This year’s Palestine lobby of parliament ended with an evening rally which saw an “unprecedented number of MPs” attending. According to Baroness Jenny Tonge, MPs finally want to be seen by their constituents attending the now annual event.
The lobby of parliament is arranged in November every year by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which encourages constituents from all over the UK to go to Westminster and “lobby” their MPs; the term arises from the request to meet MPs in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster. Constituents take the opportunity to meet their elected representatives and raise a number of issues related to Palestine. This year the PSC encouraged people to discuss the Israelis’ detention of Palestinian children, administrative detention, the siege on Gaza and the displacement of the Bedouin people in the Negev through the “Prawer Plan”.
This is the culmination of ongoing campaigning whereby MPs (and members of the House of Lords) are pressed by their constituents, campaign groups and organisations to raise concerns with the relevant authorities at home and abroad over Israel’s near-constant human rights abuses and violations of international law. Such lobbying for Palestine has really taken off in recent years, with the number of active organisations and charities rising. What was witnessed on Wednesday was the transparent face of parliamentary lobbying, which is often derided as a cloak and dagger activity carried out by shadowy specialists paid by major interest groups.
A recent report by Spinwatch, launched by the Middle East Monitor in parliament, revealed that the pro-Israel lobby in Britain is no longer concerned about public opinion; it is more focused on a growing network of political relationships. The Palestine lobby could not be more different. As public opinion in the UK grows ever more in favour of human rights and social justice, concerns about Palestine have become an ever more popular topic to drop into MPs’ inboxes.
It is clear that this shift in public opinion has been reflected by the questions asked by MPs in the House. An increasing number of parliamentarians have pressed the British government to put pressure on Israel on a range of issues from the treatment of prisoners to the displacement of Palestinian Bedouins. It was no surprise therefore that this year’s lobby was such a success. The PSC estimated that around 300 constituents attended the lobby and that over one hundred MPs of all parties were, or agreed to be, lobbied. These included senior figures from both the government and shadow front benches, such as Sadiq Khan MP and Hugh Robertson MP, the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for the Middle East. MPs Virendra Sharma, Stephen Pound, Emily Thornberry, John Denham, Glyn Davies and Clive Efford all signed the Action for Children pledge to help child detainees.
The post-lobby rally on Wednesday evening gave everyone an opportunity to reflect on the day’s event and hear from MPs David Ward, Richard Burden, Andy Slaughter, Lisa Nandy, Sir Bob Russell, Michelle Gildernew, Mark Durkan and Caroline Lucas. The programme was hosted in the Commons by Jeremy Corbyn MP. Addressing the audience, the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Sarah Colborne, said that hundreds of people had travelled to parliament to take part in the lobby. “They told their MPs that there can be no more ‘business as usual’ with a state that practices racism and apartheid,” she explained. Such a response from constituencies all over the country demonstrated the importance of the Palestine issue for an increasingly aware electorate.
With the next General Election getting closer, it seems clearer than ever that an MP’s position on Palestine will be a deciding factor in how people cast their votes. MPs will have to make sure that they are ready to stand up for justice and the implementation of international law if they want to be assured of another term in office.