Keir Starmer sacks Rebecca Long-Bailey over Maxine Peake article

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer has sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet after she shared an interview containing the claim that US police learnt kneeling on people’s necks “from seminars with Israeli secret services”.

The Labour leader’s spokesperson 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.”

Long-Bailey has become the first shadow cabinet member to be stood down by Starmer. It is understood that the appointment of a new Shadow Education Secretary will take place in the coming days.

Reacting to the move, Margaret Hodge tweeted: “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.”

Labour’s shadow minister for faiths Janet Daby said: “Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is vital we have a zero tolerance approach. I am grateful for Keir’s strong leadership.”

The party-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement said the decision “should be welcomed”, concluding: “We hope that the party, at every level, reflect and learn from this action”.

In response to her sacking, Long-Bailey tweeted a thread, which said: “In no way was my retweet an intention to endorse every part of that article. 

“I wished to acknowledge these concerns and duly issued a clarification of my retweet, with the wording agreed in advance by the Labour Party leader’s office, but after posting I was subsequently instructed to take both this agreed clarification and my original retweet down.

“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.”

The Salford MP said she was proud of Labour policies such as the National Education Service and would “continue to support the Labour Party in parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership”.

John McDonnell said: “Throughout discussion of antisemitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic. I don’t believe therefore that this article is or ⁦⁦@RLong_Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her”.

Momentum’s Jon Lansman said “I don’t believe there is anything antisemitic in the interview” and described the response by Starmer as a “reckless overreaction”.

Following criticism on social media of her quote tweet with the comment that “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond”, the Shadow Education Secretary tweeted again to defend her original comment.

Long-Bailey wrote: “I retweeted Maxine Peake’s article because of her significant achievements and because the thrust of her argument is to stay in the Labour Party. It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article.”

Labour MP Kate Osborne also shared the article in a tweet this morning, adding: “Finding it hard to disagree with the fantastic Maxine Peake”. This was later deleted.

In an interview with The Independent published today, Peake said: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned Long-Bailey for “praising an interview containing the conspiracy theory that Israel played a part in the death of George Floyd”.

President Marie van der Zyl said the failure by Long-Bailey to delete the tweet and issue an apology was “frankly pathetic”, and concluded that it “raises serious and immediate questions about her suitability for the role”.

After the sacking, she said Long-Bailey’s frontbench position was “untenable” and thanked Starmer for “backing his words with action on antisemitism”.

Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted that the interview was “textbook casual antisemitism”, and said that “being antiracist means countering, not indulging, such tropes”.

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