Pressure on Mark Drakeford as Labour’s Israel-Gaza split reaches Welsh Parliament

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Labour’s ongoing divisions over the party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war could be laid bare in the Senedd this week. Credit: PA images

Labour’s ongoing divisions over the party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war could be laid bare in the Senedd this week.

Until now the pressure has been on the UK Labour leader Keir Starmer but the political focus is now turning to the Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford

Backbenchers are set to take different sides during an expected debate in the Welsh Parliament with particular focus on what the Health Minister, who has taken a different public position, will do. 

At the same time, 46 organisations, including one representing left-wing Welsh Labour activists, have written to the First Minister saying that his public calls for humanitarian pauses in the conflict are "insufficient."

Mark Drakeford has backed the position taken by the UK leader, Sir Keir Starmer who has been facing criticism from many within his party for resisting pressure to call for an immediate ceasefire, instead urging both parties in the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause to allow aid in, and people out, of the war zone.

It’s proving to be a difficult balancing act for both Labour leaders and here in Wales one cabinet member, the Health Secretary Eluned Morgan, has spoken out in favour of an immediate ceasefire. 

Plaid Cymru is increasing the pressure on Welsh Labour by holding a debate in the Welsh Parliament which is due to take place on Wednesday. 

Plaid’s motion “Condemns the horrifying attacks carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for the immediate release of hostages.”

But it goes on to state in terms that Senedd Members should “unite in seeking an immediate ceasefire to end the human suffering and allow humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.”

The First Minister Mark Drakeford has been clear in stating why he doesn’t support an immediate ceasefire, issuing a statement last week saying that “I endorse the calls made by Keir Starmer for humanitarian pauses so that aid can urgently get to those who need lit. 

“A pause could create conditions which lead to a ceasefire and then on to the crucial next steps to provide a credible route to the peaceful resolution which is so desperately needed."

That hasn’t stopped other Welsh Labour figures from taking a different approach. Health Minister Eluned Morgan is the most senior of those. She wrote in an article on Wales Online that “An immediate ceasefire will save hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives. 

“On top of this, we must call for Israeli hostages to be released and the world must stand together to condemn the vicious Hamas attacks of 7th of October and the rise in antisemitic behaviour.”

Twelve Labour backbenchers are among twenty-seven Senedd Members who have signed a Statement of Opinion in the Welsh Parliament calling for “immediate ceasefire.”

All of which explains why Wednesday’s motion could prove to be a difficult and divisive one for Mark Drakeford.

Two Labour backbenchers, John Griffiths and Carolyn Thomas, have signed Plaid Cymru’s motion and others may well be inclined to vote for it too. 

I understand that it’s unlikely that backbenchers voting for the Plaid Cymru motion would face any disciplinary procedure and that ministers are expected to abstain in any vote. I’m told it’s standard practice for them to do that in matters which aren’t devolved. 

What would happen if Eluned Morgan or any other ministers chose not to abstain and instead joined those backing the Plaid Cymru motion isn’t clear. 

Keir Starmer hasn’t yet sacked any of his front benchers who’ve taken a different position to him on a ceasefire so that might make it easier for Mark Drakeford to overlook anything similar here. 

There’s a twist though. Two other Labour backbenchers have co-submitted an amendment tabled by the Conservative MS Darren Millar.

If passed, the amendment would remove the call for an immediate ceasefire and instead call for “a suspension of hostilities to allow for the establishment of humanitarian corridors.”

The amendment also urges action “in accordance with international law” but crucially “recognises the right of all sovereign states, including the State of Israel, to defend themselves and their citizens.”

The Liberal Democrat Senedd Member is also expected to back the Plaid Cymru motion on Wednesday, having signed the motion.

Meanwhile an open letter has been sent to Mark Drakeford urging him to support calls for a ceasefire, backed by 46 organisations including the Muslim Council of Wales, the Cardiff Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Race Alliance Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Cymdeithas y Cymod (the Fellowship of Reconciliation).

Another of the 46 organisations is the left-wing Labour group, Welsh Labour Grassroots which played a big part in Mark Drakeford’s leadership campaign. 

The letter says that "A break in the bombardment, only for more civilians to die once it resumes, is insufficient. 

“A ceasefire is urgently needed, and is the only way to prevent further loss of life and begin to take steps towards negotiations for peace.

"The First Minister of Scotland, the leader of Scottish Labour and the Mayors of London and Manchester have called for a ceasefire, as well as MPs and MSs from all parties, and elected politicians around the world. 

“It would be a shame if our First Minister, leader of a Nation of Sanctuary with a proud tradition of internationalism, did not join those calls. 

“Wales may not have powers over international affairs but we do have a voice. You have a democratic duty to represent the majority of people in Wales who want to see a ceasefire, as well as a moral duty to use your position to join the growing international chorus for peace.”

There’s been a similar call from the Wales Green Party leader Anthony Slaughter who has said that “I fully support calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The indiscriminate killing of civilians and collective punishment of a population must end now. All hostages must be released unconditionally.”

Until now the focus of discontent within Labour has been directed at Keir Starmer. Now it’s turning to Mark Drakeford. 

There’s speculation that some Labour MPs will try to force a vote in the King’s Speech debate to try to show the extent of unease in the Westminster group over Keir Starmer’s stance. 

If that were to happen, it would take place in the coming weeks. In the Welsh Parliament, a similar vote exposing similar divisions looks set to take place on Wednesday. 

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