‘My conscience would not allow me to carry on’: local councillors on why they left Labour

Dozens have resigned since October, citing the party’s stance on Gaza and a toxic culture under Keir Starmer. Five of those who quit tell us why

Keir Starmer
In an interview given to LBC Radio, Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that Israel has the right to withhold electricity and water to Gaza, following the 7 October Hamas attacks on southern Israel. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

In the six months since Israel’s assault on Gaza began, the Labour party’s stance on the conflict has disappointed and angered many members — both Muslim and non-Muslim. Following Keir Starmer’s controversial interview with LBC in October 2023 where he stated that Israel “had the right” to withhold power and water from Gaza, frontbench MPs have broken from party lines, with resignations from prominent shadow ministers such as Jess Phillips, Naz Shah and Paula Barker. 

More than 23,000 people have cancelled their Labour memberships since February alone, blaming the refusals to call for a permanent ceasefire and the party’s reversal of green commitments, for their loss of faith in the party. Many of these resignations have played out publicly via open letters or statements shared through social media, reflecting the wider discontent among the public. A YouGov poll in February found two-thirds of the British public support a ceasefire, while tens of thousands have regularly taken to the streets over the last six months calling for a ceasefire and an end to UK arms sales to Israel.

The party has also seen widespread disquiet on a local level with Hyphen counting at least 98 councillors resigning since October 2023. The resignations have triggered Labour losing overall control of local councils in Oxford, Hastings, Burnley and Norwich. 

Hyphen spoke to five councillors who cited different reasons for resigning, including claims about a culture of top-down control and bullying. Here, they tell us in their own words why they decided to leave Labour. 

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, Northfield Brook ward, Oxford

Djafari-Marbini resigned from the Labour party in October 2023, and continues to serve as an independent councillor. 

I joined the Labour party in 2016 and became a councillor in 2018 — Jeremy Corbyn had created a space that formed the basis of my core beliefs: fighting for social justice, equity, and not constantly flaming more overseas wars, especially in the Middle East. Despite coming from a political Iranian family, prior to that, I didn’t think local or national politics in the UK was for people like me who weren’t from the establishment, spoke English as a second language, and who were Muslim.

But those of us who became active in the party at that time were treated like troublesome outsiders. It was clear that democracy is a tool of power. And when you have power, you will overturn any democratic decision that you do not agree with. That is now going on all the time in Starmer’s Labour. I’ve seen selected Labour members have their approval to stand in elections rescinded arbitrarily via the national party and the party machinery step in to impose candidates against the wishes of local branches. It’s very disturbing. 

There is a systematic difference in the way minoritised communities, or anyone with progressive views, are treated — look at what happened to Diane Abbott. The hierarchy of racism is 100% clear, but more worrying is the systemic racism within the party. That was highlighted after 7 October, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is distressing how far the party is prepared to step on our democratic rights in order to give cover to Israel whilst it carries out a genocide. That is not a concern shared only amongst Muslims but all people of conscience. There is now a fear of speaking — we were being asked to delete tweets related to Palestine by local Labour leaders. When I saw that silencing I thought, enough is enough. Whether on Palestine or the NHS, this Labour party is committed to austerity, privatisation and uncosted spending on wars. We need a movement that truly serves the people.

Ammar Anwar, Dewsbury West ward, Kirklees

Anwar resigned from the Labour party in January 2024 and formed the Kirklees Community Independents Group.

I voted for Keir Starmer in 2020 because I thought he would be a breath of fresh air — he reminded me of Tony Blair in 1997. So I thought, if we get a shift from the left to the centre, we might be able to win the next general election. Unfortunately, within a few weeks of Starmer becoming leader, that hope died. He changed the party’s position on Kashmir, and later he referred to Black Lives Matter as just a “moment”.

We all condemn what happened on 7 October, every country has a right to self defence, but in appropriate measures. Killing nearly 40,000 innocent lives, including children, is not self-defence, it’s mass genocide. After the LBC interview, I knew my time was up. When a group of 19 councillors from Kirklees sent a joint letter condemning Starmer’s position on Gaza, we were told by the council leader we would face de-selection in the upcoming election. It’s been a dictatorship from top to bottom. 

