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Shabana Mahmood tests Keir Starmer’s leadership

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Labour poster MP Shabana Mahmood has emerged as the unofficial leader of the party’s 14 Muslim MPs who are critical of Keir Starmer’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. One of the group whispered that if the shadow justice secretary – who, after telling the leader he’d caused offence to the Muslim community, wrote to her constituents suggesting Israel may be guilty of “collective punishment” – resigns, the six others in the group with front-bench posts would quit in solidarity. The 13 members of Starmer’s team who have broken the party line by calling for a ceasefire include Imran Hussain. The shadow minister added his name to a motion (95 signatures last time I looked) tabled by Corbynista Richard Burgon. Starmer’s leadership is being tested.

Party number crunchers calculate as many as 20 seats could be jeopardised in the backlash over Starmer’s pro-Israel position, screamed a snout. That could wipe out all anticipated Scottish gains. Every crisis is an opportunity – this one for Rishi Sunak. Some in Labour mutter a May election might be back on the cards.

Left-wing MPs are asking why, if Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald was suspended over a Palestinian rally speech that was misreported in the Times, the leader didn’t suspend himself over more accurate coverage of his calamitous interview on LBC radio. “The buck never stops at the top,” muttered a gnarled veteran, “but is always passed down the line.” No Labour internal ceasefire, then.

[See also: The Labour revolt over the Gaza war]

By the way, Labour Friends of Israel boasts 70 MP members including Rachel Reeves and half the shadow cabinet, while Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East can muster 50. The other 80 will soon be wearing blue helmets.

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Tory chatter turned to Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker after Sunak fired ministerial unpaid bag-carrier Paul Bristow for backing a ceasefire. Baker’s seat in Wycombe, like Bristow’s in Peterborough, has a small majority and sizeable Muslim population. Conservative colleagues are watching anxiously.

Trademark chaos after Boris Johnson signed a fat deal with GB News. Fee envy is infecting current Tory presenters, while at News UK Rebekah Brooks is miffed Johnson didn’t join Talk TV when News Corp-owned Harper Collins paid £510,000 for his memoirs. Who could predict the devious bounder would prove disloyal?

Jungle populist Nigel Farage craving a knighthood could be the key, grimaced a Tory, to a seat-saving deal with Reform née Brexit Party née Ukip. Desperate times, desperate measures and all that.

[See also: Dominic Cummings’ saviour complex]

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This article appears in the 01 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Labour Revolts