THERE are moments when the curtain is abruptly pulled aside, when the brutal truth about political power in Britain becomes impossible to ignore.

Yesterday’s scandalous episode in Parliament was one such moment. Amidst rampant deceit and shameless cynicism, there is a need for clarity, and so here it is. From the start, the Conservative government has unequivocally backed Israel as it unleashed its murderous onslaught against Gaza – imposing mass death on the Palestinian people through bombs, bullets, starvation, siege of life’s essentials, and destruction of the healthcare system. Labour offered them political cover, up to and including Keir Starmer publicly supporting cutting off water and energy to a civilian population – a war crime – and ensuring that the Tories were protected from mounting public anger.

It should not be erased from history that voters overwhelmingly backed a ceasefire from the very start, and this Westminster cartel defied public opinion. The Scottish National Party took a different approach. Within days of this horror beginning, its leader Humza Yousaf demanded a ceasefire. That he described Israel’s siege as “collective punishment” on October 10 is an important detail to record - because the nature of this atrocity was clear from the start, and other politicians cannot pretend they did not know.

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This was consistent with the SNP’s traditions, not least opposing the calamitous invasion of Iraq. Yousaf also has a personal stake in a principled position, given his wife is Scottish-Palestinian, their loved ones were trapped in Gaza for weeks when the onslaught began, and his brother-in-law is a doctor working in Gaza’s now destroyed healthcare system.

Last November, Labour had the opportunity to back an SNP amendment on an immediate ceasefire. Instead, Starmer ordered his MPs to vote it down, threatening shadow ministers with the sack: in the end, 56 Labour parliamentarians defied his orders. Meanwhile, when predominantly Muslim Labour councillors resigned in disgust, a leadership source briefed the party was “shaking off the fleas”. Left-wing MP Andy McDonald was kicked out of the parliamentary party for calling for peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians between the river and the sea; while his colleague Kate Osamor (below) was similarly booted for describing the onslaught against Gaza as a “genocide” the day the International Court of Justice placed Israel on trial for just that.

The National: Kate Osamor has had the whip suspended following comments she made about Gaza

Now, the Westminster system is rigged in favour of the governing party. But it does allow for "Opposition Days" in which opposition parties can set the agenda. Labour are offered 17 of these per session – and so had no lack of opportunities to press for a ceasefire – while the SNP get just three. And so the SNP used their Opposition Day to present a motion demanding, crucially, an immediate ceasefire and ending the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Labour was now in a bind. Public opinion was now too overwhelming, and large swathes of its own electoral coalition were particularly enraged by the failure to stop Israel’s slaughter.

But what did Labour do? When shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the BBC that Labour would not be pushed around by the SNP, the writing was on the wall. Labour introduced their own mealy-mouthed amendment, crucially replacing “immediate ceasefire” with “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” – a far more ambiguous proposition – and crucially stripping “collective punishment.” Indeed, the Westminster press pack was briefed that it was the latter Starmer “hated”.

Yet parliamentary protocol meant only a government amendment would be selected for a vote on the SNP motion. Starmer’s biggest parliamentary rebellion beckoned – perhaps upwards of 100, triggering multiple resignations. His refusal to back the SNP’s clear motion would leave him exposed to colossal anger from natural Labour voters. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the Speaker then defied parliamentary precedent, and the clear advice of the Clerk of the House, to select Labour’s amendment, ensuring there wouldn’t even be a vote on the SNP’s motion on their own – rare – Opposition Day.

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How could flagrant contempt for democracy happen? Labour sources briefed BBC Newsnight political editor, Nicholas Watt, that the party leadership had told the Speaker that unless he did what they said, when they inevitably won the next election, they would remove him. In common parlance, this would be known as blackmail. It was also claimed that Starmer told the Speaker that MPs’ security was at risk if Labour’s amendment was not selected. In other words: Do what I want, or you will endanger the lives of politicians.

Can we just stop to process this a moment? In order to protect Israel from the charge of collective punishment, and head off an internal revolt which would damage his leadership, Starmer allegedly blackmailed the Speaker by threatening to end his political career, and further suggested he would endanger politicians’ lives, unless he broke parliamentary protocol.

Can you imagine, say, Boris Johnson had done this? The Starmer-supporting commentariat would be screaming blue murder, and rightly so. There would be fiery denunciations of an assault on democracy itself. Instead, they are celebrating all of this as admirable cunning and ruthlessness by Starmer.

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing a tough call on Gaza ceasefire debate in the Commons (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Furthermore, MPs have every right to be concerned about their security. It is also striking how there is a deliberate attempt to weaponise those legitimate fears in order to further demonise and indeed criminalise the right to protest. Many politicians who made themselves complicit in what is now impossible to refute as one of the great crimes of our age understandably do not want scrutiny. How convenient, then, to try and present such critique as incitement.

Take the hideous case of Jo Cox, the Labour MP murdered by a racist, far-right terrorist. Do you ever hear this murder cited as why politicians must dial down inflammatory rhetoric on migrants and refugees? When a far-right terrorist sought to murder Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 was there a national debate about the need to dial down the demonisation of the Left? Far from it: when Corbyn was assaulted in 2019, many commentators did not even bother disguising their glee.

Surely you can see what’s going on here. Subverting the democratic process through alleged blackmail to protect Israel from the charge of collective punishment. Demonising opponents of mass murder in order to protect politicians being held to account for their complicity. If you had any illusions about Britain’s political system, now is the time to shatter them – and that is the only good to come from this tawdry, perverse episode.