Labour conference: Members fill hall with Palestinian flags

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Media caption,

Colin Monehen: "My time's not up - I'm speaking for the Palestinian people"

Hundreds of Labour members unfurled Palestinian flags and chanted slogans at the start of a conference debate on the plight of people in the region.

With passions running high, delegate Colin Monehen refused to leave the stage when told his time had expired.

"My time is not up, I'm speaking for the Palestinian people," he cried to loud applause.

"If you want me off, you better send an army because East Enders, like Palestinians, don't go down easy."

Mr Monehen asked the conference, in Liverpool, to imagine there were "two babies being born in Jerusalem - one to Palestinian parents, the other to Israeli parents".

"I want you to realise that this motion is about wanting those babies to have a better future than the futures filled with pain, suffering and hatred," he said.

"Let's put their futures on a different trajectory to the one that has been mapped out for them.

"I want us to say this to every Palestinian:, 'We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy.'"

Paul Wilkinson, of Gedling Labour Party, briefly took to the stage to say he had been prevented by the stewards from waving an EU flag in the conference hall earlier, accusing organisers of "double standards".

Mr Monehen's motion was then seconded by Zahid Ali, whose speech calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza and arms sales to Israel, was greeted with chants of: "Free! Free! Palestine," as leader Jeremy Corbyn looked on from a seat on the platform.

Next on stage was shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who gave a fiery speech hailing Labour's history of fighting against fascism and racism and vowing the party would never again get involved in "illegal, aggressive wars of intervention".

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Emily Thornberry: "No pasaran! No pasaran!"

But she also addressed the anti-Semitism row that engulfed Labour over the summer, telling delegates: "If we want to root out fascism and racism and hatred from our world, and from our country, then we must start, we must start, with rooting it out of our own party.

"There are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people and their desire to see Israel destroyed.

"Those people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party."

She also called on Labour members to end "the pointless conflicts which divide our movement, which poison our online debate, and which distract us from fighting the Tories".

Ms Thornberry's speech was given an enthusiastic standing ovation as she was hugged by Mr Corbyn.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Emily Thornberry's speech went down well with Mr Corbyn

Before the Palestinian debate could resume, Rhea Woolfson, chairing the conference, issued a warning to members.

"Please think carefully about the language you use and how you express yourself," she said.

"Please make sure nobody is booed or heckled for having a view you disagree with."

Ms Woolfson warned one delegate to be careful with her language while criticising anti-Semitism allegations against the party.

After recommending an al-Jazeera documentary called The Lobby, Hillary Wise was told by Ms Woolfson: "I would ask you to be very careful with your language right now because you're staying into territory that…"

Ms Wise, from Ealing and Acton Central, singled out the media for criticism, saying: "The message really is shame on you for picking up and amplifying these allegations.

"I'm afraid to tell you this is going to get worse as the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government gets ever closer."

Later in the debate, a Jewish delegate criticised the Labour leadership for their response to anti-Semitism, while speaking against the Israeli government.

"Why has it taken so long to recognise these fears for the Jewish community?" asked Steve Lapsley.

"The motion - which I support - gives a one-sided narrative, which triggers emotional responses rather than wise ones.

"This isn't helped - I'm afraid - by some members of our party, and some members of our PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] who are actively supporting suspended anti-Semites right now on platforms."