Gaza - Stop the Massacre - Protest in London's Trafalgar Square on 4th November. Gaza - Stop the Massacre - Protest in London's Trafalgar Square on 4th November. Source: Alisdare Hickson - Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-SA 2.0

The Gaza solidarity movement has been the spark for independents to start to organise an alternative to Labour, argues Mary Mason

Wednesday night’s disgraceful behaviour in the House of Commons shows how far down Keir Starmer is prepared to drag the Labour Party in his craven support for Israel and its probable annexation of that part of historic Palestine that is not currently part of Israel proper.

The strong-arming of the supposedly neutral Speaker with the apparent threat that if he didn’t acquiesce to Labour’s demand that its amendment also be put, they would dump him after the next General Election, which they must suppose they will win, showed the venality of Westminster political practice for everyone to see. It looks likely that he will be dumped anyway, given the number of MPs queuing up to sign a motion of no confidence in him.

Other than Labour’s craven support for Israel, also on display was Hoyle’s attachment to the baubles and status of high office. He is a Labour MP, albeit that’s meant to be put to one side as he’s the Speaker. A Labour MP, a representative of workers, who sometimes attends his work cosplaying in eighteenth-century court dress. A Labour MP who lives in the Speaker’s House, the grandest of residences in Westminster. Looks like all of that opulence will shortly be swept away.

Starmer may think he’s on course to be the next Prime Minster, but after Wednesday night, any idea that Labour could improve on its already poor position in Scotland is shot full of holes. The nationalists can only make hay at Starmer’s expense.

Almost unnoticed, against the backdrop of the manipulative and venal machinations of Labour in Westminster, has been the number of councillors in local government who have decided enough is enough and have upped sticks and left Labour to sit as Independents.

Like their abuse of the SNP in Parliament on Wednesday night, Labour does not seem to care about losing its grip on important parts of local government. Some of these councils take in the former mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire that must be won back by Labour for it to form the next government, and now of course a significant number of voters of Muslim heritage simply won’t support those who support the genocide in Gaza.

This must be high stakes for Labour whose whole raison d’être is the winning of elections at national, regional or local level. The number of councillors taking a principled stand has meant that Labour has lost political control of some towns, for example Hastings, Oxford and Burnley.

For some councillors, Gaza and Labour’s fulsome support for Israeli military action was the spark that made them leave. For others, myself included, Gaza was the endpoint of a process of disaffection.

The morphing of the ten radical campaign pledges into five not-very-radical missions, the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn and Black women Labour MPs, and corrupt candidate selections carried out by regional officials, all added up to a sense that it was time to go. Gaza made all these issues concrete.

Co-ordinating opposition

Often, independents in local government are a collection of isolated single-issue or oddball enthusiasts but we are determined to be different. We are organising. From Bristol to Newcastle, from Hastings to Burnley, and taking in Norwich and Nottingham, we are networked. However much Labour may work to isolate us in the council chamber, we are drawing support from our anti-war, anti-poverty network stretching across the whole of England. This also has internationalism at its heart.

We are now organising a conference for councillors, others standing on the Indie slate and our supporters using the slogan of the mass Gaza solidarity demonstrations, ‘No Ceasefire, No Vote’. The conference will be held in two locations on two dates; firstly in London on 2 March, and secondly in Blackburn on 13 April.

We have three aims for the conference. Firstly, how do we make the Indies a political force? Part of defining the Indies will be giving support to those councillors up for election on 2 May. In this, we are lucky to be able to draw on the experience of the Liverpool Community Independents.

Secondly, although the media, established parties and the electoral system will all be working against us, we are campaigning to win; we are not a single-issue campaign, although Gaza is the glue that binds us together. We will also need to consider how to deal with other issues confronting all of us at the local level: cuts, minimum service levels, racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and the climate crisis.

Thirdly, there is an issue of common cause. Not only do we want to support those standing on the Indie slate at whatever level, we also want to make links with organised labour, with those unions that have supported the anti-war movement, and help those activists in unions that don’t to break the silence.

We have been able to attract heavyweight speakers to the conference. Former Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob; Andrew Murray, former Unite Chief of Staff and Advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and, importantly, to cement the link with the anti-war movement, Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition. Yanis Varoufakis, Leader of MeRA25, the Greek political party belonging to DiEM25 – Europe’s first transnational political movement will join the conference by video. Indie councillors from across England will be making contributions including Sophie Wilson (Sheffield), Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini (Oxford), Zoe Goodman (Bristol), Afrasiab Anwar (Burnley), Lotte Collet (Haringey) and Suleman Khonat (Blackburn).

Indie candidates contesting other elections will be made very welcome, including Jamie Driscoll, standing for metro mayor in the North East. Significantly, Andrew Feinstein, who is taking on Starmer in Holborn St Pancras and Leanne Mohamad, who is up against Wes Streeting in Ilford North, will both be attending.

Indie councillors have been elected, in some cases re-elected, by citizens across England. We hold the legitimacy of being bona fide representatives of the people. We hope that our conference will mark the beginning of a new political movement, outside of Labour, that is anti-war, anti-imperialist, pro-worker, and puts integrity and honesty back into our political lives.

Register for the No Ceasefire, No Vote conference on 2 March at (£5.00 registration fee to help cover costs).

Cllr Mary Mason is a member of the Independent Socialist Group on Haringey Council in north London.

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