"TIME for a change" can be a very powerful message in politics. It is overused, of course, and sometimes voters take one glance and say “not yet it’s not”. However, there is every reason to expect that the message is resonating with the British electorate as we canter down the home straight to next year’s General Election.

The 14 years of government by the Conservative Party has veered from fraught, to chaotic, to comic. David Cameron’s reign, although marked by a coalition government and the recovery from the financial crash, seems tranquil now. His accidental majority led to an accidental Brexit referendum, which led to an accidental exit from the European Union. Then Theresa May, then Boris Johnson, then Liz Truss, and with a once-in-a-century pandemic and the social and economic destruction of the country heaped on top.

In truth, the opposition Labour Party has not had to graft in order to place itself in a position to displace the Tories in 2024. It simply had to find a leader who voters think is vaguely sensible, who will manage domestic affairs completely, and who will represent the country with some credibility on the world stage. That Sir Keir Starmer presents as a relatively humdrum man is actually rather a selling point; enough chaos, just be boring and get the job done.

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However, to paraphrase another overused expression, a year is a long time in politics, and in the absence of an evenly-matched battle with the Conservatives, Labour appears intent on picking a fight with itself.

It is understandable that the Labour Party’s internal temperature is up. Israel and Palestine is a tense topic for a party with a complex history on the Middle East, on Islam and on Judaism. This pre-dates the Jeremy Corbyn era, however the scale of concern in the Jewish community about Sir Keir’s predecessor has, almost inevitably, led to the latter’s Israel radar being particularly sensitive.

That was all fine when it was theoretical. But when, on October 7, Hamas butchered more Jews in a single day than anyone since the Nazis, theory became practice, and Labour started the process of tying itself in knots.

It is worth saying that this is unlikely to derail Labour’s march to Number 10. Opinion polling this week showed the party up by one per cent on the previous week, and comfortably 20 points ahead of the Tories. But, with the war in Israel and Gaza likely nearer the start than the end, and with internal Labour relations getting worse rather than better, it is not a fait accompli.

The most curious thing about the hand-wringing is that it is based on a debate about words which, in the context of the current conflict, actually mean the same thing. It is clear that Sir Keir understands that his words matter. He is likely to be Prime Minister next year, and probably for a decade thereafter; as a British leader he is going to be deeply involved in a conflict which has, for better or worse, been intimately shaped by our country for over 100 years.

And in his refusal to use the word "ceasefire", Sir Keir is correct and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, despite my personal fondness for him, is wrong.

A ceasefire is a decision by two enemies to halt a conflict, normally temporarily in the hope that a permanent accommodation can be found. There are many historical examples, including the famous Christmas ceasefire during the First World War and, closer to home, several ceasefires during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

But ceasefires depend on there being two rational actors. They depend on, at the very least, a likelihood that both sides will observe. That is an impossible delusion in the case of Hamas. Organisations which hack off innocent civilians’ heads with shovels, who burn children and who slit the throats of babies are not rational actors, and are not capable of being rational actors.

Therefore, this ceasefire would be one-way. It would be a request for Israel to pause its military response to the October 7 attack for humanitarian reasons, in order for aid to get in, and for civilians to get out, of Gaza. A pause for humanitarian reasons. A humanitarian pause. If you think you’ve heard that before, it’s because that is what Sir Keir is calling for.

Not only is Labour picking a fight with itself, it is constructing an argument in which both sides want the same thing. It is the right policy; Israel, for its own sake, for the region’s and the world’s, should exercise extreme care which, as we saw with the bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp, is not currently evident.

Nonetheless, it is critical that we correctly frame what Sir Keir, in common with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, President Joe Biden and others, are calling for.

This is an important standard to adhere to, because the more we talk about a ceasefire, the more we implicitly concede that there are two equitable parties to this war, and the more we delegitimise Israel and legitimise Hamas.

That simply fuels the activists around the world who want to engage in the sort of moral equivalence - the whataboutery - that we have seen frequently since October 7. Oh sure, Hamas was a bit naughty but look at what Israel has been doing for years, and what would you do if you got kicked off your land, and Viva Palestine, and so on.

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All of this plays directly into the hands of Hamas. Moral equivalence pushes more moderate Fatah supporters towards a more pro-Hamas position, which of course is part of the story of why Gaza got to this position in the first place. Moral equivalence pushes more of the "useful idiots" around the Western world to feel that they can go on protests and shout "from the River to the Sea" with impunity. Moral equivalence leads to more Jewish schools telling children to wear plain clothes for their own safety.

And, perhaps most importantly, moral equivalence runs directly contrary to the interests of those Palestinians who want to live in a peaceful, sovereign state of their own. Hamas does not want a two-state solution, with a free Palestine and a free Israel side-by-side. Hamas wants a one-state solution. It wants Israel gone, and Jews dead. It wants a final holocaust. So does Hezbollah. So does Iran.

Words matter. Sir Keir knows that, and his party should support him.