“The Labour Party will work alongside international partners to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as part of efforts to contribute to securing a negotiated two-state solution.
“With a deteriorating security situation and the lack of a meaningful peace process between Israel and Palestine, a future Labour government will lead diplomatic efforts with international partners to support a just and lasting peace and uphold international law as a matter of priority.”
“This still isn’t perfect,” writes Rose. “It implies that a Palestinian state might be recognised by Britain and other members of the international community before the signing of a final status peace agreement — that is to say, before a state existed on the ground as a functioning institution in any meaningful sense.”
On the 15th January the Jewish Chronicle announced that Starmer had in effect addressed Rose's concerns. He said that "a future Labour government would not recongnise a state of Palestine preemptively or unilaterally – but rather it would make the move as part of the peace process involving a number of nations."
In case the implications of that were not clear, Labour Party shadow Middle East minister Wayne David explained that Britain might — like 139 other states — recognise the state of Palestine regardless of Israel’s views, is now no longer possible. A two-state solution would only come to “fruition in a way which is acceptable to the state of Israel …” It is of course another Starmer U-turn: Starmer had called on Boris Johnson to press for the recognition of a Palestinian state at the G7 summit in 2021.
Given the current Israeli leadership’s position, Israel might never accept a Palestinian state. That concession to Israeli acceptance was not included in the NPF document and therefore not debated nor discussed by the Labour membership at any level. That is not to say that the leadership might not have prevailed, but this dishonest leadership did not even trust the membership to come to the same conclusions as them, on this and many other issues. And in that, lies hope for the left.
How has this gone down in Scotland? The SNP has expressed its disappointment. Its foreign affairs spokesperson Brendan O’Hara said: “As well as backing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the SNP has long called on all political parties to recognise the state of Palestine to break the political impasse that has condemned both Israeli and Palestinian civilians to successive cycles of violence.”
From the Scottish Labour Party leadership, there has, on this U-turn, been nothing. Indeed, since his support for a ceasefire in late October, there has been little on Palestine from Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader. At the grassroots level, the Scottish Labour Party remains confused and divided on the current crisis in Gaza. In some constituencies, based on advice from the Scottish and UK Labour bureaucracies, chairs have refused to allow discussion of the issue.
In Perth and Kinross CLP, for example, the chair would not allow a motion to be discussed that congratulated Sarwar for the position he adopted on calling for a ceasefire. In Edinburgh North and Leith, a motion calling for a ceasefire was defeated. And yet, the Scottish Women’s Conference, the only national-level organisation to have discussed it, voted to support the call for a ceasefire.
Unlike in England, there has not been a significant number of resignations of Labour councillors, although I believe there has been one or two, but done quietly. This is of course partly because there are fewer Muslim councillors in Scotland in the first place, as there is a smaller Muslim population, but also because, unlike England, there is no base for such disaffection to sustain a local electoral challenge to Labour, especially when the SNP has already donned the mantle of support for the Palestinian cause.
There are two potential traps for the left north and south of the border on how we assess this most recent act of obeisance to imperialism. The first is to mistake this political shift as the result of political deviance on Starmer’s part and not what it really is - the continuation of the historic role of Labour in government, or preparation for government, in selling loyalty to Western imperialism as integral to Britain’s role in the world, and Labour’s fitness to run Britain.
This has deep roots, and it is worth remembering that while Attlee’s 1945 government was building the National Health Service in Britain, it was bombing national liberation forces in Greece, supporting a failed counter-revolution in Albania, and sending 100,000 troops to Korea as its contribution to the US war of aggression.
The second is to abandon a robust strategy for advancing socialism, understandably overwhelmed by the outrage of the carnage in Gaza, in pursuit of short-term electoral resistance. It is not uncommon to read contributors to this paper expressing the hope that the local revolts against Labour by resigning councillors, or potential Labour candidates “purged” for disloyalty to Starmer, can provide the basis of an alternative to Labour. This is despite the litany of previous failures of such projects and their main basis of unity being opposition to the current Labour leadership — leading almost inevitably to the splits, divisions and collapse that marked the demise of the Respect Party.
The failure of the British left to build a significant base, including its failure to sustain control of the Labour Party, is part of a wider left failure in “advanced” capitalist countries. As Costas Lapavitsas puts it in his most recent book The State of Capitalism: “The left […] has failed to rise to the occasion […] it lacks a strong narrative for radical change grounded in the experience of working people and addressing in plain language their needs, hopes and fears.”
For the Labour Party to become the voice of the needs, hopes and fears of working people, the affiliated trade unions, especially those on the left, need to engage seriously with the party policy development and candidate selection processes and work closely with the Labour left to create space for radical ideas.
Socialists in the party need to build alliances with social democrats like Miliband, who understand that we need a party that challenges Britain’s addiction to imperialism, not one that feeds that lethal habit.
This article was first published in the Morning Star on 23rd January https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/kicking-imperialism-habit?