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Keir Starmer: Hostage, or Accomplice to Rishi Sunak?

Why is the current Labour leader in complete lock step with the ruling Tory party, with unfettered support for Israel’s war crimes in occupied Palestine?

Peter Ford

21st Century Wire

The leader of the Labour Party is just as much a hostage as any of the Israelis held by Hamas. Only in his case he wasn’t kidnapped: he delivered himself, bound and gagged, to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Netanyahu.

Keir Starmer, basking in media acclaim just a week ago after yet another spectacular by-election win for his party, is now probably the most reviled politician in Britain, a pretty contested field.

This turnabout has come about because over the last three years Starmer has staked his all on extirpating from the Labour Party all traces of his allegedly anti-semitic Hamas-friendly predecessor Jeremy Corbyn and his barbaric followers (does this kind of operation sound familiar?). He has been largely successful in this endeavour and earned in consequence the favour of important elites well represented in the media. In so doing, however, he has made himself a hostage to fortune, or more specifically to the behaviour of Israel.

Starmer could not afford to let daylight over Israel emerge between himself and Rishi Sunak, otherwise all his good work shoring up his credentials as scourge of the Labour anti-semites could start to crumble. This was fine as long as even the Arabs seemed to be ditching the Palestinians by making their separate Abraham Accords with Israel.

But what if it all blew up in the faces of the architects of these Accords and Israel turned out to be behaving barbarically? Well, Starmer is now finding out. Following as he thought the Sunak line, in a notorious radio interview he stated as clearly as he ever states anything (that is, not very much) that Israel had the right to withhold food, water, electricity and fuel from starving Gazans. Desperate backtracking failed to stem the avalanche of protest that followed, mainly from representatives of the Muslim community. Labour councillors started resigning.

Starmer compounded his error by failing to support calls for a ceasefire, just as British TV screens were filling with horrific pictures of Palestinian children being pulled bloodied from rubble. The trickle of resignations at local level became a flood and panicking senior Labour figures started to distance themselves from him. That many of them depend on Muslim votes to get re-elected has of course nothing to do with this welcome if tardy appreciation that genocide is, well, overdoing it a bit.

Starmer is in a massive bind. If he caves in to pressure and starts to let daylight emerge between himself and Sunak he will immediately be assailed from all sides for being the treacherous, cynical, unprincipled flip flopper he is, if not as an actual anti-semite. And if he stands firm he will gain poisonous praise from the Right and not much else.

Meanwhile Sunak is having a ball at Starmer’s (and Gaza’s) expense. However outrageous Sunak’s pro-Israeli stance he knows Starmer can only distance himself at his peril and the longer this goes on the more Starmer impales himself on this hook of his own foolish making. At a stroke Starmer has lost millions of potential votes, even if he now zigzags, while Sunak’s fortunes, a moment ago worth less than Sam Bankman-Fried’s investments in crypto, rise correspondingly. And with Netanyahu promising that his Gaza campaign is going to be long, hard and painful (for Gazans) the hostages, including Starmer, look set for a lengthy ordeal.

Rarely will a comeuppance have been more richly deserved. By cynically sacrificing Palestinians to his own electoral calculus Starmer has brought the rubble from his crumbling edifice of a Middle East policy cascading down on his own head.

Eventually of course public opinion will force Sunak to change course. Even if Starmer beats him to it the shift will come too late to rescue his reputation. Whatever he does from now on Starmer will be remembered by many as the man who condoned the vilest Israeli war crimes.

His party if it has any sense will ditch him for someone with slightly less filthy hands before voters have a chance to express their revulsion at Tories and Labour both by not voting at all.

Author Peter Ford is a geopolitical and global affairs analyst, and former British Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) and Bahrain (1999-2002). See his archive here




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