Sir Keir Starmer is continuing to grapple with divisions over his stance on the Hamas-Israel conflict, after 11 councillors left Labour over the party leadership’s refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Burnley’s council leader Afrasiab Anwar and 10 other councillors quit Labour on Sunday, describing their memberships as “untenable” given Sir Keir’s refusal to go beyond his call for “humanitarian pauses” amid the escalating conflict.
Frontbencher Lucy Powell said: “We don’t want to see anyone resigning from the Labour Party, not least hard-working councillors from Burnley or elsewhere.”
The shadow leader of the House of Commons told Times Radio: “I think, on the moral issue, what we all agree on in the party is we want to see an end to this cycle of violence, an end to the needless loss of life, the hostages returned and an end to that hostage situation.
“I think also, in the Labour Party, what we do all agree on is that this cycle of violence in the Middle East that’s gone on for decades… the only way we will see an end to that cycle is through a peaceful, political solution based on a two-state solution, based on a free and secure Palestine and a free and secure Israel.”
She insisted divisions stem from “how we can most effectively get to those places as quickly as possible”.
Sir Keir has insisted that his focus is on stopping the suffering in Gaza, not on the “individual positions” of party members.
But Mr Anwar said the position was “nonsensical” and did not capture the strength of feeling in his Lancashire town, along with communities elsewhere in Britain, about the war.
Mr Anwar last week issued a joint call, along with Asjad Mahmood – a Pendle Borough councillor – for Sir Keir to resign over his leadership on the issue.
Speaking to the PA news agency on Sunday about his decision to quit the party, Mr Anwar said: “We just can’t stand by watching and being part of a party that is not speaking out, or at the very least calling for a ceasefire.
“Instead of talking of peace all of our world leaders, including the leader of the Labour Party, are talking about humanitarian pauses. It is just nonsensical.
“I just don’t think the message is getting through in terms of how our communities, right across the board, are feeling about this.”
The Burnley Council leader said the councillors had tried “everything we could by working within the party”.
The councillors said they had engaged with a host of senior Labour figures – including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and deputy leader Angela Rayner – to express their concerns.
They said they had also written to Sir Keir, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Before the resignations, the Labour group held 22 out of 45 seats on Burnley Council. It remains the largest party after Sunday’s announcement.
Around 30 Labour councillors have already resigned from the party over Sir Keir’s record on the recent crisis.
The Labour leader has also faced a battle to maintain discipline in his top team on the Gaza conflict, which has seen more than 9,000 Palestinians killed since the deadly Hamas-led incursion into Israel at the start of October that saw 1,400 people killed.
At least 16 Labour frontbenchers have either called for a ceasefire or shared others’ calls backing a ceasefire on social media, including Yasmin Qureshi, Jess Phillips and Imran Hussain.
Published: by Radio NewsHub