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UK minister resignation over Gaza fuels Tory revolt

Published time: August 06, 2014 14:49
Edited time: August 06, 2014 15:58
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is struggling to quell a growing revolt over his contentious handling of the Gaza crisis. (Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is struggling to quell a growing revolt over his contentious handling of the Gaza crisis. (Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)

Following the resignation of UK foreign office minister, Baroness Warsi, Prime Minister David Cameron is struggling to quell a growing revolt over his contentious handling of the Gaza crisis.

UK minister resigns over ‘morally indefensible’ Gaza policy

Warsi’s dramatic departure on Tuesday sent shockwaves through the Tory party, bringing to the forefront disputes over both the UK government’s stance regarding the ongoing Gaza crisis and the party’s future election prospects.

A number of senior British political figures, including Tory Party MPs, have begun to publically join the chorus of those demanding the government take a harder line towards Israel.

Israel must end restrictions on Palestinian lands, UK MPs say

Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, who was sacked as Attorney General in Cameron’s recent reshuffle, was among those questioning the proportionality of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza - calling for the Prime Minister to condemn Israel’s airstrikes in the region. Grieve’s sentiments were echoed by communities secretary, Eric Pickles.

Cameron’s response to Ms Warsi’s resignation was measured. The Prime Minister wrote he understood her “strength of feeling on the current crisis,” emphasizing the crisis in Gaza is “intolerable”.

But Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey – who stated he shared Lady Warsi's views – believes she made the wrong decision in stepping down.

"I think she didn't need to go because we are winning the argument," he said.

Following her departure, Warsi argued Downing Street’s political stance on the Israeli administration’s actions in Gaza was “morally indefensible.” While the government had been clear in calling for a halt to the violence, it had failed to take sufficient action to influence events on the ground, she said.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi resigned as foreign office minister on Tuesday, emphasizing Downing Street’s political stance on Israel's actions in Gaza was “morally indefensible.” (Reuters/Toby Melville)

Warsi, the first Muslim lady to serve in any British cabinet, said there was “unease” among Conservative Party backbenchers and concrete “concern” at ministerial level over the Government’s position on the Gaza conflict.

Downing Street formally announced on Wednesday that Baroness Warsi will be replaced by the government’s chief whip in the House of Lords, Baroness Anelay.

Mounting Tension

Prime Minister David Cameron has also faced heated criticism from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats for failing to openly and directly criticize Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg have denounced Cameron’s handling of the Gaza crisis.

While Miliband has called for toughening of rhetoric with respect to Israel’s military actions in Gaza, Nick Clegg categorically stated on Tuesday night that the Israeli administration’s actions in the coastal region were unacceptable.

Reflecting on the bloody conflict in Gaza, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Israel’s military offensive in the region had “overstepped the mark.” The Deputy Prime Minister subsequently called for the UK government to suspend arms export licenses to Israel.

Clegg confirmed on Wednesday he’d been working with business secretary Vince Cable to finalize the suspension, and stated the official announcement would be issued “very shortly.”

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, warns Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has “overstepped the mark.” (Reuters/Russell Cheyne)

Commenting on these developments, Cable emphasized on Wednesday that senior members of the Liberal Democrats had been "making this case inside government" for a period of time, but had not sought agreement from their Conservative coalition partners.

"I hope and expect that to change shortly," he told the BBC on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister’s office has officially confirmed a review of these licenses has been enacted.

A Downing Street spokesman told the BBC the review is currently under way, and no new military licenses have been put in place since Israel’s military offensive was launched. However, the suspension of export licenses “is not a decision we take lightly”, and the facts must be examined “fully,” the spokesman emphasized.

Ignore the Muslims

As tensions remain high within the Tory Party, and criticism of Cameron’s handling of the Gaza conflict continues to mount, observers have suggested recent developments may harbor serious implications for the 2015 general elections. Potential concerns over an erosion of public support for the Conservative Party may have prompted Cameron to engage in discussions with his top election strategist.

Amid recent talks, the Tory chief election strategist has reportedly advised Prime Minister David Cameron to ignore Muslim voters in the next general election.

Lynton Crosby, who also successfully ran Boris Johnson’s 2008 Mayoral election campaign, allegedly told a senior Conservative party member that the Muslim vote held little sway with the party’s marginal seats.

"Lynton says there are hardly any of our marginal seats where the Muslim vote will be a decisive factor," the senior Tory told the Times.

The Conservative’s strategist and campaign manager is thought to be dismissive of moves to appeal to voters from Britain’s Muslim other ethnic minority communities.

In 2012, Crosby allegedly advised Boris Johnson to ignore “the f**king Muslims” in the midst of his efforts to be re-elected as the Mayor of London.

Tory chief strategist Lynton Crosby allegedly advised Boris Johnson in 2012 to ignore “the f**king Muslims”, as Johnson vied for Mayoral re-election. (Reuters/Luke MacGregor)

“Lynton's view was that chasing the Muslim vote and other ethnic groups was a waste of time," a campaign source told the Daily Mail.

Crosby’s recent comments will stoke the ire of those who suggest the prime minister’s handling of the Gaza crisis may alienate ethnic minority voters across the UK.

One Tory minister expressed deep concern about the implications of Cameron’s mediation of political tensions surrounding the Gaza crisis. The minister, who wished to remain anonymous, made his comment to the Spectator on Tuesday:

“Warsi knows that our failure in Gaza will damage any change of our Northern marginals and South East Lutons and Watfords. The Lib Dems will probably now keep Muslim voters who might have switched over to Labour and got us a gain. I fear Dave might have sown the seeds of our defeat at the General Election.”

Policy shift on the horizion?

Following her decision to depart from her role as foreign office minister, Warsi warned the UK government’s current policy stance with respect to the ongoing crisis in Gaza could have drastic consequences for Britain and its people.

“Our response to [Gaza] is becoming a basis for radicalization that could have consequences for us for years to come,” she said.

Further pressure on the government’s policy stance with respect to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians emerged on Wednesday.

Several MPs have called for the Prime Minister to use his leverage to persuade Netanyahu’s government to soften restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Commons International Development Committee has also urged Cameron to call for improvements in the supply of basic electricity and water services to the region.