Keir Starmer faces down left-wing rebellion amid ‘significant disagreement’ over Rebecca Long-Bailey sacking

MPs call for reinstatement of ex-shadow education secretary amid antisemitism row

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 26 June 2020 18:09 BST
Keir Starmer asks Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down after sharing article containing antisemitic conspiracy theory

Keir Starmer has faced down a rebellion from left-wing MPs over his decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey from the frontbench for promoting an article containing an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Jeremy Corbyn was understood to be among around 30 MPs who demanded the former shadow education secretary be reinstated in a virtual meeting with the Labour leader.

MPs who joined the call said there was “significant disagreement” over her removal from the shadow cabinet, with Sir Keir dismissing calls for her return to the front bench.

The dramatic sacking of Ms Long-Bailey, one of the few remaining allies of Mr Corbyn on the frontbench, on Thursday risked undoing the fragile truce between different wings of the party.

Members of the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group challenged the Labour leader about Ms Long-Bailey, while some sought reassurances that they could speak out over the actions of the Israeli government without being reprimanded.

Despite unhappiness amongst Mr Corbyn’s former supporters, speculation of resignations appeared to be wide of the mark and Ms Long-Bailey insisted she would continue to work for a Labour government.

In a statement, the group said: “On the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet, it was clear that significant disagreement remains on this point. The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs made it clear that Rebecca Long-Bailey should not have been sacked and should be reinstated.

“The imminent annexation of the West Bank by Israel’s government was discussed and the need for the Labour Party, MPs, party members and supporters to speak out against Israel’s illegal annexation and ongoing human right abuses by the government of Israel was raised.”

The meeting was conducted in a “mutually respectful manner”, the statement said.

One MP present told The Independent that concern remained about Ms Long-Bailey and little had been resolved in the meeting.

However the MP described the exchange as “calm and focussed”, adding: “No abuse. No name calling. No shouting. Some of the PLP [Parliamentary Labour party] could learn much from this.”

Another said the meeting was not very constructive and described it was “very depressing”.

The Labour leader’s office declined to comment on the talks, saying it had been a private meeting.

The row began when Ms Long-Bailey praised an interview with Maxine Peake in The Independent, in which the actor incorrectly stated that US police responsible for the death of George Floyd had learned tactics from the Israeli security forces. Ms Peake later accepted the claim was “inaccurate”.

The Salford and Eccles MP, who lost out to Sir Keir in the leadership election, initially tweeted the piece, saying: “Maxine Peake is a diamond”.

Amid waves of outrage, she clarified that her comment “wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article”, which also criticised the Tory government’s handling of coronavirus.

Ms Long Bailey said she had agreed the wording of the clarification with Sir Keir’s office but was then ordered to take both tweets down.

She said: “I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.”

Speaking shortly after Ms Long-Bailey’s removal, Sir Keir said: “The sharing of that article was wrong, because the article contained antisemitic conspiracy theories.

“I have therefore stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet. I’ve made it my first priority to tackle antisemitism and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority for me.”

The dramatic move is seen as Sir Keir’s attempt to move on from the Corbyn era, with Ms Long-Bailey regarded as the favoured candidate of the left in the leadership contest.

However, Jon Lansman, founder of the activist group Momentum, said that by getting rid of his leading left-wing rival for the leader, Sir Keir had made it more difficult to reunite the party.

“In order to unite the party he’s got to build trust, across the party, trust from the left,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That’s one of the ingredients necessary if you are going to reunite the party and from what he’s done he’s made it much harder for himself.”

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