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Labour left hit out at Keir Starmer over 'reckless' decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey amid anti-semitism row

John McDonnell has expressed his "solidarity" with his former shadow cabinet colleague

4 min read

A number of senior figures from the left-wing of the Labour party have slammed Keir Starmer over his "reckless" decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The Labour leader is facing an internal backlash over his decision to sack the shadow cabinet minister for sharing an article which contained an 'antisemitic conspiracy theory'.

The move followed anger from Jewish groups after the then-shadow education secretary endorsed an interview with actor Maxine Peake in which she made discredited claims that US police had been taught to kneel on the neck of suspects during "seminars" led by "Israel's secret service". 

Ms Long-Bailey had later issued a clarification for her tweet, but was sacked by Sir Keir after he said she was "wrong" to share the article.

Speaking to the BBC, the Labour leader added: "The sharing of that article was wrong… because the article contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and I have therefore stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet.

"I've made it my first priority to tackle anti-Semitism and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority for me."But the move has come under fire from a string of figures on the party's left.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a close ally of ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn, who 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 practices of 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."

He added: "More than 135,000 Labour members voted for Rebecca in the leadership election. Keir says he wants to party unity, yet sacks her from the front bench for no good reason.

"I stand in absolute solidarity with Rebecca Long-Bailey, as does the rest of Momentum."

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 of Ms Long-Bailey: “Her departure from the frontbench is a loss for our party, particularly at a time when Rebecca was very effectively holding the Government to account over its multiple failures in education during the coronavirus crisis.

“Keir has previously expressed his determination to bring the party together and honour the various traditions within our historic party.

" 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, who was beaten to the Labour deputy leadership by Angela Rayner, 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."

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