Councillors call on Starmer to quit over Gaza stance

Sir Keir Starmer has come under fresh pressure over his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, as two Labour council leaders called on him to resign.

The Labour leader, who has faced dissent from his frontbench and grassroots party members over his stance on the escalating conflict, is due to give an address later ahead of the King’s Speech next week.

The leaders of Burnley and Pendle Labour groups have now called on Sir Keir to stand aside, as he continues to resist calls to back a ceasefire.

Asjad Mahmood, a Pendle Borough councillor, said his party leader has “failed to listen” and called on him to “resign to allow someone to lead our party who has compassion and speaks out against injustice”.

Burnley council leader Afrasiab Anwar said a humanitarian pause is “not good enough”.

He said: “What we feel should be happening is that the leader of the opposition should in the least be applying pressure on the Prime Minister, on the Government, to call for a ceasefire and a release of all hostages.

He added: “The reason that a humanitarian pause is not good enough is because obviously the aid will get in but then the bombing, the attacks will start again. What we’re seeing is that these innocent civilians have got nowhere to escape to.

“The whole international community came out and said that Israel has the right to defend itself, just as any other nation does, but it’s got to be proportional and within international law.

“The number of lives that we’re seeing lost, the number of people, innocent civilians, who are losing their lives on both sides, we need to call it out and there needs to be a stop to it.”

Sir Keir has also been battling to maintain frontbench discipline, with several members of his top team in revolt against his stance of calling for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting in Gaza.

Sixteen frontbenchers have now either called for a ceasefire or shared others’ calls backing a ceasefire on social media, including Yasmin Qureshi, Jess Phillips and Imran Hussain.

Ms Phillips on Thursday said Israel’s military action against Hamas will only end in “death and destruction” and called for the negotiation of “peaceful political solutions”.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson on Friday rejected the call from the councillors. The senior Labour MP also insisted that a ceasefire was not the “right way forward”.

She told LBC: “I recognise that colleagues will have views on this, I don’t accept that however.

“Our primary focus and what has to be uppermost in our minds is the suffering of people in Gaza and in Israel. That is what this is about, that ongoing tragedy that we are seeing unfolding.”

She added that Sir Keir had “set out our position that we want to see humanitarian pauses”.

New polling by Savanta, following a survey of 618 councillors between October 27 and November 2, has suggested that only 37% of Labour local representatives are “satisfied” with the party’s position on the conflict.

Her party leader will try later to turn attention back the Tories, with a speech addressing businesses at the North East Chamber of Commerce.

He is expected to say: “We have to provide the businesses, communities and people of this nation with the conditions to succeed. A fundamental deal, that we serve the country, while you drive it forward.

“The Tories can’t do this. Rishi Sunak is too weak to stand up to the blockers on his backbenches. Too haunted by ghosts of Conservative imagination to see the country’s problems as you see them.”

It comes after the Bank of England on Thursday downgraded its forecast for economic growth to zero until 2025, putting in doubt the Prime Minister’s pledge to get the economy growing by the end of the year.

Mr Sunak has said the King’s Speech, which is expected to set the tone for a general election next year, will focus on measures to “grow the economy, to strengthen society and to keep people safe”.

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the King’s Speech will focus on measures to ‘grow the economy’ (PA)

The King is expected to open the new session of Parliament on Tuesday November 7 – the first time he will have done so as monarch.

Sir Keir will say the speech should be about “a national mission to get Britain building again”.

He will vow that a government led by him would “relight the fire of renewal” in communities across the UK and “take on the blockers that hold a veto over British aspiration”.

It would “invest in the critical infrastructure the North East desperately needs”, such as battery gigafactories that would protect electric car manufacturing in Sunderland, upgraded ports that would allow the east coast to expand offshore wind, and carbon capture technology that could provide an industrial future for Teesside.