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'He's been terrible on Gaza,' says pro-Palestine activist challenging Keir Starmer

Anti-war campaigner Andrew Feinstein is standing against the Labour Party leader in his London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras

Anti-war campaigner and pro-Palestine activist Andrew Feinstein has said he believes he has a "slim" chance of unseating Labour Party leader Keir Starmer when they compete for his London constituency at next month's general election.

In a wide-ranging interview with Middle East Eye's Unapologetic podcast, Feinstein accused the opposition leader of being "deeply unpopular", "terrible on Gaza", and possessing authoritarian and undemocratic qualities, adding there was a real possibility he could lose his seat in Holborn and St Pancras which he won with a majority of more than 27,000 at the last election.

'I want to show that it's actually important to have principles and values and convictions in politics'

Andrew Feinstein

"His (Starmer's) policies are very similar to the policies of the Conservative Party in many senses," said Feinstein, who served as a parliamentarian with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa between 1994 and 2001, and was first elected under Nelson Mandela.

"He's been terrible on Gaza. He seems to have in his politics, a sort of authoritarian, almost undemocratic streak to him. And so for someone whose party is so far ahead in the polls, he has an unfavourability rating of around minus 31, which is very, very high. 

"So in that sense, yes, there's a small chance [of me unseating him]."

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Polls have suggested that Labour will win a convincing majority at the 4 July poll, with the party 20 points ahead of the ruling Conservatives, potentially enough for a landslide victory.

But underlying data suggests Starmer and his party are no more popular than they were heading into the 2015 election, when the Tories won a majority.

According to a recent Ipsos poll, Starmer has a favourability rating of -20 among white voters, and his standing with ethnically diverse voters is among the lowest a Labour leader has recorded since 1996, with a rating of -32. 

Still, Starmer, who has represented the constituency since 2015, has been widely tipped to win re-election. This comes despite the former chief prosecutor coming under fire from sections of the Labour Party over his response to the war on Gaza, including from left-wing figures such as Feinstein.

Starmer was criticised early in the war for appearing to suggest that Israel had a right to cut off energy and water supplies to the besieged Palestinian territory, and in a major speech argued against a ceasefire which he claimed would "freeze" the conflict.

In the interview, Feinstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor and of Jewish origin, condemned Starmer over the party's position throughout the months-long war, and also lamented its alleged rightward tilt.

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"As important as the possibility of defeating him is, the opportunity is to show, first of all, that politics can be done in a different way," Feinstein said.

"As often as a baby has its nappy changed, which is pretty much what Keir Starmer seems to do politically, I want to show that it's actually important to have principles and values and convictions in politics. 

"I'm hoping that the campaign will show a very different kind of politics but also give voice to the crucial issues of our day, which are the interrelated issues of what is happening in Gaza with our government doing nothing about it," he added.

Earlier this year, a YouGov poll found that more than half of people surveyed, 52 percent, felt Starmer had handled Labour's response to the war "badly".

In contrast, only 14 percent said he handled Labour's response well. The remaining third were unsure.

The war on Gaza, now nearing its ninth month, has turned much of the enclave, which is home to more than two million Palestinians, into an uninhabitable hellscape.

Whole neighbourhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been devastated by air strikes and scorched by tank fire. 

More than 36,000 people have been killed, the great majority of them women and children. Thousands more are missing or presumed to be dead under the rubble.

MEE reached out to the Labour Party for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.

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