Sir Keir Starmer has removed Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Labour shadow cabinet after she shared an article containing an ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.’
The now former shadow education secretary had tweeted a link to an article from the Independent in which the actress and Labour supporter Maxine Peake had been interviewed.
The article covered various topics, and Long-Bailey declared Peake to be a ‘diamond’ when she initially shared the link. However, within the interview Peake discussed the death of George Floyd in the United States and declared that the ‘tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.’
Whilst there is undeniable proof that Israeli and US officers have trained together in the past, this specific implication, it seems, is groundless. It implicates that Israeli officers are complicit in the shocking acts of racially motivated police brutality that we have seen in the United States. Peake has since said her claims were ‘inaccurate’ and that she finds antisemitism ‘abhorrent.’
Long-Bailey initially attempted to clarify the retweet by stating that she retweeted the article due to its other messages around supporting the Labour party and that ‘it wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article.’ Evidently, the leader of the party didn’t think this was acceptable.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Keir Starmer confirmed the move:
This afternoon Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet. The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic theory. As leader of the Labour Party Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority.
Starmer later added that tackling antisemitism was his ‘first priority.’ This comes after the party has been continually dogged by and criticised for its response to allegations of antisemitism under the leadership of Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. A forthcoming report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into antisemitism within Labour is widely expected to be extremely critical of the party.
Many have praised the leader’s swift action. The Jewish Labour organisation’s chairman Mike Katz stated that ‘Keir Starmer’s decision to ask Rebecca Long-Bailey to stand down from the front bench should be welcomed’ and noted that ‘the pervasive culture of antisemitism, bullying and intimidation can only be tackled by strong and decisive leadership.’
Long-Bailey had been serving in the Education brief since Starmer’s victory in the Labour leadership contest earlier this year. She had also taken part in the contest, but was beaten into second by Starmer. However, she was included in the Shadow cabinet, perhaps as a symbol of the unity that Starmer wanted to bring to the party with Long-Bailey’s place as a headline figure of the Labour Left.
Many figures on the left of the party have reacted furiously to Starmer’s sacking of Long-Bailey and feel aggrieved that she has been shunted out, believing it points to a wider disregard for the left under his leadership. A senior MP on the left told the BBC’s Iain Watson that her sacking was an ‘absolute disgrace.’
Long-Bailey stated that she had originally agreed the wording of her clarification with the Leader’s Office but was then asked to remove both the offending article and the clarifying message. She went on to add that she could not do this in ‘good faith’ without issuing an accompanying statement and requested to speak to Starmer about the situation, however, at this point, she alleges that ‘he had already made his decision.’
Many on the left believe that Starmer’s punishment for Long-Bailey is an overreaction which merely demonstrates his wish to pull Labour away from the direction that it went under Jeremy Corbyn. The left-wing campaign group Momentum called it a ‘reckless overreaction’ and said that Starmer had ‘sacked the most prominent left winger on the front bench for no good reason.’ Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that he ‘stands in solidarity’ with his colleague and that ‘it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic.’
There are reports that the Campaign Group of left-wing MPs have been refused a meeting with Keir Starmer to discuss the meeting. The Guardian’s Political Editor Heather Stewart has reported that they are now expected to draft a statement of solidarity with Long-Bailey and Jeremy Corbyn is expected to support it.
The tensions and internal squabbles which have defined the Labour party in recent years are roaring back to the surface after the relative calm of the first few Starmer led months. Starmer may be viewed positively by some for his desire to quickly shut down incidences of antisemitism, and it marks a sharp break from what many see as the inadequacies of the Corbyn era. However, there is no doubt that the left of the party is beginning to feel marginalised, and after a resurgent few years there is no sign they will accept a muzzled role particularly quietly.
Whilst nearly everyone wants to see Labour tackle antisemitism effectively, and many see Starmer’s tough leadership as sorely required, there is no doubt that arguments over proportionality and how these debates are approached will continue. Constant infighting, though, doesn’t look pretty for any side and certainly won’t make the party look an appetising choice for voters searching for their next government.