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by Mandy Rhodes
25 February 2024
The politics of the Gaza debate was less about peace and more about parochial point scoring

The politics of the Gaza debate was less about peace and more about parochial point scoring

The optics of political parties dancing on the head of a pin to take the moral high ground over the wording of a motion to end the violence in Gaza – when they all essentially agree on the principle (but can’t actually effect that change) – was as unedifying as it was a bootless errand. 
And despite the SNP parliamentarians’ naked fury – who, effectively, were stripped of the right to call the ‘ceasefire’ motion their own – the violence in the Middle East goes on. 

For the ordinary man and woman in the street, the chaotic scenes in the Mother of all Parliaments that saw SNP and Tory MPs walk out; an emergency vote called on whether the debate should continue behind closed doors; the Speaker forced to apologise; and a vote of no confidence now putting his future in doubt; was nothing short of a monumental failure of democracy on this, a most critical of issues, which does nothing to enhance trust in the ability of our elected representatives to actually get things done.

It is a bizarre spectacle to witness two opposition parties debating which of their two motions – which both call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East – should be debated first when the government, whose actual role it is to use its influence on the global stage to force change, withdrew theirs. But this is pure politics and less about world peace and more about parochial political point scoring with MPs swollen by their own self-importance fighting for party relevance in a forthcoming election.

The fact that any vote on a ceasefire taken in the UK parliament will not, on its own, stop the violence, appears to be of little concern to the politicians that are spending an inordinate amount of time splitting hairs over words and process while perfecting their art in performative posturing.

And to fully understand, it unfortunately necessitates getting stuck into the weeds of archaic parliamentary procedures that the electorate could not give a stuff about.

But essentially, the SNP was using one of its rare opposition-day debates to try to force the government and the Labour Party to vote on its call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Cynically, the SNP knows the issue can wound the party it fears most in an election, because it has done it before, and by including the words “collective punishment”, also knew that Keir ‘ever-the-lawyer’ Starmer could not agree to his MPs endorsing something that he believes goes up against international law. And arguably, while everyone can see the horror being inflicted on the Palestinians and take a view, Starmer, rightly or wrongly, puts emotion to one side with an eye to being the next prime minister. Judge that as you will.

It is unusual in an opposition-day debate to have so many amendments or indeed for the Speaker to allow them, but there is precedent. It is his prerogative, and not unreasonable to think that on this subject, with so many views and emotions so high, that the Speaker was right to agree to all parties being heard.

Of course, it is also possible that the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, was in cahoots with his former party to stitch up the SNP. It is within the realms of political reasoning that Starmer was looking for an escape route that would avoid his party being split by the nationalists. Possibly, Starmer managed to persuade Hoyle to act as his shield by turning the screw on the Speaker’s future in the event of Labour being the next party of government.

It is also feasible that the Conservatives withdrew their own amendment to the SNP’s motion because they knew they didn’t have the numbers for it to pass. It is also credible to believe the Speaker acted with probity, unaware that the government would withdraw and trigger a series of events that meant  Labour would be heard first and, if agreed, its amendment would gazump the SNP’s motion on its own opposition-debate day.

And, as Stephen Flynn so angrily claimed, effectively make it a Labour opposition debate rather than his own. All of this could yet be true. But it is equally possible that Hoyle was acting in good faith in a highly volatile situation and, cognisant of the violence already threatened on members in previous debates, wanted to do the best for all on an issue that has exercised heads and hearts for so long. 

Cynically, the SNP knows the issue can wound the party it fears most in an election, because it has done it before, and by including the words 'collective punishment', also knew that Keir ‘ever-the-lawyer’ Starmer could not agree

And what would have happened if Hoyle had refused to allow the three main parties to be heard? Would there have been outrage that on one of the most incendiary issues of our time, and in the context of MPs already having been killed, assaulted, firebombed and threatened, who feared for their own safety and that of their families, and even resigned over this and other contentious areas, that the Speaker chose procedural custom over common sense?

The strength of feeling in the chamber was palpable but whether it was all for the Palestinians and Israelis caught up in this bloodiest of conflicts, and not for, as Flynn might have it, because of the “contempt” he and his party had felt, is debatable. And that is an uncomfortable notion to wrestle with.

The real victims in all of this should never be forgotten – the murdered, raped, and assaulted Israelis whose security was so breached on 7 October; the innocent hostages – a nine-month-old baby, who has now spent almost half again of his young life in the clutches of terrorists rather than in the bosom of his family; the wretched lives of the women, children, and citizens of Gaza whose daily lives are ripped apart by an unceasing bombardment of violence. These are the real victims and not puffed up politicians who view their own political victimhood as even worth a mention in that context.

Meanwhile, what no one in Westminster acknowledged, amid all the sanctimonious brouhaha, is that on the very same day MPs were walking out over procedures, Israeli lawmakers were voting to back prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of any “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state. 

And that is the tragedy. Here, while we were self-importantly attempting to find a pathway to peace in the chamber and yet couldn’t even build a consensus on an issue on which everyone largely agrees, the future for Gaza was being decided elsewhere and our increasingly raucous voice not even considered as serious.

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Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - The SNP doesn't need another 'reset', it needs a complete rework.

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