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Wave of Labour frontbenchers resign to back calls for ceasefire in Gaza | Politics News

A wave of Labour frontbenchers including senior MP Jess Phillips have resigned in order to back an SNP motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Afzal Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Paula Barker and Naz Shah are among the eight shadow junior ministers that quit in order to defy party orders to abstain from the vote.

Politics Live: Reaction as Starmer hit by resignations

Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen and Andy Slaughter have also left their frontbench roles after breaking the party whip to back the amendment.

The MPs say Sir Keir Starmer’s calls for humanitarian pauses in the Israel-Hamas war don’t go far enough.

Two parliamentary private secretaries, Dan Carden and Mary Foy, have also left the frontbench, with 56 Labour MPs rebelling in total to back the SNP amendment.

In a statement following the vote, Sir Keir said he regretted that party colleagues had not backed his position.

But he added: “I wanted to be clear about where I stood, and where I will stand. Leadership is about doing the right thing. That is the least the public deserves. And the least that leadership demands.”

The Labour Party has been divided over its approach to the Middle East conflict, with numerous MPs and some members of the shadow frontbench calling for a ceasefire – something Sir Keir Starmer does not currently support.

The Labour leader has backed the UK Government’s position of pushing for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow aid to reach Palestinians trapped in the bombarded territory, but stopping short of calling for a total cessation of hostilities – saying that would “embolden” Hamas.

The resignations tonight mean that nine shadow ministers have quit over Labour’s position in total, after Imran Hussain stepped down last week.

Sky News’s political correspondent Tamara Cohen described the resignations as possibly the “biggest challenge to Starmer’s authority” yet.

The resignations were expected after the SNP tabled an amendment to the King’s Speech backing a ceasefire.

Labour told MPs to abstain from voting and put forward its own motion setting outs its position for longer humanitarian pauses.

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Labour rebellion tonight is ‘biggest challenge to Starmer’s authority yet’

By tradition, those occupying frontbench positions are bound by a collective responsibility that they support the party’s official line – although so far Sir Keir has allowed some to deviate by expressing support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

However Labour frontbenchers who rebel to back a rival amendment would normally face the sack – or be expected to resign – for breaking the party whip.

Ms Phillips, the most high profile MP to step down, said it was with a “heavy heart” that she quit.

In a resignation letter, the Birmingham Yardley MP and former shadow minister for domestic abuse wrote: “This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered Parliament.

“I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the Shadow Home Office team.

“On this occasion I must vote with my constituents, my head, and my heart which has felt as if it were breaking over the last four weeks with the horror of the situation in Israel and Palestine.

“I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future.”

Meanwhile Ms Shah said her email inbox is full of messages from constituents who agree with her position.

She told the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge: “We have to make our positions clear… our job in Parliament is to use our platforms to convince people, which is what I did in the chamber earlier.

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“I’m not alone in calling for a ceasefire… my inbox has thousands of emails about a ceasefire. This is an issue that the British public feel strongly about.

“At some point there will be a ceasefire. Had we called for a ceasefire yesterday, 144 children might still be alive. A child dies every 10 minutes.”

Some Labour MPs expressed their support for a ceasefire but said they abstained from the SNP motion, calling it “divisive”.

However the SNP said the motion would allow MPs to vote with their conscience on the war, which broke out following the surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that saw at least 1,400 people slaughtered.

Since then over 11,000 people have been killed in retaliatory attacks on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said: “It’s shameful that a majority of Tory and Labour MPs blocked calls for a ceasefire – and have condoned the continued bombardment of Gaza, which has killed thousands of children and civilians, in breach of international law.

“It is clear that support for a ceasefire would have been even stronger tonight if Keir Starmer had not threatened Labour MPs with punishments if they voted for peace.”

COVID-19: 167,000 people may have caught coronavirus in hospital in England during second wave, study suggests | UK News

Up to 167,000 people may have contracted coronavirus in hospitals in England during the second wave of the pandemic, a study of healthcare-related infections has suggested.

Scientists who assessed COVID infections between June 2020 and March 2021 said their findings show how many cases started in hospitals and why, noting factors such as limited numbers of single rooms.

They concluded that hospitals needed to be better equipped to limit the transmission of future viruses.

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Bereaved families tell Hancock to go away

Hospital transmission puts vulnerable people at risk, affects healthcare workers and potentially drives transmission in the community.

But despite the obvious risks, there hasn’t been much work done to assess the extent of the problem.

A team from Oxford University, led by Professor of Epidemiology, Ben Cooper, have tried to put that right by studying data from 145 English NHS acute hospital trusts, representing a combined 356 hospitals with around 100,000 beds.

They looked at the number of COVID infections, how many staff working days were missed because of the virus and how the likely source of infection was classified at the time.

They found nearly 17,000 (16,950) infections in hospital patients were classed as having definite links to healthcare, and more than 19,000 (19,355) were thought to probably have a healthcare connection.

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However, the researchers calculated that only around one in four (26%) of such infections might actually have been recorded, as many patients may have been discharged before testing positive, for example.

Once they factored that into their projections, they estimated that hospital-acquired infections in the period were between 95,000 and 167,000.

COVID ward at a hospital in Merseyside in 2020
COVID ward at a hospital in Merseyside in 2020

In other words, 1 to 2% of all hospital admissions likely resulted in such an infection over the study period.

