Newham Labour rocked by Gaza criticism

Ex-members stand against them

by Niall Mulholland, East London Socialist Party

The Labour mayor and council in Newham, East London, have come under fierce criticism.

For weeks, Labour locally did not speak out against the Israeli state’s attacks on Gaza or distance themselves from Keir Starmer’s public support for Netanyahu’s government. Residents in the borough with a large Muslim population are furious.

Several local Labour Party officers and a councillor have resigned in protest. Consequently, a by-election will take place in Plaistow North on 23 November.

An independent candidate, Sofia Naqvi, is standing. She resigned as women’s officer of East Ham Labour Party.

Sofia has the backing of local independent councillor, Mehmood Mirza, who recently overturned a large Labour majority in another by-election.

Mehmood is associated with Newham Socialist Labour, which is mainly made up of former and purged members of the local Labour Party. The prospect of Sofia polling very well in Plaistow North, and perhaps even overturning the Labour majority, is not lost on Labour mayor Rokshana Fiaz and the councillors.

Belatedly, almost a month after the start of the latest war, the mayor and over half the Labour councillors wrote a public letter to Starmer calling for an immediate ceasefire. But the statement makes no mention of the right of self-determination for Palestinians.

Nor do they resign from their positions in Labour, as have councillors across the country (see page 5). It took the deaths of nearly 10,000 people in Gaza before these Newham politicians could summon up the will to send a letter to Starmer.

It is not just on Palestine that the Labour council has been supine. For years we have demanded that the council stand up against Tory government budget cuts, and introduce an emergency needs budget.

Instead, successive Labour councils impose millions of pounds of cuts. Newham now has the highest premature mortality rates of all London boroughs.

A strong showing for Sofia or an outright victory would be a big blow against the Starmerite Labour council. Sofia’s election literature strongly associates with the Palestinian struggle.

She also calls for a council tax freeze, and extending free school meals to secondary schools. Sofia condemns Labour as “no longer serving the interests of the working people, they are acting as agents of the Tory government and fat cats”.

The Socialist Party welcomes these policies. But we go further.

If the council used its vast assets to ensure no more cuts to local services, infrastructure, jobs, wages, and conditions, it would buy time to launch a mass campaign that could win the funds from central government.

Sofia says to voters that being an independent candidate “means that I don’t have to listen to political parties’ instructions or agenda… I only have to listen to you”.

It is undoubtedly better not to be imprisoned in Starmer’s right-wing Labour Party. But we believe that it is necessary to build a combative, democratically run, alternative party for working-class people, locally and nationally.

In this regard, the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), and works with others to try to reach agreement on standing in elections and on what manifesto.