It is hard to ignore the strides that the Labour Party have taken forward during the pandemic. Since Sir Keir Starmer was installed as leader of the party, Labour have significantly reduced the Tories lead and has challenged the Prime Minister at the dispatch box. However, the sacking of arch-Corbynite, Rebecca Long-Bailey, spells out problems that the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service can expect to face once this virus has been abated.
Starmer removed Rebecca Long-Bailey from her post in the Shadow Cabinet because the Shadow Education Secretary retweeted and endorsed the interview of Maxine Peake in The Independent. During, this interview the actress made comments on the Labour Party and the death of George Floyd.
Peake claimed that the method of restraint, used by American police officers against George Floyd, was taught by Israeli special forces. Despite these claims, Long-Bailey retweeted The Independent’s article and described the actress as a ‘diamond’.
Long-Bailey, who only recently challenged Starmer for the leadership of the party, added that: “Today I retweeted an interview that my constituent and stalwart Labour Party supporter Maxine Peake gave to the Independent. Its main thrust was anger with the Conservative Government’s handling of the current emergency and a call for Labour Party unity. These are sentiments are shared by everyone in our movement and millions of people in our country.’
What choice did the Labour leader have? He set out his leadership bid as a mode to reunite the Labour Party. Imperative to this was a pledge to tackle the issues of anti-semitism within the party.
Starmer’s spokesperson added: ‘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.’
Many journalists and politicians have credited Starmer for his actions. According to the Daily Telegraph, Robert Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, praised Starmer’s and claimed that it showed that he was a “force to be reckoned with”.
Nonetheless, the sacking does highlight a stark and challenging problem that faces Starmer and his shadow cabinet: the fight for the heart and soul of the Labour Party. Many prominent members, especially those far to the left of the party consider Long-Bailey’s dismissal as misjudged and unjustified.
It has been a long while since we have seen the Labour Party tear lumps out of one another. However, as I claimed just two weeks ago, the coronavirus has helped to Starmer in creating an extended honeymoon period to his tenure as Leader of the Opposition. Like a plaster over a wound, the deadly pandemic has concealed the deep divisions within the parliamentary Labour Party, and instead united the 203 Labour MPs against the common enemy, the Tories.
But the Labour Party cannot withhold from factional infighting any longer. By sacking Long-Bailey, who was considered the continuity Corbyn candidate in her unsuccessful bid to be Labour leader, Starmer has reignited the flame of division that the virus made avoidable.
The recently displaced Corbynistas have warred with their Blairite colleagues ever since Jeremy Corbyn won the race to replace Ed Milliband in 2015.
When Starmer and his inner circle replaced those on the radical left he promised to unite the party. Many considered the initial appointment of Long-Bailey as a token gesture to the Corbynistas.
Unsurprisingly, the Corbynistas have resumed their position as the dissenters of the Labour Party. But, unlike their role in the Blair years, they have an unfathomable amount of power in Westminster and in the party’s sizeable membership.
The first group to wield the knife were Starmer’s former colleague when he was Shadow Brexit Secretary in the previous, Corbyn-led Labour Party. The former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, decried the notion that it was anti-Semitic at all. Instead he claimed that it was ‘fair criticism’.
McDonnell was joined by Jon Trickett. He tweeted: ‘What has Sir Keir got against Northern socialists from working class backgrounds?’
Powerful groups from outside of the parliamentary party have also disagreed with the decision to dismiss Long-Bailey.
Jon Lansam, the founder of Momentum, described her removal as a ‘reckless overreaction’. It would be expected that his 40,000 members will share the view of those on the radical wing of the party.
Owen Jones: Sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an interview in *the Independent* with one of Britain’s most celebrated actors because of a sentence uttered by Maxine Peake which the Independent initially justified with a link to an Amnesty International report is an absurd overreaction
Stephen Bush: The reaction of the party’s rank and file is, likewise, uncertain: and Starmer could yet find that his majority on the ruling National Executive Committee, and with it his ability to drive through changes to how the party is run, which are vital to dealing with anti-Semitism, is lost as a consequence.
Patrick O’Flynn: So a Government that has had to face the most appalling public health crisis in living memory – one that almost killed the PM and has brought dire economic impacts – has sustained a poll lead over an opposition that has 163 fewer MPs, has been all but wiped out in its former stronghold of Scotland and has no senior or charismatic figure who can appeal to its lost working class voters.
By J Walters