A FORMER Labour Party official who quit his role over the leadership’s “gag order” on discussing Gaza was indicative of Keir Starmer’s fear of democracy.

Peter Duffy quit his role as the secretary of Glasgow Kelvin’s constituency Labour Party (CLP) on Thursday, along with nine others, including Baroness Pauline Bryan.

Speaking to The National, he said the local branch had intended to debate a motion on Gaza at their monthly meeting, which would have been held that night.

But within hours of circulating the motion with branch members, he said he and the former branch chair received an email from Scottish Labour, saying no branches were to discuss the situation in Gaza under any circumstances.

The former software engineer, who has volunteered around four hours a week of his time for the party since 2015, said he felt the party leadership were shutting down debate and wanted to “neutralise and control things”.

Duffy (below) remains a member of Labour which he re-joined in 2015 and was previously a member between 1983 and 1999, when he quit because he left the country.

The National:

David Evans, UK Labour’s general secretary, issued guidance to CLPs last week in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas.

In it Evans warned members against attending pro-Palestine protests and reportedly barred Labour council leaders from attending.

Duffy and the rest of the executive of the Kelvin CLP comes as Keir Starmer faces growing discontent in some quarters with his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Party spin doctors have attempted to walk back comments he made on LBC earlier this week, in which he appeared to suggest Israel had the right to cut off water and the supply of electricity to Gaza by saying he was answering another question about the country’s right to defend itself.

But Duffy said the party should be open to a variety of views on the issue.

'People are allowed different views'

He said: “The motion and the instruction not to debate it is the absolute key. Those of us who resigned, I think it’s fair to say, disagree with the stance that the party leadership have taken on Israel and Gaza but that’s not the key point.

“We’re a democratic party, people are allowed to have different points of view, but the problem is that we can’t collectively come to an agreement if we’re not allowed to discuss those different points of view.

“That was the key point, we said: ‘Well we cannot, as an executive continue to run this party if we're not allowed to enable the members of this party to have a free and open debate about these kinds of things.’

“We did write to the Scottish general secretary and indeed to the UK general secretary. What brought this to a head was the motion was submitted – was supposed to be discussed this evening at our regular monthly meeting.”

He said the motion had been put on the agenda – which he said is viewable on Labour’s internal systems by party headquarters – in “good faith". 

Gag order

Duffy added: “After that we received an email – not just us, all CLPs – received an email from David Evans saying a number of things. The first was advising members not to attend any rallies or marches on the Palestine situation, saying if they were going to do that, they were not to take any party banners along to them.

“Then saying that motions which were in danger of bringing the party into disrepute would not be allowed.

“At that stage myself and the chair had a discussion about whether the motion as drafted would fall foul of that rule and we decided that it wouldn’t because it wasn’t anything that was going to bring us into disrepute, it was calling for things that lots of people are calling for, an end to the military bombardment, the release of hostages, a humanitarian corridor, the ending of the siege [of Gaza].

“Nothing that we think is particularly controversial.

“However as soon as we published that on our agenda for today’s meeting, within an hour or so we had a separate email, this time sent from the Scottish party to all Scottish CLP secretaries and it stated that any motion, absolutely any motion, however ‘well intentioned’ was the wording, would be out of order and should not be debated by parties.

“So at that point we had a choice: As an executive, we can choose to disregard that instruction and if we do that, we will likely be suspended and potentially expelled from the party. Or we can decide, ok if that’s the way you want to go, then we’re going to stay as members of the party because we think there’s a lot of things to fight for in this country and the Gaza thing is just one of them.

READ MORE: Nine Scottish Labour officials quit after being 'gagged' over Gaza

“But we’re not going to facilitate meetings while we’re not allowed to allow debate that we believe is fair and open.”

Starmer's 'disgraceful' Israel comment  

On Starmer’s response to Israel cutting the supply of water to Gaza, Duffy said: “I thought that comment ‘Israel has that right’ when he was asked about Israel cutting off water was completely wrong and disgraceful, to be honest.

“I noticed various party hierarchy are now trying to walk back on that and say actually he was answering a previous question.

“Now that may or may not be true but there’s been plenty of opportunity to rectify that and I haven’t seen that, so that’s certainly a part of it.

“And that was part of the push for the motion that we wanted to debate, which was to say that that should not be the party position.”

Starmer has tried to “shut down debate” in Labour, Duffy added.

“I think if anything this shutting down debate is indicative of an instinct that the leadership has to neutralise and control things, they don’t want a broad, democratic, member-led party,” he said.

“And I absolutely do want to have a broad, democratic and member-led party and while I’ll continue to be a member of the party, I’m not willing to put in the volunteering – which was fairly significant to organise meetings, create agendas, do minutes, keep it all going and so on – only to be then told that we’re not allowed to have a debate on, let’s be fair, one of the most important things happening in the world right now.”

Labour's position

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Scottish Labour has repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the actions of Hamas. There is no justification for the loss of innocent life and the targeting of civilians.

“Every life should be treated equally and so there should be no collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

“We will all have been devastated by the scenes at the Al-Ahli Hospital where hundreds have been killed. That brutality can’t be justified and must end.

“The entire Labour Party is united in demanding the free flow of medicine, food, water and electricity in to Gaza. Humanitarian corridors must be opened and all action must be in line with international law.

“The Labour Party continue to believe strongly in the cause of peace in the region through a two-state solution that delivers security, peace and freedom for all through a sovereign state of Israel and a sovereign state of Palestine with an end to occupation and the siege.

“Only when all life is treated as equal can we achieve peace.”