Professor Cooper’s team found geographical variations in the incidence of infections, with the highest rates in northwest regions of England, and the lowest in the South West and London areas.

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They suggested the low availability of single rooms and reduced heating of hospital buildings could play a part.

The vaccination of healthcare workers was another driver of lower infection rates.

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COVID Inquiry: Bereaved families give statements

Their findings could show hospitals how to reduce transmissions, which in turn could protect vulnerable patients and healthcare workers, as well as reduce community transmission in the future, the authors said.

The COVID-19 public inquiry was told on Tuesday that fewer people might have died if lockdown had started sooner.

Teachers’ union could be next to announce strike as wave of industrial action continues | UK News

Thousands of teachers could be set to walk off the job as the National Education Union (NEU) prepares to announce the result of a strike ballot on Monday.

The NEU has said walkouts could begin at the end of the month after more than 300,000 teachers and support staff were asked to vote in a dispute over pay.

The union will have to give two weeks’ notice of any industrial action.

A ballot of members of the NASUWT teachers union last week failed to reach the 50% turnout threshold, although nine in 10 of those who did vote backed strikes.

The NEU announcement will come as the wave of industrial action which has swept across the country for months will continue this week.

Nurses across England will walk out on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that if progress is not made in negotiations by the end of January the next set of strikes will include all eligible members in England for the first time.

The government continues to insist that pay claims are unaffordable and is sticking to its line that wage rises should be decided by pay review bodies.

Health unions are refusing to submit any evidence to the NHS pay review body for the 2023/24 pay rise until the current dispute is resolved.

Ambulance workers on the picket line in London earlier this month
Ambulance workers on the picket line in London earlier this month

Meanwhile, leaders from the GMB union will meet on Monday to decide whether to call more strikes among their ambulance members because of the lack of progress in talks.

Any decision is likely to be announced later in the week.

On Wednesday, Unison members at the Environment Agency will go on strike in a dispute over pay.

Talks will continue between rail unions and train operators in a fresh attempt to resolve the long-running row which has led to a series of strikes since last summer.

Both sides say they are working towards a revised offer.

It comes as the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is pressing ahead with a strike on February 1 by 100,000 civil servants which will have an impact on governments, driving test centres, museums, ports and airports.

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Teacher strike would be ‘regrettable’

The TUC is organising a series of protests on 1 February against the government’s controversial proposed new law on strikes.

Planned legislation aimed at ensuring minimum levels of service during strikes will receive its Second Reading in parliament on Monday.

A demonstration will be held outside Downing Street to protest against the government’s move.

PCS members working as legal advisers and court associates in more than 80 courts across England and Wales are also to take further strike action in a long-running dispute about a case management system called Common Platform.

Around 300 PCS members will take action on 21 January and 28 January.

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PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “As long as managers continue to ignore our members, our members will continue to resist the unworkable Common Platform system and fight for the integrity of the entire justice system.”

This week’s industrial action will take place after the government was accused of attempting to “steamroller” through new legislation on strikes amid mounting anger over the “spiteful” measure.

A bill on ensuring minimum levels of service during industrial action will receive its Second Reading in parliament on Monday as part of ministers’ response to months of strikes and more walkouts due in the coming weeks.

Labour said it will oppose the legislation and any attempts to fast track it through parliament without proper scrutiny.

The TUC said the planned law would give ministers sweeping new powers that restrict the right to strike.

COVID hospital admissions in England highest since August amid new ‘autumn wave’ | UK News

A new autumn wave of coronavirus has seen the number of patients in hospital with the virus hit the highest level since August, the latest NHS data suggests.

Figures show 7,024 people were in hospital with coronavirus in England as of 8am on 28 September.

This is up 37% from 5,142 the previous week – and is the highest number seen since 19 August.

With universal free testing wound down at the beginning of this year, health officials rely mainly on hospital data and the weekly ONS infection survey to understand how COVID is spreading.

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The latest NHS figures, which are published every Thursday, show an upward trend in hospital admissions across all regions, with the South West at the same level as it was amid the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariant wave in July.

The most recent ONS data also shows an increase in positive cases outside hospital and care home settings in England, with 766,500 people infected in the week to 14 September.

That is around one in 70 – up from one in 75 the week before.

According to the ZOE Health Study, which asks people to log their symptoms on a smartphone app, that number is higher – with an average of one in 32 people suffering symptomatic COVID across the UK this week.

Impact of hospitalisations could be higher

Its founder, Professor Tim Spector said: “It’s clear we’re now seeing an autumn wave of COVID-19, combined with increases in hospital admissions.

“With rates on the rise, especially in the vulnerable elderly age groups, the impact on hospitalisations could be higher.

“However, the youngest age group are showing possible early signs of case numbers slowing. Children tend to be a leader of infection trends, so if this continues next week it is possible that the COVID wave might not be as bad as previously predicted.”

Everyone over 65 and those in vulnerable groups are currently eligible for a ‘bivalent’ booster vaccine, which protects against the original Wuhan strain and the Omicron variant.

Eventually this will be rolled out to everyone over 50.

NHS officials have warned of a “twindemic” of flu and COVID infections this winter.

During its winter period earlier this year, Australia suffered a surge in H3N2 variant flu infections – the same one that caused around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions during the 2017/2018 flu season in the UK.

Flu circulated far less widely during the height of the coronavirus pandemic as people’s immune systems were heightened and vulnerable groups did not mix.