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Palestinian and socialist groups further sidelined as Labour email comes to light

Leaked Labour Party email clarifying an 18-month old rule change names Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jewish Voice for Labour as groups local parties can't affiliate to
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer gestures as he delivers a speech on stage during third day of Trades Union Congress in October 2022, in Brighton, southern England (AFP)

A leaked email clarifying a rule change in Britain’s Labour Party has provided further evidence that Palestinian and socialist groups are being sidelined under the leadership of Keir Starmer.

Responding to a London-based constituency, Labour official Alex Mitchell confirmed that local branches of the party are not allowed to affiliate to organisations that are not approved by the party’s ruling executive. 

Mitchell then goes on to list a series of groups including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War coalition and Jewish Voice for Labour. It also includes Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace & Justice Project and the Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The change in the law has been in place for 18 months, but this is the first time Labour has singled out particular groups in an official communication. 

The groups have not been proscribed, but the email - which Middle East Eye understands was leaked by someone on the left of the party - has highlighted divisions within the party on a number of issues, including Palestinian solidarity. Fifteen major trade unions are affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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The centralised control of Labour under Starmer has been compared unfavourably to the days of former leader Tony Blair, who allowed MPs to demonstrate against his policies and appear on platforms hostile to his government. 

This month saw the 20th anniversary of the mass demonstrations against the war in Iraq, which was co-organised by Stop the War. A number of Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, who went on to become the party’s leader, were present that day. 

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Citing his response to allegations of antisemitism in the party, Starmer recently confirmed that Corbyn would not stand as a Labour MP at the next election. Corbyn is expected to run as an independent left-wing candidate. 

“What Keir Starmer has done regarding opposition voices is to silence all dissent within the party,” Terina Hine, a spokesperson for Stop the War, told Middle East Eye. “He is far more restrictive than Tony Blair was.”

Hine said that it was their understanding that Stop the War had not been banned by Labour and that people could still be members of both the party and the group. She said that many Stop the War members were also Labour members.

“It’s the sort of rule that is not going to have a great impact on us,” Hine said. “Starmer has been pretty hostile to Stop the War.” 

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign emphasised that the email was just indicative of a rule change that was made in 2021 and was not an instruction to local party branches that they could not affiliate to PSC.

But he told MEE that the group remains concerned about the "broader dynamics" under Keir Starmer's leadership having a "chilling effect" on activism for Palestine by conflating it with antisemitism.

"We saw this in action most recently with the pressure exerted on Kim Johnson MP to withdraw her legitimate remarks about Israel practicing the crime of apartheid."

Jamal added that they continue to urge the large number of Labour members supportive of Palestinian liberation to “support our campaigns for justice and pressure the leadership for change in policy”.

Last year, Labour figures including John McDonnell and Diane Abbott pulled out of attending a Stop the War rally in London after pressure from Keir Starmer over the group’s stance on Ukraine, which is considered to be too pro-Russia.

The group is holding a rally in London this weekend at which no Labour MPs will be present.

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