Ed on tonight’s drama in Parliament: We need an urgent end to the humanitarian catastrophe

So I managed to sleep thoughout tonight’s drama.

Waking up to a phone glowing with WhatsApp messages, I realised there had been a bit of a rammy in the Commons. I checked out the BBC summary and my immediate and instinctive reaction is that the Speaker had been right to allow votes on three distinctive positions on such a huge issue. The SNP’s motion called for an immediate ceasefire, the Government’s called for a humanitarian pause and Labour’s had a bit more meat on its bones about how you actually get to a lasting peace. Normally on an opposition day, you’d get the motion and a Government amendment. It is unusual to have a third option, but in this instance, it made sense to reflect as broad a consensus as possible. He could have done better by including a fourth option, ours.

Ours said:

Expresses its devastation at the mounting humanitarian disaster in Gaza with tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians killed, millions displaced and thousands of homes destroyed; calls on the Prime Minister to oppose publicly and at the UN Security Council the proposed IDF offensive in Rafah; further urges Hamas to unconditionally and immediately release the over 100 hostages taken following the deplorable attacks on 7 October 2023; notes the unprecedented levels of illegal settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories left unchecked by the Israeli Government; welcomes the recent sanctions by the UK Government against four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank; urges the UK Government to sanction all violent settlers and their connected entities; calls on the UK Government to uphold international law and the judgments of international courts under all circumstances; further notes that the only path to regional security is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with Hamas not in power; condemns Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated assertions that there is no future for a Palestinian state; and further urges the UK Government to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Gaza, which will allow an end to the humanitarian devastation, get the hostages out and provide an opportunity for a political process leading to a two-state solution, providing security and dignity for all peoples in Palestine and Israel.”

You would hope that when discussing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters and most dangerous conflicts we have seen in a long time, the Mother of Parliaments would model generous, collaborative behaviour. It was not beyond the wit of the SNP to work with the other opposition parties to bring together something that truly reflected the will of the House.

We had the exact opposite of reasoned, calm joint working. Conservative and SNP MPs walked out in disgust. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that they were more bothered about creating bother for Labour than anything else. And that is a real shame when you think of the people at the heart of this crisis.

Anyway, it so happens that my instinctive reaction was not a million miles from our position as a party.

Ed Davey said after the vote:

The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an immediate bilateral ceasefire for months now, in order to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, get the hostages out and provide the space for a path towards a two-state solution.

Today’s debate should have been about Parliament coming together with one voice on this horrific conflict. Instead it’s turned into an embarrassing row about the selection of amendments.

A ceasefire is urgently needed so that there is time to facilitate the delivery of aid into Gaza, the opportunity to release the hostages, and provide space to intensify diplomacy so that Hamas is out of Gaza, a two state solution is agreed and a lasting peace.

He also told LBC’s Tom Swarbrick that he still had confidence in the Speaker:

There’s a lot of rot being talked – he was doing a good job in trying to get consensus. The SNP’s reaction is yet more evidence that they were trying to pay politics with this.

There are lessons to be learned from tonight about how to debate things with thoughtfulness and reason. I hope that the SNP, and all the Conservatives who got themselves in a tizz, will reflect on whether this was actually the best thing they could have done for the people caught up in all of this.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • The real culprit in the debacle in the Commons yesterday is the Parliamentary Conventions, which would prevent one opposition party from proposing amendments to a motion by another opposition party – though the Government can. Surely, MPs should not be forced into a binary choice by the wording of a motion written by one opposition party.
    As an outsider, I cannot tell how much of the anger at the turn of events was genuine, and how much was manufactured for political effect.
    However, one thing does seem clear to me – that the Speaker acted with sincere intentions, though perhaps without fully considering the consequences. Those consequences were to a significant degree triggered by the decision of the Government to withdraw its amendment – and it would have been aware of those consequences when it took that decision.

  • And not a word of criticism for Labour’s role in this fiasco. Despite the circumstances, this was a debate and a motion of some limited significance in the UK and no real importance beyond these shores. The Speaker made a mistake in breaking with convention and he has apologised for doing so. The Times tells me that he allowed the vote on the Labour amendment only after a 30 minute private meeting with Keir Starmer, who claimed that the lives of his MPs were at risk if the Labour motion was not debated.
    So now individuals who threaten our society, have some kind of cruel hold on debates in Parliament. Or is the real threat, the Leader of the Opposition who puts the Speaker in an invidious position because of Labour party disunity on this issue? The Times article makes the good point that Opposition day motions are often crafted to make life difficult for other parties…the SNP were will within their rights to “play politics” and who can say no to “an immediate ceasefire”?

  • Was Ed Davey in the Commons yesterday both at Question Time and during the Gaza debate,

  • Parties “play politics” by using debates / motions to draw attention to splits and compromises in their opponents’ positions. There’s nothing wrong with that and, arguably, the more serious the issue, the more valid the “playing politics” approach.

