Sir Keir Starmer last week made his most decisive move yet in his push to remove the stain of antisemitism from his party by sacking his shadow education secretary after she shared an article that he said “contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory”.
Rebecca Long-Bailey was dismissed from her shadow cabinet post last Thursday after she praised an interview with Maxine Peake in which the actress falsely linked the killing of George Floyd to the “Israeli secret service”. Ms Peake later withdrew the claim.
Ms Long-Bailey — who had stood against Sir Keir for the leadership role as the so-called “continuity Corbyn” candidate — shared the Independent article with the comment that Ms Peake was an “absolute diamond”.
But her decision to praise the piece on Twitter sparked fury in the community, with the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council leading calls for the Labour leader to act.
It subsequently emerged that Sir Keir had offered Ms Long-Bailey the opportunity to issue a full apology for her actions on social media — but in an apparent attempt to test the resolve of the Labour leader, she ignored his demand for several hours.
In a show of power, Sir Keir confirmed he had asked Ms Long-Bailey to stand down from her role, adding “the sharing of that article was wrong” and that he had “stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet because I made it my first priority to tackle antisemtism — and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority for me.”
A spokesman for the Labour leader confirmed Ms Long-Bailey had been sacked from the shadow cabinet, added: “This afternoon Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet. The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
“As leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that 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.”
Labour heavyweights such as former leader Neil Kinnock and Lord Mandelson were amongst those to praise Sir Keir over his decisive action.
“I think it speaks to something about him, both his judgment and his strength of character,” said Lord Mandelson of Sir Keir’s decision to axe Ms Long-Bailey.
The Jewish Labour Movement called for the party “at every level” to “reflect and learn from this action”.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, condemned Sir Keir’s action as “an unnecessary over-reaction to a confected row”, adding that “unity is too important to be risked like this”. The founder of Momentum, Jon Lansman — who had run Ms Long-Bailey’s campaign to lead the party — called the sacking “reckless”.
But the predicted rebellion from the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group of MPs in response to Ms Long-Bailey’s sacking failed to materialise.
At a virtual meeting with Sir Keir last Friday, MPs — including former leader Mr Corbyn, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Leeds MP Richard Burgon — said they had discussed “Israel’s imminent annexation of the West Bank” with the new leader and the need for the party’s members to speak out on the issue.
They also sought assurances that he would appoint another MP from the left of the party as Ms Long-Bailey’s replacement.
Kate Green, the MP for Stretford and Urmston in Greater Manchester, was on Saturday confirmed as the new shadow education secretary.
She has previously expressed anger over antisemitism in Labour.
One party source told the JC: “Keir will be well satisfied with what he heard from the Campaign Group.
“It seems like there have been plenty of tweets expressing solidarity with Long-Bailey but not a lot else really.
“MPs like Dan Carden, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Sam Tarry have all been promoted under Keir, despite being supporters of Corbyn before.
“You might have expected talk of them resigning from their roles in protest at what happened yesterday — but nothing.”
On Tuesday, in a further sign of the transformation of the party under Sir Keir’s leadership, it emerged that Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s most senior adviser had left the party.
The previous day had seen confirmation that Thomas Gardiner, Labour’s former director of governance and legal affairs, had quit his job.
Like Mr Milne, Mr Gardiner was widely criticised over the call not to suspend former Liverpool Labour member Kayla Bibby after she posted an image of a Star of David-marked monster smothering the Statue of Liberty.
On Tuesday Ms Long-Bailey said she took full responsibility for retweeting the interview with Ms Peake, saying she was “very sad” about what had transpired.
Writing for the Guardian, the former shadow education secretary said she would not have retweeted the article “knowing some of its contents would cause hurt”.
“It may be the case that concerns have been raised by activists in the United States regarding Israeli police training US forces – but I have not seen evidence that the police officers responsible for George Floyd’s killing needed to import their particular brutality from anywhere else,” she wrote.