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Rebel Labour MPs Face Final Warning Over Breaking Ranks With Party Line

Keir Starmer (Alamy)

4 min read

Rebel Labour MPs who vote against the whip or make controversial statements that break with the party's line are heading towards a final warning that breaches now may not be forgiven ahead of the election as patience wears thin in the whips' office.

In recent years Labour MPs have lost the whip on a number of occasions as the party pivoted towards taking an increasingly tougher line on discipline under Keir Starmer's leadership. Labour MP Rupa Huq had the whip removed in October 2022 after calling then-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng "superficially black" during a conference fringe event. Huq issued an apology, and five months later had the whip restored. 

However PoliticsHome understands that while previously an apology or period of reflection could result in the whip being reinstated, with the general election looming whip losses are now likely to be final and MPs who are suspended prevented from standing for Labour and new candidates will be selected instead.

"The chief whip was annoyed that a lot of them voted with the SNP on Gaza, and he says he's at the end of his tether with a lot of them," a Labour source told PoliticsHome. 

"And if they're going to vote against the whip in future, they're on last warning – they're just going to remove the whip, there's not even any messing about anymore."

PoliticsHome understands that this feeds into a broader frustration and a growing lack of patience with MPs to the left of the party who have made controversial comments about sensitive topics like the war between Israel and Hamas and desire among leadership to drop MPs who "cause trouble". 

On Saturday, MP for the London constituency of Edmonton Kate Osamor had the whip removed for saying Gaza should be remembered as a genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). 

Drawing parallels between the state of Israel and the Nazis breaches the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. 

In a statement released ahead of HMD, Osamor said: “Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, an international day to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the millions of other people murdered under Nazi persecution of other groups and more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Gaza.”

Osamor later appeared to apologise for her remarks, following the backlash that ensued. “Holocaust Memorial Day is a day to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and the genocides that have occurred since," she wrote on X. "I apologise for any offence caused by my reference to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Gaza as part of that period of remembrance.”

She subsequently had the whip removed pending an investigation by the party. A Labour source told PoliticsHome it is unlikely she will have the whip restored ahead of the next election. They indicated that investigations could be "pushed into the long grass" and when an election is called, suspended MPs would not be eligible for reselection. 

PoliticsHome also understands that Tahir Ali, Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, was also ordered to issue an apology by Labour leadership last week after accusing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of having "the blood of thousands of innocent people [in Gaza] on his hands" during an impassioned speech during Prime Minister's Questions. 

His remarks sparked anger among whips that Labour MPs were "freelancing" on key issues on which the party had a different line, undermining accusations that the Conservatives are a divided party. 

"Earlier at PMQs I asked the Prime Minister about the actions of Israel in Gaza. This is obviously a deeply emotive issue," said Ali later that day. 

"While I do not resile from my strongly held views on the situation in the Middle East I would like to apologise for the way in which I described the Prime Minister in my question. We all have a responsibility to be respectful in the language that we use, even when discussing difficult and, at times, sensitive issues."

A Labour source told PoliticsHome that "the whips have assured people that Tahir will not be selected" following his remarks at PMQs. 

"What people forget is you might have been selected as a Labour candidate by your CLPs, but the NEC can block any of that – and they've got a hell of a lot of power," they continued. 

"So if they decide to draft up a list of people they're unsure about the NEC will say, because obviously it's weighted in Keir's favour, this person isn't fit to be a Labour candidate, they fail due diligence now."

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