Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has sacked his shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an article containing “an antisemitic conspiracy theory”.
Starmer’s intervention follows a call from the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) who condemned Long-Bailey’s action and told her to apologise for the tweet and delete it.
Long-Bailey’s tweet called actor Maxine Peake “an absolute diamond” and linked to an interview in the Independent in which Peake said: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
The MP for Salford and Eccles said the tweet “wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the [Peake] article”, but a spokesman for the Labour leader said Long-Bailey had been asked to step aside given “restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.”
In a Twitter thread Long–Bailey later claimed the wording of her initial clarification was “agreed in advance by the Labour leader’s office” but that she was told to delete the original tweet and the update.
“I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification,” said Long-Bailey.
“I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.”
‘Criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic’ – McDonnell
While Starmer’s decision has won support and praise from some MPs, and Jewish organisations including the BoD, it has sparked criticism and dissent among the ‘Corbynista’ wing of the Labour party, for whom Long-Bailey was a figurehead in the new leader’s shadow cabinet.
John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted his dismay at the sacking, posting: “Throughout discussion of antisemitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic. I don’t believe therefore that this article is or @RLong_Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her.”
However, in a statement on their website, the president of the BoD of British Jews Marie van der Zyl thanked Starmer for “his swift action in removing” Long-Bailey and “for backing his words with actions on antisemitism.”
Van der Syl said: “After Rebecca Long-Bailey shared a conspiracy theory, we and others gave her the opportunity to retract and apologise. To our surprise and dismay, her response was pathetic.
“Her position as Shadow Education Secretary was therefore untenable. There can be no space for this sort of action in any party and it is right that after so many challenging years Labour is now making this clear under its new leader.”
Starmer’s ‘decisive action’ contrasts with PM’s dithering
Corbyn’s former media adviser Matt Zarb-Cousin – who led Long-Bailey’s communications team in the leadership contest won by Starmer – addressed those supporting the Labour leader for taking swift and decisive action against Long-Bailey, as compared to the prime minister’s dithering over Robert Jenrick and non-action over Dominic Cummings.
Despite calling for an inquiry into Jenrick’s handling of a Tory donor’s planning application, Starmer has not called explicitly for the housing secretary’s resignation, and Zarb-Cousin tweeted: “Apparently we’re now more willing to sack our own frontbenchers than call for the sacking of government frontbenchers”
Long-Bailey finished her own Twitter thread by stating: “I am clear that I shall continue to support the Labour party in parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership.”