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Long-serving Preston politician calls on Keir Starmer to resign over Gaza response

Posted on - 8th November, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston Council, Preston News
Teddy bears at a vigil in Preston at the weekend
Teddy bears at a vigil in Preston at the weekend

A long-serving Lancashire county councillor has called on Sir Keir Starmer to resign over the stance the Labour Party has taken on the war in Gaza – accusing him of countenancing the killing of “innocent civilians”.

Yousuf Motala, who has represented the Preston City division at County Hall for almost 15 years, issued a statement telling the Labour leader that he should step aside to make way for someone “who can show compassion” and put the case for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict.

It comes just days after the ruling Labour group on Preston City Council was forced to defend its position on the situation in the Middle East, following a public meeting at which it was accused by some members of the Muslim community of a “lame” response – even after all 31 of the party’s councillors at the town hall backed a call for an end to the violence.

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In his statement, County Cllr Motala asked of Sir Keir:  “How can anybody with any decency  and respect for human life continue to ignore the cries and screams of thousands of unborn babies, newborn babies, children, expectant mothers, [the] elderly and the dying?”

He said that it was “beyond my comprehension” – and declared that the party under Sir Keir’s leadership had “lost [its] core values and ethos” by “allow[ing] Israel to exterminate innocent civilians [through] full-scale revenge attacks on the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank”.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) about his resignation demand, county Cllr Motala said he had been witnessing the pictures emerging from Gaza with increasing horror, adding that “enough is enough”.

According to the Gazan health ministry – run by Hamas, the UK-proscribed terror organisation that controls the Gaza Strip – over 9,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s response to the Hamas attack on its territory, on 7th October, in which more than 1,300 Israelis died and over 200 were kidnapped.

Stressing his previous condemnation of the Hamas rampage, County Cllr Motala said:  “Children are dying for no good reason – hospitals and refugee camps are being targeted and people are being starved. For me, I think that we’re talking about war crimes.

“You’ve got to have some empathy…[and] feeling – and if you don’t [have that] for human life, then you think to yourself, what is all this about? [Labour should] at least ask for a ceasefire that is immediate – and forget about these [aid] corridors and temporary breaks [in fighting].”

So far, Sir Keir has supported the UK government’s push for a pause in the military action to allow more aid into the densely packed Strip.  However, he is facing an increasing clamour from within his own party to go much further.

Last week, the Labour leaders of Burnley and Pendle councils also called on him to quit and the Burnley leader, Afrasiab Anwar, has since himself resigned from the party, along with nine of his group.   As the LDRS reported last week, two Pendle councillors have also left the party.

Sobia Malik, the Lancashire county councillor who represents Burnley Central East, became the first Labour member of County Hall to quit the party late last week.

Asked by the LDRS whether he would consider following her out of the door, County Cllr Motala – who once chaired the North West regional committee on international development – said that he was “seriously considering” his position.

“As county councillors, we have a duty of care and a responsibility for safeguarding our residents. But we can’t…just accept that we look after [our own residents] and forget everybody else in the world.”

In the North-East on Friday, Sir Keir told reporters  his focus was on stopping the suffering in Gaza, not on the “individual positions” of party members.

Teddy bear tribute

The names of thousands of Palestinian children killed since the conflict in Gaza began a month ago were read out by Lancashire youngsters and their parents during a vigil held at Preston’s Flag Market on Saturday.

Around 400-500 teddy bears and cuddly toys were also laid out at the event, intended to represent just some of the now 4,000 Gazan children reported to have died in the war. The toys were then distributed to passers-by in an attempt to raise local awareness of the human suffering being experienced in the Middle East.

Naima Adam, from Stop The War Preston and South Ribble – one of the organisers of the Gathering for Gaza vigil – said she hopes that the stark visualisation the soft toys helped to create did have an impact on those who saw it.

“I wish that we’d had more members of the public [stopping on their way past]. But that’s why we gave the teddies out because we know that it can sometimes be intimidating to come up to a crowd of people that all look the same and are usually Muslim.

“We also had a stand where people could come and ask questions.  We didn’t want to throw it in people’s faces, but, equally, we wanted it to be something a little bit different – and to honour the people who have lost their lives,” Naima explained.

More than 120 children volunteered for the name-reading ceremony, which took more than two hours to complete.  It was based on a list – then totalling just under 3,000 – of the names of children killed in Gaza, which was published last week by the Al Jazeera news network.

Only around 200 names were left unspoken at the vigil – also supported by The Forgotten People charity, Preston-based Children of the Ghetto and the Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils – when it came to an end.

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