It is hard to ignore the strides that the Labour Party have taken forward during the pandemic. Since party members installed Sir Keir Starmer as party leader, Labour has significantly reduced the Tories lead and the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service has challenged the Prime Minister at the dispatch box. However, the sacking of arch-Corbynite, Rebecca Long-Bailey, demonstrate the problems that the former Shadow Brexit Secretary can expect to face once Britain enters the so-called new normal.
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 and the controversial relationship between the Labour Party and British Jews, 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 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 reiterated this when they said that: ‘As Leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Anti-semitism takes many different forms, and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.’
Quite rightly, 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”. I wholeheartedly agree and would add that it is refreshing to see a Labour leader take decisive action on such a serious problem.
Nonetheless, the sacking does highlight the stark and challenging problems that face 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.
You could be forgiven for forgetting the divisions within the Labour Party. 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 bandage 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 are more than prepared for this war. They have had to protect their power ever since Corbyn won the race to replace Ed Miliband in 2015. Given that the socialist wing of the party had been out of favour for decades it would be misguided to believe that they would be willing to hand over power without a fight.
Starmer and his inner circle had no choice but to promise to unite the party after their success in April. However, 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, with an unfathomable amount of power in Westminster and in key areas of the party’s sizeable membership.
The first group to wield the knife were Starmer’s former colleagues during Starmer’s stint as 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’.
The former Shadow Minister to the Cabinet Office, Jon Trickett, joined McDonnell. 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’. And todays Twitter-storm has suggested that the movement’s 40,000 members share the view of those they idolise on the radical wing of the party.
Ash Sarkar of Novara Media called the sacking’ utterly disgraceful’ decision. While the Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, said that the claim that is anti-Semitic is ‘justified’ by Amnesty International and therefore her sacking is ‘absurd’.
However, the party are not just divided on anti-semitism and Israel. The factions disagree on the economy, Britain’s position in the world and even statues. If the Blairites think this is an easy fight then they only need to look back to the last decade to see how Corbyn fought hammer and tongs just to cling onto power.
Therefore, the unity of the Labour Party is all but over. The honeymoon period is coming to a close. The civil war for the heart and soul of the British left will continue to intensify. And all of this has happened without us considering the disconnect between the parliamentary Labour Party which has been mocked as the North London Labour Party and their former voters in the socially conservative post-industrial heartlands.
By J Walters