Cautious? Risk-averse? More concerned with keeping the peace than asserting authority? Nobody can accuse the new leader of those things now. Keir Starmer sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet yesterday. The most prominent Corbynite on the frontbench and his left-wing opponent in the leadership race has been jettisoned less than three months after the election concluded. There were concerns expressed in private that Starmer as leader would prioritise party unity over his other aims, but his leadership is shaping up to be quite different. Actually, his decision to favour David Evans for general secretary was a precursor to this move. The Labour leader has consistently shown a willingness to take risks.
Long-Bailey called Maxine Peake an “absolute diamond” when sharing an interview in which the actress claimed that US police learnt the tactic of kneeling on people’s necks “from seminars with Israeli secret services”. According to the leader’s office, she was asked to delete that tweet but refused and did not take their calls. A few hours later, Keir Starmer’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.” The party-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement, as well as the Board of Deputies, welcomed the swift action.
Jon Lansman said he didn’t believe there was anything antisemitic in the interview and called the sacking a “reckless overreaction”. Unite’s Len McCluskey said it was an “unnecessary overreaction”. Jon Trickett described it as a “provocation”. Momentum has launched an open letter expressing solidarity with Long-Bailey. There is no doubt that this move has brought internal divisions to the fore once again. We’ll know a little more about the consequences once MPs surface from the Socialist Campaign Group meeting currently being held with Starmer to raise concerns about the sacking.
Much will depend on next steps. Will the new Shadow Education Secretary, to be appointed in the coming days, be from the party’s left? Names being floated include Lucy Powell, Tracy Brabin, Tulip Siddiq and Marsha de Cordova. Emma Hardy seems like a good bet as an ex-teacher, already a member of Labour’s education team and a former parliamentary private secretary to Starmer. She fits the Starmer mould for shadow cabinet members: quietly competent, barely known, factionally ambiguous.
The other crucial aspect of Starmer’s next steps: consistency. Many on the Labour left wonder why it is acceptable for shadow cabinet members to celebrate Nazi sympathiser Nancy Astor, and there has also been much criticism of how Labour has handled anti-Black racism recently. There are huge challenges ahead as the leaked report inquiry and Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation conclude. Starmer’s response to those events will shape the future of the party. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.