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Sir Keir facing no ceasefire, no vote challenge

SIR KEIR STARMER’S Gaza crisis deepened at the weekend as former Labour councillors and independent parliamentary candidates united to offer a challenge to the Labour leader.

The “No Ceasefire No Vote” conference in London brought together about 200 councillors, parliamentary candidates and supporters to prepare a broad alternative to Labour and to oppose its backing for Israel’s genocide in Palestine in particular.

Enthused by George Galloway’s Rochdale by-election victory, the councillors and candidates, most of whom have broken with Labour over Gaza, also pledged to fight Islamophobia and to defend the democratic rights threatened by PM Rishi Sunak.

Conference organiser Andrew Burgin said: “It is necessary to bring about a change in British politics.

“We will not be intimidated or allow our communities to be divided by an Establishment that supports horrific crimes.”

The conference heard a video message from Tyneside mayor Jamie Driscoll, who will be fighting as an independent for an expanded mayoralty in May.

“In the next election both parties will have the same manifesto and the same rich donors pulling the strings,” he said.

“The Starmer-Reeves project is not centrism: it is Thatcherism. 

“After the next election we may get a new orchestra, but it is playing the same tune.”

In a powerful speech, independent MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe, who will contest the seat again, said that the significance of the conference was that it was “an organic political development from the heart of our communities.”

Ms Webbe called for “no votes for genocide, no votes for collusion or providing political cover” and for “unity to end a rigged political system.”

Emma Dent-Coad, who will contest as an independent in the Kensington seat she held for Labour from 2017 to 2019, said her former party had “turned its back on the most horrific injustice unfolding before our eyes.  My neighbours say they will never vote Labour again.”

She won cheers for her conclusion that “Starmer has betrayed the whole labour movement and I for one will never forgive him.”

Former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, who is widely anticipated to stand against Sir Keir in his St Pancras seat, pledged to campaign to “break the cycle of permanent war and permanent austerity.”

Stop the War’s Lindsey German pointed to the experiences of the Corbyn leadership and warned that the state would work to block any socialist challenge.  Building the mass movement was key, she said.

Oxford councillor Jabo Nala-Hartley said that the Rochdale result “had to be celebrated” and that was the general mood of the conference.

Some speakers and contributors from the floor advocated for the formation of a new party of the left while others emphasised the value of independence in local communities at this stage.

The former leader of Respect, Salma Yaqoob, drawing on her experiences, warned that “there are no short-cuts” and that “you have to go knocking on doors” to build a political project.

Opposition to rampant Islamophobia was a strong theme, with Solma Ahmed from Essex warning that “a wave of Islamophobia is being unleashed by politicians.”

Serving councillors from Liverpool, Oxford, Newham, Bristol, Burnley, Blackburn, Kirklees, Sheffield, Hastings, Haringey, Kensington, Redbridge and Gedling were among those contributing to the discussion, with many other areas also represented at the event.

In addition to the Gaza issue they all had stories to tell of abuses and authoritarianism by the Labour Party at all levels.

There was also a determination to make a difference in their own communities, which gave the conference a different flavour to similar left gatherings in the past.

But there was an international element, with a video message from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis backing the “no ceasefire, no vote” demand, who warned that if Sir Keir was bad now “imagine what horrors he will bring to Downing Street.”

There will be a follow-up conference in Blackburn next  month to agree the next steps for the initiative’s development.

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