Pressure on Starmer builds as one third of Labour MPs call for ceasefire in Gaza

The reaction within the Labour party towards the Israel-Gaza conflict has been one of the biggest tests for Sir Keir Starmer as calls ring for a ceasefire

By ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan and Westminster Producer Lucy McDaid

Sir Keir Starmer is under growing pressure as almost a third of Labour MPs, including 15 of his frontbenchers, are publicly expressing their support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Labour leader said earlier this week that he understands why some are calling for a ceasefire, but insisted it is not the "correct position" at the moment.

His speech in London on Tuesday was an attempt to diffuse the growing tensions within his party over the conflict, arguing Hamas would be "emboldened" by a ceasefire and that a humanitarian pause is the "only credible approach" to the ongoing war.

But a growing number of his MPs are becoming increasingly frustrated with his refusal to change position - not least because many have been inundated with correspondence from constituents who want to see him support a ceasefire.

Burnley and Pendle council leaders on Thursday evening called on Sir Keir to resign over his decision not to back a ceasefire and "allow a leadership election".

Councillor Afrasiab Anwar accused Sir Keir of "blindly following the position of Rishi Sunak" and said he's "not stood up for Labour values", while Councillor Asjad Mahmood said he should step down to allow someone "to lead our party who has compassion and speaks out against injustice and indiscriminate killing of innocent human beings".

One backbench Labour MP told ITV News they've had "an absolutely huge influx" of messages about the situation in the Middle East, calling it "the biggest lobby" they've ever received, more so than Brexit.

Another shadow backbencher, Khalid Mahmood, said he's had at least 3,000 emails from constituents wanting to see a ceasefire.

"I've never seen this quantity of emails coming through my inbox and I've been a Member of Parliament now for Birmingham Perry Barr for 23 years," he told ITV News.

Mr Mahmood is among a number of MPs warning Sir Keir that he faces an electoral challenge at the next General Election if he doesn't call for a ceasefire, particularly in seats with large Muslim populations.

Shadow frontbenchers Khalid Mahmood (left), Yasmin Qureshi (centre) and Jess Phillips (right) are among those calling for a ceasefire. Credit: PA

ITV News visited Mr Mahmood's constituency. One voter said: "I'm extremely disappointed. If the Labour Party doesn't move forward, I'd find it extremely difficult to vote for anyone at this point."

In Clive Betts' Sheffield South East constituency - again, one with a large Muslim population - one voter said "we're losing sleep over this". Another said if the Labour leader doesn't change his stance, "I don't think I will continue to support him".

Mr Betts, who has also publicly called for a ceasefire, has a majority of 4,289 and has represented the constituency since 2010.

He admitted he's worried about the impact Sir Keir's position could have on his Muslim vote, but said he hopes "people will eventually come round".

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves says a 'humanitarian pause' is the 'quickest way' to get aid into Gaza and hostages freed

Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP for Brent North who is also backing a ceasefire, stressed the need for politicians to "provide hope", saying he disagrees with Sir Keir on the suggestion a ceasefire would "freeze" the current situation.

"People need hope, politicians are there to provide that hope," he said.

"That hope is not to say this situation must get worse before it gets better. Hope comes by proposing a way forward, and that's what the international community must do."

Adding to the challenge for the opposition leader is growing pressure from local Labour councillors. A Savanta poll, seen exclusively by ITV News, has found that 43% are dissatisfied with Sir Keir's position on the conflict, while 17% say they have considered quitting the party over the issue.

It comes after at least 330 of them signed a letter earlier this week accusing the Labour Party of a "failure to call for an end to violence" that they say is "causing hurt in our communities".

More than 30 Labour councillors across the country have resigned over the matter, with the party losing it's Oxford council majority following nine resignations.

Shaista Aziz, who now stands as an independent councillor for Oxford City Council, said: "I had no choice other than to resign from the Labour Party based on the leader's dehumanising rhetoric about the Palestinians of Gaza."

Ms Aziz was one of the first Muslim Labour councillors to quit over the division on a ceasefire. Amar Latif, who also resigned, said he did on "a matter of principle".

While a number of Labour frontbenchers have broken ranks with the party leader, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves spoke in defence of the party leader's position on Thursday.

"I can understand why colleagues are calling for a ceasefire," Ms Reeves told broadcasters.

"But Keir was very clear in his speech on Monday, that the best and quickest way to get food, to get medicine, to get fuel, water into Gaza, and the people out who are able to get out, is through humanitarian pauses.

"Israel has a right to defend itself and bring home its hostages, but everything that Israel does must be within international humanitarian law."

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