Keir Starmer to meet left-wing MP group amid fury over ‘anti-semitic conspiracy theory’ sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey
Ms Long-Bailey was sacked by the Labour leader, in a move attacked by former shadow chancellor John McDonnell. (PA)
Keir Starmer is due to meet members of the Socialist Campaign Group on Friday amid a left-wing backlash over his decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary for sharing an article containing an “anti-semitic conspiracy theory”.
The Labour leader will hold talks with the group, whose members have already denounced the decision to oust Ms Long-Bailey for linking to a discredited claim that Israel’s “secret service” taught US police to kneel on the neck of George Floyd.
Sir Keir moved swiftly to sack the frontbencher and former leadership rival on Thursday after she endorsed the interview in The Independent with actor Maxine Peake, who has since acknowledged her comments were “inaccurate” and said anti-Semitism was “abhorrent”.
Jewish organisations praised the move by the Labour leader, with Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl saying: “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.”
The Jewish Labour Movement said the move “should be welcomed”, adding: “The culture of any organisation is determined by the values and behaviours of those who lead them.”
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who has been fiercely critical of the party’s response to anti-semitism over the past five years, said: “This is what a change in culture looks like. This is what zero tolerance looks like. This is what rebuilding trust with the Jewish community looks like.”
But the move by Sir Keir has prompted anger from allies of Ms Long-Bailey and the former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, said he stood in "solidarity" with Ms Long-Bailey and shared the article himself.
"Throughout discussion of antisemitism it's always been said criticism of [the] practices of [the] Israeli state is not antisemitic," he tweeted.
"I don't believe therefore that this article is or [Rebecca Long-Bailey] should have been sacked.
"I stand in solidarity with her."
Fellow Labour MP Jon Trickett, who also served in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet, asked: "What has Sir Keir got against Northern socialists from working class backgrounds?"
Meanwhile, Jon Lansman, the chair of influential left-wing campaign group Momentum and member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, branded the decision a "reckless over-reaction".
"Sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an interview in the Independent with one of Britain’s most loved actors is a reckless overreaction," he said in a statement.
"I'm a Jewish member of Labour's National Executive Committee who has sat on countless panels adjudicating antisemitism complaints and has often been criticised for my tough approach to antisemitism on the left.
"I don't believe there is anything antisemitic in the interview and sacking Rebecca is a reckless overreaction by Keir Starmer."
Nadia Whittome, who serves as a parliamentary aide to Shadow Health Secretary Ashworth, issued her own statement making clear her unhappiness at the move.
Ms Whittome, Parliament's youngest MP and part of Labour's 2019 intake said: “I am saddened to hear of the sacking of my colleague Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, especially on what seems to be a genuine mistake in re-tweeting and article that contained a comment about Israel’s security services which Rebecca has since explained she does not endorse.”
And she said: “Keir has previously expressed his determination to bring the party together and honour the various traditions within our historic party.
"I will continue to work towards party unity and encourage all members who are dismayed at today’s events to remain in the party and to redouble your solidarity, organisation and discipline.”
Meanwhile Richard Burgon, a former frontbencher and the SCG's secretary, said: "Becky did a great job as Shadow Education Secretary standing with unions against Tory attempts to force schools to reopen.
"She has an important role to play in Labour's future and I don't think she should've been sacked for sharing the Independent’s interview with Maxine Peake."
LONG-BAILEY: NO 'ROLL BACK' ON LEFT PROMISES
Ms Long-Bailey told the Mirror on Thursday night that she understood why the claim in the interview with Ms Peake had caused “extreme concern”.
But she said: “There is a valid concern about police practices across the world and I don’t think that, worded in the right way, it’s racist or anti-Semitic to draw attention to that.”
And the ousted frontbencher warned Sir Keir he would now have to work “very hard” to show he is not ready to “roll back” on promises made to those on the left of the party.
She said: “He’s going to have to be very clear that he’s committed to the policy platform that he set out in his own leadership campaign to reassure members and the public that that’s what we believe in as a party.”
And Ms Long-Bailey added: “Whilst we don’t agree on everything, we agree on the need for a Labour government and I’ll still do everything I possibly can to make sure that happens.
“The only way that we’ll win a general election is by being unified as a party that’s why it’s so important for me to make the choice not to be critical about the way I might have been treated.”