Preston general election hustings: Michael Lavalette refuses to condemn Hamas during Gaza questions

Posted on - 19th June, 2024 - 6:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston News, UCLan, University campus
Michael Lavalette, an independent candidate, prompted a strong response with his answer’s on Gaza during the hustings Pic: Neil Cross/Lancashire Post/BBC LDRS

A candidate contesting the Preston constituency at the forthcoming general election has refused to condemn the 7th October terrorist attack on Israel in which more than 1,100 people were killed.

Michael Lavelette was fielding a question at a hustings debate in which each of the prospective MPs taking part was asked whether they denounced Hamas – which carried out the assault and also took more than 200 hostages – “as a terrorist organisation”.

Mr. Lavalette, who is standing as an independent, responded with an immediate ‘no’. When later asked by debate host Paul Faulkner whether he would instead denounce the actions of Hamas on 7th October, he gave the same answer, after explaining his position.

Read more: Preston general election hustings: Candidates opening pitches to voters

His initial refusal to condemn Hamas itself – which is classed in the UK as a proscribed terror group – was greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos from the audience.

One member of the public was heard to say, “Shame on you” in response to Mr. Lavalette’s subsequent refusal to denounce the specific events of 7th October.

Since that date, more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in Israel’s military response, according to figures from the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry. There are also warnings of an unfolding famine in the north of territory as a result of aid supplies not getting through to those in need.

Responding to the initial question, which had been submitted in advance by one of the audience members, Mr. Lavalette said: “I think when your land is occupied – and it has been for 76 years – people have the right to resist.

“You had the right to resist in the Second World War and the French Resistance [and also] the Yugoslav resistance, the Italian resistance, the Greek resistance – and the Palestinians have the right to fight against their own dispossession.”

See the full Gaza section of the debate where the candidates give their positions below or view the footage on YouTube

Asked about 7th October attack, Mr. Lavalette said that “history did not start on that date”, and referred to attacks on Palestinians, including one in Huwara last year in which he said people were “burnt out [of] their homes”.

“There’s a context to all this,” he added. When pressed by the host about whether that was “a no” to the question, he said: “That’s a no.”

Four of the other candidates – Sir Mark Hendrick (Labour), Trevor Hart (Conservatives), Neil Darby (Liberal Democrats) and Joseph O’Meachair (Rejoin EU) were each unequivocal in taking the opportunity to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Mr. Darby acknowledged the history of the conflict, but said that it was “absolutely unacceptable” for Mr. Lavalette not to condemn “an outright terrorist attack”.

David Brooks, for the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom, said he found it “difficult to denounce Hamas, seeing as Israel set Hamas up”.

“I’m indifferent because it’s not what it’s not what it’s portrayed to be,” he added.

Asked the same question as Mr. Lavalette about whether he could instead condemn the 7th October attack, Mr. Brooks said: “Any innocent children dying is disgusting and abhorrent” – but then added he was not prepared “to disclose what my feelings are when the true nature of the events have not been told.”

The issue of Gaza was the longest and most heated section of the two-hour debate, staged at the University of Central Lancashire.

Hendrick’s record challenged

One audience member’s pre-submitted question to Preston’s most recent MP, Labour’s Sir Mark Hendrick – who has held the seat for 24 years and is defending it at the polls next month – challenged him over why he abstained in a vote in Parliament last November on a Scottish National Party motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

Sir Mark Hendrick, Labour and Co-operative Party candidate, answering questions Pic: Neil Cross/Lancashire Post/BBC LDRS

Labour MPs had been ordered by the party to abstain. Sir Mark told the audience that he had backed a Labour amendment pressing for a “cessation of hostilities”, because his party was “the official opposition” and “not there to support the SNP”.

By February, Labour had put a motion before the Commons calling for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

During a wider debate on the subject, Sir Mark added: “I’ve always taken a balanced view and said…that we need to go back to those [19]67 borders, because that was what was agreed originally, but was never fully signed into a proper treaty.

“I’m fully behind the Palestinians with the way that they’re trying to get self-determination and international recognition.”

On the issue of the civilian death toll in Gaza, which was also raised during the exchanges, Trevor Hart said nobody could fail to be “horrified” at “the loss of life” being seen in the territory.

“It is horrendous. The war has to stop. So for that, there needs to be a ceasefire – and there needs to be a ceasefire now. The hostages need to be released…on all sides.

“There has to be work towards lasting peace and there needs to be a solution – a two-state solution, perhaps – but there needs to be a treaty that is agreed by all for the good of all the people,” Mr. Hart said.

Read more: New constituency boundaries and candidates in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble for the 2024 general election

Calls for peace

Neil Darby warned against repeating “this tragedy time and time again”.

“We need to have a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but we need to…call out Israel, which does mean we need to question whether or not we want to continue to act the way that we have done.

“But it is also important that we look on the other side of the conflict – and we also need to make sure that any peace is going to remove Hamas from the equation as well.”

Joseph O’Meachair said: “Any innocent civilian death is an appalling tragedy, wherever they live.

“One of the key problems we’re facing is that there’s been a progressive breakdown in the international acceptance of a code of practice and a code of conduct that sovereign nations all accept.”

On the broader issue of the Gaza conflict, David Brooks condemned Sir Keir Starmner for supporting the UK government in condoning “dropping bombs on innocent kids [and] a war of attrition”.

“Turning water off and stopping the food supply to kids – it’s just disgusting. They all have vested interest in the military industrial complex. The mainstream parties just want war and suffering,” Mr. Brooks claimed.

Meanwhile, Michael Lavalwette called for “an absolute ceasefire now an end to arms sales to Israel”.

Four of the ten candidates standing in the Preston constituency at next month’s general election were unable to attend the hustings, which was organised by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Lancashire Post, Lancashire Lead and Blog Preston.

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