I believe there is a serious problem of Islamophobia in the Labour party. I don’t think there’s enough minority representation, and I believe people from these communities have been held back. Dewsbury, for example, has never had a Dewsbury-born MP, whether that’s the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. Why do we have to ship someone in from the other side of the country to represent us? 

Though I applaud Starmer for tackling antisemitism in the party, there’s been over 335% rise in anti-Muslim hate since 7 October, yet no action is being taken. I myself have experienced Islamophobia within Labour and reported these incidents to the police. This party has lost its stance of social equality and justice, and I don’t believe we’ll ever recover from this.

Mike Turner, Baird ward, Hastings

Turner resigned from the Labour party in December 2023 and now stands as an independent. 

Labour is a party that I belonged to from childhood — my parents used our lounge as a committee room during elections. But the party has gone against everything that Labour stood for, I don’t think there’s any difference now between Labour and the Conservatives. I’m tired of them ditching every policy. For example, a lot of young people are concerned about climate change, but Starmer ditched the commitment to £28bn in green investment. Labour MPs aren’t even allowed to join picket lines. It’s disgraceful. 

The Iraq war laid heavily on my conscience for many years, so I’m totally ashamed with Labour’s stance on Gaza, which is supporting genocide. The image of a young boy wading through water in Gaza, carrying his siblings in his arms, will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. Yet Starmer refused to oppose the cutting off of electricity, food and water, which is breaching international law. It was only in February that he called for a ceasefire — and even that’s not a permanent ceasefire. Do you really want to have it on your conscience to belong to a party that supports genocide? What is the point of Labour winning an election if it’s lost its soul? That’s why I left, but really I feel the Labour party left us.

Mona Adam, Golborne ward, Kensington and Chelsea

Adam resigned from Labour and defected to the Green party in December 2023. 

I voted for Keir Starmer because I thought he’d bring change. But things have changed for the worse in Labour, and it’s not just about Gaza. I was thinking about leaving the party for about a year. There’s division among us as a council — I’ve seen a lot of people lobbying against each other and blocking each other from committee positions. There’s no trust and the atmosphere is very unhealthy. The culture of what Starmer started — blocking leftwing MPs and Jeremy Corbyn supporters – was transferred to the local level.

I’ve felt sidelined as a Muslim councillor. I felt isolated when I’ve tried to bring motions forward that particularly affect our communities. I’m originally from Sudan, and when the war started I wrote to all councillors regarding the Sudan crisis, but I received no responses from labour councillors to a motion I wanted to submit to the council.

When it comes to the war on Gaza, we as councillors — not just Muslims — wrote a statement condemning the war, but a statement came from the constituency Labour party that didn’t allow us to express our feelings. I come from a war zone in Sudan, and when Keir Starmer stated Israel has the right to shut off Gaza’s electricity and water, the same night my city back home was being bombarded and my uncle was killed. I thought, what am I standing for? I found myself in a party that I didn’t know anymore. 

Taj Salam, Little Horton ward, Bradford

Salam resigned from the Labour party in October 2023, and continues to serve as an independent. 

What happened on 7 October was absolutely atrocious. I condemn it and there should be an immediate release of all hostages. However, Labour has been very silent on what’s happened since. 

I approached the Labour party and said we need to do something, we’re too silent on this issue, and I was told we cannot say anything. I’m accountable to people who elect me and if those people want me to attend a meeting — like small gatherings in Bradford in solidarity with Palestine — I should be able to do that. I approached different levels of the party and I got blank responses. I was completely taken aback. 

I got to a point where I thought I cannot be part of an establishment where I’m not allowed to freely voice my opinions. I cannot be under a dictatorship, so I decided to distance myself from a party that I’d believed in for many years as the only party that would stand with the oppressed. I’d been a long-standing Labour supporter, activist, foot soldier, councillor. It was very hard, but it was a decision I had to take because my conscience would not allow me to carry on.  

Hyphen has approached the Labour party for comment.

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