Anti-war movement in Britain puts screws on Labour politicians

The vast majority of people are looking on in ever-growing horror as the destruction escalates in Gaza – as IDF forces assault al-Shifa Hospital and helicopters drop leaflets in south Gaza telling people to evacuate to safety before another onslaught. Yet nowhere is safe for them.

Thousands of mainly young people poured out of the stations and onto the streets in front of parliament on Wednesday 15 November as MPs voted on what to do – the key vote being on a Scottish National Party (SNP) amendment for a ceasefire.

The young protesters were emboldened by the first scalp of the movement – the sacking of arch-rightwing Home Secretary Suella Braverman – and correctly believed that mounting pressure of a massive mobilisation can achieve more.

There was already enormous anger against Labour leader Keir Starmer’s position of refusing to support a ceasefire. On all the protests, people ask: “Who can I vote for now?”

That view will have been intensified by events in parliament. The Tories, of course, did not vote for a ceasefire. But neither did Starmer’s Labour, underlining once again for masses of people that Starmer is not on their side.

Whose side? Not ours!

Starmer’s call for a ‘humanitarian pause’ is effectively the same as the UN’s resolution for a ‘humanitarian truce’. The UN is not an independent arbiter but a gathering of capitalist world leaders. Starmer has the backs of imperialism.

As an article in the New York Times put it: “In Britain, as its politicians and public move away from each other, reality is cleaving in two.”

Nonetheless, an online poll of British Muslims after Wednesday’s vote showed that while 45% are dissatisfied with Starmer’s position, and that 41% felt more negatively after the vote, 64% of those who expressed a voting intention still said they would vote Labour.

Starmer is still most likely to win a general election because the answer to the question “Who can I vote for?” isn’t “Tory”! The Tories are continually and increasingly utterly riven. The ruling of the Supreme Court on Rwanda and even the discussion of the possibility of Sunak ignoring international law – however unlikely this is in reality – is more evidence of how removed the current Tory party is from reliably representing the interests of capitalism. The revelations in the Covid inquiry are also piling up the evidence.

Bringing back David Cameron is, as a Financial Times (FT) editorial put it, the “last gasp of an administration that is out of ideas”. It illustrates how desperate Sunak is that the best ‘heavyweight’ he can find to bring back is not only the architect of over a decade of austerity, but the capitalist leader who dazzlingly failed to deliver for capitalist interests. He is the leader who, against the interests of the majority of big business, held the EU referendum and failed to win ‘Remain’, and who came within a hair’s breadth of being unseated by the working-class uprising in the Scottish referendum.

His return just deepens the schisms in the party between the various forms of ‘centrists’ and the rabid right. As the FT concludes: “The sooner the British people are given a chance to express their views at the ballot box, the better.” For the strategists of capitalism, their eyes are on what happens to rebuild the main historic party of capitalism after the general election.

Their best hope for now is Starmer, who is bending over backwards to be reliable for capitalism.

A quarter of Labour MPs rebelled against Starmer’s dictat – that’s a substantial number but it means three-quarters of Labour MPs don’t even support a ceasefire.

Ten frontbench shadow ministers resigned or were sacked. That follows the resignations of around 50 councillors.

But when the main spokespeople of the rebellion are Starmerite/Blairite MPs Jess Philips (Birmingham Yardley), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) and Stephen Timms (East Ham), it indicates that the current divisions are not likely to precipitate an immediate crisis in the Labour Party.

These ‘rebels’ are squaring the circle of responding to the pressure of significant Muslim populations in their constituencies while still saying they support Starmer. Stella Creasy faced a big backlash in her constituency when she voted to bomb Syria in 2015, including mass meetings, a march of the local community to her surgery, and school protests. A Socialist Students meeting in her constituency made national TV. It is another small victory for the anti-war movement that she and the others feel under pressure to save their own skins.

What a workers’ party could do

On Radio 4’s Today programme, Creasy was at pains to stress that she respects Starmer’s position and it was all just a question of what was the best way for parliament to spend its time. She said none of them are under any illusions that what happened in the British parliament would make any difference.

How wrong is that.

The movement against the slaughter in Gaza already has strength. If the trade union leaders were to use their authority and put the organised working class at the head of the movement, that could mobilise enormous potential power. A movement that used that power, including strike action, could stay the hand of capitalist leaders in their support for Israel’s government, for fear of rebellion.

Imagine if that movement had a political voice. If the Labour Party were a party that operated in the interests of working-class people it could campaign on the streets, in the workplaces and communities, and it could mobilise even greater numbers outside parliament, while inside parliament it voted to withdraw the UK government’s support for Israel’s leaders.

Of course, Creasy, Phillips et al have no more intention of doing that than Starmer. Just as they have no intention of renationalising Royal Mail or ending privatisation in the NHS or paying inflation-proof pay rises, they also have no intention of acting in the interests of working-class and oppressed people internationally.

A defeat for the Tories at the general election ought to be a blow to warmongering capitalist powers internationally, but a Starmer-led government would still back the Israeli state.

Workers’ candidates

But imagine if there were candidates that stood in the general election on the side of workers in Britain and oppressed masses in the Middle East. Imagine if Jeremy Corbyn and other banned former Labour MPs, if trade union leaders and strikers, if young people campaigning against the destruction of Gaza, were to stand on a workers’ list along with socialists. That would be able to channel the anger of the hundreds of thousands on the streets every weekend.

And a group of those could be elected – a much greater pressure on a Starmer-led government than simply keeping their heads down in the Labour Party. The vote on 15 November is an illustration of the potential impact a new party or even just a small group of socialist MPs could have.

It wasn’t debate inside the Labour Party that pushed Starmerite MPs to ‘rebel’ and vote for a ceasefire but the pressure of public support for an SNP amendment. The SNP is no working-class voice, it is another pro-capitalist party, and is itself under pressure. But it gives us a taster of the potential pressure that could be applied by pro-working class MPs giving voice to a mass movement on the streets and in the workplaces.

That is why the model motion being moved by Socialist Party members and passed in union branches and trades councils includes the words:

“We need political representatives who oppose the capitalist elites and stand for the rights of the working class and oppressed here in Britain and internationally. That has to include standing in solidarity with people in Gaza today. We would welcome trade union-backed candidates standing in the general election on that programme, including Jeremy Corbyn, who has been banned from standing for Labour.”

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November 2023