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A Parliament Against Palestine

Yesterday's Westminster chaos shows that Keir Starmer's hostility to democracy applies to parliament itself — but also that despite our politicians' attempts, protecting Israel from democratic condemnation is becoming unsustainable.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Of all the instances of disrepute to shame Westminster in recent years, yesterday’s fracas was undoubtedly the system at its lowest. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle’s decision to deny MPs the opportunity to vote on a Gaza ceasefire was not just an affront to the millions of people demanding action from politicians, but it revealed Britain’s deeply corrupted political system.

The Speaker’s near-unprecedented decision resulted in the SNP’s motion calling for an ‘immediate ceasefire’ being replaced by a Labour amendment calling for a ‘humanitarian’ alternative with enough strings attached for Israel to break at will. In a remarkable attempt to justify this decision, Hoyle claimed the arrangement was to allow ‘the widest possible range of options’.

The BBC’s Nicholas Watt soon made sense of this confounding logic, revealing the true motivation: according to Watt, ‘senior Labour figures’ had boasted to him that Hoyle had been informed that ‘Labour would bring him down after the general election’ unless the party’s amendment was called. Hoyle then caved to the threats, breaking political impartiality to spare Labour from a ceasefire vote — and in doing so, revealing himself as deeply compromised and presenting an inarguable case for his removal.

From the New Statesman‘s George Eaton to Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times, sections of the media lauded the blackmail as a ‘political coup’ for Starmer that had spared embarrassment by averting the largest rebellion of his tenure. Others expressed concern that the constitutional right of Westminster’s third largest party to present its agenda had been revoked by strongarming the Speaker to subvert the parliamentary system he is entrusted to uphold.

One group to whom the chicanery came as no surprise, however, are Labour members, who are no strangers to the organisational behaviour of the clique controlling the leader’s office. Their tendencies were evident in Starmer’s deceitful leadership campaign, the mass purge of members, the shuttering of internal debate, the tolerance of abuse and bullying, and the factional expulsion of MPs.

What yesterday’s events signified is that the Starmer leadership’s contempt for democracy within Labour, which the media and political class ignored or cheered when directed at socialists, has spread to contempt for parliamentary democracy. The hubris that ‘senior Labour figures’ displayed in bragging to a BBC journalist about corrupting constitutional procedure also signals an alarming trajectory: as the faction around Starmer grow in power, the more unrestrained their authoritarianism becomes.  What must be reckoned with is the reality that this most grotesque political bloc — with its petty, dictatorial instincts — will soon wield state power.

And yet it is fitting that it is Palestine which exposes these authoritarian impulses. For years, Palestine has provided the pretext for the Labour Right’s tightening of factional control over Labour and for purging dissenters. In recent months, however, it has also posed a challenge to the political order these people wish to maintain.

If the leadership of Starmer is best understood as a project dedicated to the narrowing of democratic horizons, the cause of Palestine has been a movement of opening. The millions of ordinary people taking to the streets and organising against genocide in open defiance of Britain’s ruling class beckons the return of the mass politics which Labour’s leadership defines itself against.

This is why the establishment encourages the most grotesque of smears against the Palestinian people and will go to such lengths to stifle discussion. The prevention of the SNP’s motion was cynically justified by Hoyle as necessary to protect pro-war MPs from a feral public, and Labour framed it as beyond the boundaries of acceptable debate, refusing to accept a text referring to Israel’s ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians. After 30,000 deaths, the destruction of 70 per cent of Gaza’s buildings, and a famine looming, a fundamental denial of the Palestinian people’s humanity is a precondition to such political assertion.

But it is worth remembering that the distraction from Gaza provided by the upending of parliament was done in defence of an onslaught that a mere 13 percent of British people support. Our domestic elites know even this support is waning, which has led to undignified, disingenuous attempts to divert the anti-war movement with insincere statements in support of ending the slaughter, suggesting at least some need to reflect the mass movement’s popularity among the population.

This is why nobody fighting for justice for the Palestinian people should be dispirited. Yesterday’s parliamentary chicanery only happened because the powerful fear that the tried-and-tested methods of crushing democratic pressure are becoming unsustainable. As the Israeli armed forces pummel and starve Palestinians with delight, political support for such a war machine is becoming increasingly untenable — and is already completely unacceptable to millions of people in Britain. The days of insulating themselves from the British public on this question, they fear, may soon be over.