Thirty-seven Labour Party members in Foreign Secretary Beckett’s Derby South constituency yesterday announced their defection to the Liberal Democrats at a press conference at the Pakistani Community Centre in Derby.
The Labour Party members and branch officers are furious over her support for Israel’s war against Lebanon.
The defectors include Mohammed Rawail Peeno, a Labour Party ward chairman, Ali Shan and Abdul Majid, both members of the Derby South Labour Party General (Executive) Committee along with Masood Akhta – an ex-City and County Councillor who was also Labour Party ward vice-chairman up to yesterday.
Peeno, who resigned as chairman of the Derby Labour Party’s Arboretum branch said: ‘We could not remain in the Labour Party after their mishandling of the Lebanon crisis.
‘When Margaret Beckett refused to back a cease-fire and instead sided with George Bush it was the breaking point for us.
‘New Labour have abandoned the beliefs that led me and thousands of others to join Labour in the first place.’
Downing Street refused to comment, claiming ‘it is a party political matter’ and referred News Line to the Labour Party.
The Labour Party refused to answer the charges, and instead blamed ‘ongoing local factors arising from a selection process last year’.
But the disaffected Labour Party members insisted their defection was because of their opposition to the government’s policy in the Middle East.
Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said: ‘These defections in the Foreign Secretary’s own seat are significant.
‘The government’s position on the Middle East and Iraq shows just how out of touch it is with many in its party and the majority of the general public.’
A spokesman for the Stop The War Coalition said: ‘It shows how astonishingly unpopular both the policies of Blair and Bush and now Margaret Beckett have been, and that they’re totally isolated – and that unless they get rid of Blair fairly quickly, there won’t be a Labour Party left standing.
‘The war in Lebanon was a disaster for Tony Blair. It has been a big defeat for their “war on terror’’ and it’s time for justice for the Palestinians and for the troops to be brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq.’
Yesterday’s defections followed a warning by Labour MP John McDonnell earlier this week that ‘support for New Labour is falling apart’ particularly over its international policies.
He added that ‘members of the public are increasingly feeling that they just can’t believe a word the Prime Minister or any government minister or spokesperson tells them any more.’