MPs will vote on recognising Palestine as a state today. Photo: Getty
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Why MPs should vote to recognise Palestine

MPs have a rare chance to vote on Palestinian statehood today.

It’s very rare for MPs to get the chance to vote on the Israel-Palestine issue. There are many debates in the House of Commons, but almost never votes. So today’s backbench debate and vote on Palestine presents a great opportunity for MPs to nail their colours to the mast.

There is a good possibility that there will be a majority – even a substantial majority – supporting motion calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine and, if there is, we believe it would have a huge impact in both Europe and the Middle East.

In Europe it could kickstart a process that would see all the West European countries confer recognition on Palestine and then put economic pressure on the Israelis to end their oppressive 47-year occupation.

In the Middle East it would send a signal that the West really does mean what it says about the illegality of Israeli settlements and encourage the politicians who have been advocating a constitutional and non-violent route to Palestinian self-determination.

Of course the result of the vote on a backbench motion is not binding on the government. And even if the government does confer recognition, it is not going to make any overnight difference to the lives of millions of Palestinians in refugee camps.

The only visible difference will be that a small well-fortified house in the Sheikh Jarrah suburb of East Jerusalem which has been acting as the unofficial British mission to the Palestinians will take down a sign reading “British Consulate-General” and put up a sign reading “British Embassy”.

But the emotional difference will be huge. Britain, the country that issued the Balfour Declaration, that governed Palestine from 1922 to 1948, that abandoned a country in turmoil and left the two sides to fight it out, that has been standing on the sidelines ever since, condemning Israel for its illegal settlements but taking no action, will finally have come off the fence.

There has been a huge increase in public pressure on MPs. They have received 53,000 emails asking them to vote for recognition via just one website in the last ten days. Some MPs have received over a thousand emails for recognition and only a few against.

But most MPs made up their mind earlier this year after the collapse of the peace talks in April, which even the Americans blamed on Israeli settlement building, the collective punishment of the West Bank in June and July, the war on Gaza which killed over 500 children and 1,400 civilians in August and the announcement of yet more illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land in September.

MPs who have been loyal members of Conservative or Labour Friends of Israel for decades and have never breathed a word of criticism have come to debates to say that this time Israel has gone "too far". Many of them will be eloquent by their absence from this debate.

The Israel loyalists will still be there, pressing their amendment that recognition should not be conferred until "the conclusion of successful peace negotiations", but of course the Israelis forced the collapse of negotiations by continually building more illegal settlements.

And in any case the recognition of Palestine by Britain is a matter for our government alone. It does not require us to consult with the Israeli government. To make it dependent on the success of the talks would mean handing over control of our foreign policy to Israel.

Ed Miliband and his shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander deserve credit for pressing the case for the recognition of Palestine, as they have done for the last four years, and for calling on his party to support the backbench motion.

There are already 135 countries that recognise Palestine, including many EU countries, and with Sweden announcing that it would recognise Palestine just last week, it’s not clear why Britain should wait any longer. It is a time for Britain to show leadership.

Andy Slaughter is Labour MP for Hammersmith and a shadow justice minister; Martin Linton is the former Labour MP for Battersea, a Guardian journalist, and works for Palestine Briefing

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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