The conflict in the Middle East has frequently resulted in opposition from the British left.
Unfortunately, this week’s conference for the Labour Party has not had many noteworthy moments, as there have been long periods of quiet and a general atmosphere of unity that has been noticeable from the Liverpool dockside.
At a crucial time, the opposing party has shown a united response to the crisis. With an election approaching next year, Labour holds a lead of 17 points in the polls. This serves as a strong indication of Keir Starmer’s firm control over his party and how much Labour has changed since the resignation of left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“I believe that we have witnessed a significant transformation within the party,” stated Luciana Berger, a former Labour MP who, along with other Jewish members, departed under Corbyn’s leadership amidst strong accusations of anti-Semitism within the party.
On Saturday, it was reported that the Palestinian militant organization Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, potentially overshadowing Labour’s annual gathering. This event is typically used as an opportunity to showcase new policies to the general public.
However, the possibility of war in the Middle East could also lead to further complications within the Labour party, at a time when Starmer is trying to demonstrate to the public that his party is prepared to govern again.
The Labour party in the U.K. has a longstanding commitment to supporting Palestinians, but during Corbyn’s leadership from 2015-2019, there were increasingly vocal and sometimes extreme opinions on how to demonstrate this support.
This created the setting for an increase in discriminatory behavior towards Jewish members of the Labour party, leading to the departure of several MPs and members. Eventually, Corbyn was suspended by Starmer, who had taken over as leader, due to his failure to acknowledge the severity of the issue.
The possibility of a conflict between Hamas and Israel could have triggered the resurfacing of past traumas for the party, but that has not occurred during this conference as anticipated.
When reporters located Corbyn, who is now an independent MP and operates on the outskirts, he unsurprisingly refused to criticize Hamas, stating: “All acts of aggression are unacceptable.”
Corbyn appeared to be alone in this role.
Even John McDonnell, who has been a longtime ally of his, and is still an MP for the Labour party (unlike Corbyn who has been suspended), stated that he condemns the killing of innocent people by Hamas and believes that all innocent lives should be protected. Other allies of Corbyn also did not publicly support him.
Attendees at the conference were impressed by the absence of public conflict between the different factions of the Labour party. They praised Starmer for his efforts to address and prevent any support for terrorism or antisemitism since he became leader.
After taking over as leader in 2020, Starmer has removed or banned numerous well-known members of Parliament who were accused of promoting anti-Semitism.
In 2020, Rebecca Long-Bailey, a member of the left-wing, was fired from the shadow Cabinet for sharing an article that was considered antisemitic by Starmer. Last year, Diane Abbott, a prominent figure in the Labour left, was suspended from the party for a letter she wrote that suggested Jewish people do not face racism. Abbott quickly retracted her statement, but has not been allowed back in the party.
Starmer’s enforcers, led by Shadow Chief Whip Alan Campbell, were therefore on high alert as the horrific events of the weekend unfolded, determined to ensure their reputation for ruthlessness would be upheld.
A Labour Member of Parliament, who requested anonymity to discuss internal affairs, stated that the party leadership made a conscious effort to ensure MPs stayed on message. They warned members to be cautious with their words, as there were individuals attempting to manipulate and distort information.
A representative from the Labour Party has confirmed that they have contacted individuals whom they believe will be significantly impacted by changes in constituency profiles. They emphasized that their outreach efforts were not limited to left-leaning Members of Parliament, but rather encompassed the entire political spectrum of the Labour Party.
Many planned events surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict were precisely coordinated by the party, with a moment of silence at the start and no opportunity for audience questions.
Some people felt a tangible sense of relief.
An unnamed member of the Labour party who identifies as Jewish expressed their belief that under Corbyn’s leadership, there would have been a feeling of apprehension when attending party events. However, with Keir as the current leader, the atmosphere is drastically different and there is a noticeable increase in consideration and attention.
A member of Parliament from the Labour party, who preferred not to be identified, also stated: “To put it simply, if Corbyn were in power, I would not be in office.”
Starmer made a point of highlighting his efforts in his own conference speech Tuesday, saying he had “ripped antisemitism out [of the Labour Party] by the roots” in a bid to put “country first; party second.”
However, his regime was unable to completely prevent the formation of cracks.
Protests continued outside the conference location, featuring a clash between a single Jewish representative and demonstrators who displayed Palestinian flags and chanted “shame on you.”
Dawn Butler, a member of parliament with left-leaning views, refused to answer any questions about Corbyn and Hamas, stating to POLITICO: “I will not be making any comments or engaging in that conversation.”
At a separate left-wing event called The World Transformed, located near the main conference hall, some Labour MPs made an appearance. One speaker at this festival referred to the recent attacks as “radical actions.” Israel was labeled as “a state that uses terrorism.” The suppression of Palestinian supporters within Labour was criticized as being comparable to McCarthyism.
The Conservative Party made sure to highlight the Labour MPs who decided to stand with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. A high-ranking Tory member stated, “The issue of antisemitism still remains.”
The Labour MP mentioned earlier stated that these efforts to discredit the party were “unethical.” However, they acknowledged that party cohesion may face more challenges in the coming weeks as Israel persists in attacking Gaza in retaliation.
At present, Starmer’s resolve to instill order in a previously unruly party has passed its most significant trial.
Reporting was done by Eleni Courea and Aggie Chambre.