience a surge of support.
When Starmer said Labour was “redrawing the political map” and argued the results were “a game-changer” he was putting a gloss on the defining feature of his leadership — his unpopularity and the lack of genuine popular enthusiasm for Labour’s offer. It is Tory voters who have changed the electoral map, simply by vanishing.
Beyond these domestic factors Starmer’s automatic and unqualified advocacy of Israel’s “right to defend itself” where this entails the bombing of Gaza, the denial of water, electricity, fuel and medicines, the targeting of housing, hospitals and schools — transforming Gaza’s 2.2 million people into homeless refugees — has tarnished Labour’s brand for millions of voters.
If either of these by-elections had taken place in areas where a local Labour victory depended on voters of an anti-war disposition or from among Britain’s Muslim communities the factors which gave Labour a victory in two safe Tory seats might well have resulted in a reduction of the Labour vote.
With dozens of Labour councillors turning in their party cards and untold numbers of Labour supporters joining mass demonstrations throughout the country, Starmer has been forced into an unconvincing attempt to backtrack on his original and unqualified support for the Israeli actions with words that simply confirm his reputation for dishonesty and deviousness.
Asked at the party conference if cutting off power and cutting off water was an appropriate response to the Hamas attack, Starmer was unequivocal: “I think that Israel does have that right … It is an ongoing situation.”
To this he added: “Obviously, everything should be done within international law.”
This last phrase is pure sophistry. Starmer is a lawyer, specialising in human rights and international law. If he didn’t know full well that Israel’s actions are in breach of international law he should have disqualified himself as director of public prosecutions.
Now, after mass defections from Labour and a massive outpouring of support for Palestinians, he claims — contrary to the exact meaning of his words — that he did not mean to imply that Israel would be justified to cut off power and water to Gaza.
The overwhelming support for an immediate ceasefire has yet to move either the government or the opposition to call for a ceasefire despite the latest YouGov poll showing that 76 per cent of adults in Britain think there should be one.
Starmer is becoming increasingly isolated, with Labour figures like Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan and Anas Sarwar and a clutch of frontbenchers now calling for a ceasefire. Opposition to a ceasefire is at a derisory 8 per cent.
In the United States more than half of Joe Biden’s own Democratic Party supporters believe the US government should not send additional weapons and supplies to Israel.
While US arms supplies to Israel are ramped up and two carrier fleets are deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, over half of US voters aged between 18 to 34 oppose sending weapons and military equipment to Israel in response to the Hamas attack.
In a CBS poll 70 per cent of Democrats and 57 per cent of voters overall, including 41 per cent of Republicans, believe the US should directly supply humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Thus more than four in 10 supporters of the Republican Party favour a direct humanitarian intervention where our Labour leader can’t bring himself to call even for a ceasefire.
Whether the Israeli ground attack under way is limited through international pressure, opposition by the families of the hostages or fears that Israel’s conscript army will suffer high casualties fighting the Hamas military, the outlines of Israel’s existing strategy were originally clear.
It wanted to level Gaza, make millions homeless and drive them into a new iteration of the desperate refugee camps which house thousands of Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
We hear Israeli voices calling for the forced removal of Palestinians from Gaza and now, from a government minister, for their annihilation by nuclear weapons.
In telling Palestinians to flee south and then bombing this so-called safer refuge, Israel is adding to its existing charge sheet of war crimes that of a forced exodus amounting to ethnic cleansing.
The Israeli actions — if not usually proclaimed to be aimed at sabotaging any progress towards a “two-state” solution to the Palestinian national question — are purpose-designed to achieve that objective.
When Benjamin Netanayu told his Likud Party that if they wanted to destroy any chance of such a two-state outcome then Israel needed to sustain Gaza as a sort of “state” he made this strategic objective clear. In this sense Hamas is a product of Israeli strategy.
Every Israeli action, from the iron fist of constant harassment to the velvet glove of work permits for Palestinians to enter Israeli territory as day labourers was designed to institutionalise Gaza as an open-air prison house with a pressure-cooker political climate that favoured the desperate ideology that Hamas has on offer. Far from eradicating Hamas, the Israeli war crimes will drive many into its ranks.
Where Starmer endorses Israel’s actions today he gives political cover to Netanayu’s overall aims.
Today the redivided land of Palestine is a complex mix of traditional Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities who lived alongside each other in pre-war Palestine, zionist settlers from before and after the war, including hundreds of thousands of Jewish people, not necessarily zionist by conviction, forced out of their homes in the Arab states in 1948.
In addition there are the ideologically and religiously motivated settlers — many from north America, Britain, Australia and South Africa — who are the shock troops of the never-ending pogroms and land theft in the occupied territories.
Palestinians are variously second-class Israeli citizens or residents of illegally occupied territories, driven to live in the Gaza enclave, living in refugees camps or in the Palestinian diaspora.
Those who think a single state — assembled within the existing state apparatus of Israel and including the existing populations of Israel, Gaza, the occupied territory and the West Bank — would be a secular democratic state of equal rights have abandoned any materialist and Marxist conception of the state.
Israel’s apartheid regime knows that international support for the implementation of the UN mandate to return Israel to its pre 1967 borders and a establish a Palestinian state with full sovereignty spells the end of its dominion over the Palestinian people and to the projection of imperial power in the Middle East.
Ending Israel’s illegal occupation would also remove a major obstacle to peace and frustrate the regional strategy of imperialism. The land from the river to the sea could then become a land of peace.
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