Katy Balls

Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking risks reopening Labour’s civil war

Rebecca Long-Bailey's sacking risks reopening Labour's civil war
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Keir Starmer has today sacked his former leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. The Labour leader asked Long-Bailey to step down as shadow education secretary after she shared an interview which contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In the article in question, long-time Jeremy Corbyn supporter Maxine Peake – an actress – suggested the tactics used by police in America on George Floyd were 'learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services'. Announcing the decision, a spokesperson for Starmer said:

'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.'

The decision to axe Long-Bailey is revealing for two reasons. First, it puts (and is intended to put) clear blue water between Corbyn and Starmer in terms of their handling of allegations of anti-Semitism. While Starmer has spoken many times on the need to take a strong stance, this is one of the clearest signs that he means what he says. In the days of Corbyn, there was a pattern of complaints, little action and then, if the reaction got very bad, a belated carefully-worded apology might emerge. 

Secondly, Long-Bailey was Starmer's main rival in the leadership contest and represented the Corbynite wing of the party. Starmer said repeatedly that he would offer Long-Bailey a role in his shadow cabinet – even though her campaign took on a rather aggressive tone to him by the end of the campaign. That he did so was taken as a sign he wanted to bring the Labour coalition together and keep an element of Corbynism in the party's general direction. Starmer will explain today's move not as a cull of a Corbynite but a result of a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. However, with Corbynite publications already going on the attack over his decision, it risks reopening Labour's civil war. Today's decision sends a message that this is Starmer's Labour party now.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor. She is also a columnist for the i paper.

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