“We have a duty not to stop raising this issue.”Louise Regan, NEU & PSC.
By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP
Labour and Palestine’s event Speaking Up for Palestine- Next Steps After Conference saw over 500 activists join an important discussion on how our party and movement can build real international solidarity on the back of the resolution passed in Brighton, with 10,000s more seeing streams of the event on social media.
Chairing the event on behalf of Labour and Palestine, Matthew Willgress mentioned the broad alliance that had been built in support of the motion, and emphasised the importance of keeping up the pressure on this issue in the context of Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy’s almost immediate response seeking to override the will of conference (as well as what seemed to be a determined effort from much of the press to ignore it). This can come both through formal mechanisms such as submissions to the party’s National Policy Forum, and through grassroots activity from members across the country.
International Director for Unite the Union Simon Dubbins thanked all those who helped bring the Palestinian cause to conference floor and stressed the importance of recognising what a significant victory the vote represented. Despite attempts from elements of the party leadership “to pretend it didn’t happen”, winning the support of conference means members have a clear framework with which to raise and discuss the issue in CLPs and through party structures. He also noted that, as well as support from CLP delegates, the resolution received widespread backing from affiliated trade unions (including the three largest in Britain)- giving supporters of Palestine a united position to build on.
Louise Regan, Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, spoke of the heartwarming impact of seeing word of the vote at conference reach Palestinian friends, who viewed it as an important show of support for their struggle. She emphasised that it is not a case of ‘job done,’ but that it is “members on the ground who will make this happen.” Urging support for initiatives on Palestine in the period ahead, Regan reminded activists that “we have a duty to not stop raising this issue” and to remain undeterred in campaigning for justice.
National Executive Committee member Gemma Bolton discussed her own experience of visiting Palestine as part of a trade union delegation, witnessing the brutal reality of land grabs, denial of access to water, and families mourning loved ones, but also the resilience and determination of the Palestinian people: “they aren’t giving up, and neither should we.” She welcomed the unity of Labour left organisations in promoting what proved to be “the most progressive policy on Palestine ever passed at conference” and called for this to be maintained- highlighting that Nandy’s comments were not only wrong in principle but showed blatant disregard for the sovereign body of our party.
Labour MP for Easington Grahame Morris reflected on this month marking the seventh anniversary of the British Parliament passing the motion he presented to recognise the state of Palestine. The vote at conference, he argued, must be used as a further building block to promote recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Noting that Britain’s historic role in events such as the Balfour Declaration gave the country a particular obligation to address the situation, Morris described the current government’s position as “lamentable” and called on Labour to take a clear stand for justice for Palestine- describing international solidarity as “part of the fibre of our movement.”
H.E. Husam Zomlot, Palestinian Ambassador to Britain, expressed gratitude to Labour and Palestine, PSC, Young Labour, affiliated unions, and all members who helped make the victory at conference possible. Describing it as a historic moment, he said the vote was powerful because it represented “a democratic expression of the hearts and minds of the Labour Party.” He made the case that a key step towards the empowerment of the Palestinian people is recognising the unequal power dynamic that currently exists between them and Israel. The Ambassador made it clear that this motion represents the beginning: there is no time to waste for Palestine in the context of expanding settlements and military aggression, but with a united and determined movement we can see progress sooner rather than later.
Speaking on behalf of Young Labour, South East regional representative Nekisa Gholami-Babaahmady outlined the overwhelming desire of young party members to raise Palestine at conference and support received from CLP delegates in getting the motion through compositing. Rebutting claims from figures on the right that it was ‘too shouty,’ she argued that we have a collective responsibility to speak out against injustice and oppression: “we’re socialists, that’s what we do. In response to Nandy’s remarks, Gholami-Babaahmady highlighted that there is nothing “fair or balanced” about the status quo which silence upholds and pledged to continue campaigning: “we’ve fought too hard to let this disappear.”
Young Labour’s national student representative Fraser Amos stated that the resolution passing represented an unprecedented step forward- arguing that despite the reactionary stance of the party leadership, “the ground was shifting beneath their feet.” He emphasised the importance of using this to open up space in the party on Palestine: both in terms of political education work and providing practical solidarity through areas such as local government.
Closing the event, the chair added to the call for a stepping up of solidarity work in the months ahead, mentioning two actions that can be taken immediately – passing this motion at your CLP and signing this important statement from Labour and Palestine.