  • Imperfect as it is, our democracy is the sum of its parts, and one of those parts is Opposition Day debates. The second largest party gets 17 of those per parliamentary session, the third largest only 3, and the rest none. The SNP is right to feel aggrieved that Hoyle conspired with Starmer to break with convention and highjack the SNPs debate by allowing Labour to table an amendment and vote on it first. Since we will be hoping to be the third party soon under a Labour Government, we would be furious if one of our rare opposition day debates was highjacked by a Conservative Opposition.

    Regardless of Hoyle’s intentions, what happened was massively in Starmer’s favour by avoiding Labour MPs having to choose whether or not to back the SNP’s motion first, while also giving the Tories cover to walk out and avoid a rebellion over their own amendment. Difficult to imagine Bercow allowing himself to be played like that.

  • Steve Trevethan 22nd Feb '24 - 7:31pm

    Might the root problems of yesterday’s childish and selfish behaviours be found in the extremely unsuited design of the House of Commons, the lout behaviour of so many M. P.s and the consistently ineffectual performance of the Speaker and so many of his predecessors?

    Was the best/least worst denied a peerage because he tried to get the place to be more democratic?

  • Peter Davies 23rd Feb '24 - 7:45am

    What seems to really get MPs angry is finding they agree with their enemies. The fundemental position “There has already been too much killing” is so uncontroversial in this country that the Prince of Wales can say it without being thought political. The main players in the conflict would all appear to disagree with him.

    In the few areas the UK can actually make a difference, I can think of nothing the government is refusing to do. It’s constantly talking to everyone who wants to talk and trying to get aid in and people out.

    It is already calling for Israel to move faster towards peace than they are prepared to go. The only controversial matter is whether calling for them to cease firing now will increase or decrease the possibility of their doing so sooner. My guess would be neither.

  • Martin, the short version is Labour couldn’t vote for the SNP motion because it was a trap.

    The SNP motion talked about “collective punishment”, effectively calling the Israeli government war criminals. The Tories were always going to vote against the motion, so the SNP gets to paint them as blood thirsty war mongers. While Labour do support a ceasefire, they would be vulnerable to allegations of antisemitism if they called Israelis war criminals. The SNP’s motion meant Labour would have annoy at least one set of voters. When Hoyle disarmed the trap, the SNP fell back to its usual “Westminster ignores Scotland” grievance politics.

    The Tories were trying to force Labour into choosing between an SNP motion that went too far or a Tory motion that didn’t go far enough. When that didn’t work, partly because of the Speaker and partly because they didn’t have the votes, they joined the SNP in flouncing out in an attempt to make Labour look bad winning.

    Labour were also playing games, they found a loophole in Parliamentary conventions to get them out of a hole, that Hoyle agreed with them isn’t their fault. But also, there is Chris Bryant insisting that a loss by the Government should trigger an immediate General Election.

    The substance of the debate in which just about everybody agreed that too many people in Gaza are dying was completely secondary to making “the other side” look bad.

  • Calling for a bilateral ceasefire amounts to granting Netanyahu permission to carry on bombing. Demanding that Hamas should somehow prove in advance that they will also cease fire (as Labour did), and pressing for Hamas to abandon all its bargaining chips and prepare for oblivion, makes the West’s positioning blatantly insincere.

    However much Hamas deserve blame for their appalling initial act of aggression, the problem now is Israel. If the West was really serious about saving Gazan lives, the demand would be for an immediate unilateral ceasefire by Israel. Biden could also declare that, should Hamas not also cease fire, the US would then support a resumption of war by Israel. That would be a practical way to pressure Hamas into joinimg the ceasefire.

    But the West is not serious. Israel has always been the West’s war-fighting spearhead in the Middle East. Shamefully, the West is not prepared to rein in their Israeli allies even when they bomb Gaza to pieces. The global South rightly recognise that that makes the West no better thsan Putin.

  • Peter Martin 24th Feb '24 - 2:42pm

    “Surely, MPs should not be forced into a binary choice by the wording of a motion written by one opposition party.”

    The are three choices if we include ‘abstain’.

    Opposition parties are allocated Parliamentary time according to their numbers. The SNP has been given 3 days; the Labour Party 17 days. The SNP chose to present a motion calling for a Gaza ceasefire on one of their days. The Labour Party hasn’t bothered to use any of its days and instead has kept away from the subject. The correct course of action was for the Labour Party to either abstain on the SNP motion or vote with the Government if they had any reservations about the wording. This is what normally happens.

    There’s a good reason for this. Each opposition party is given its own time to challenge the Government on an issue of its own choosing. It’s not about the “SNP work{ing} with the other opposition parties to bring together something that truly reflected the will of the House.”

    There’s no doubt that Lib Dems and Starmerite Labour MPs would be up in arms if any other opposition party tried to hijack any of their allocated days. Please stop making excuses for Starmer who quite obviously strong armed the Speaker into changing the rules to try to minimise his political embarrassment. On the face of it he succeeded.

    The resultant furore, though, means that this isn’t going to be cost free. His reputation has been damaged.

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