Labour anti-Semitism row: Starmer to meet MPs after Long-Bailey sacking

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Sir Keir Starmer appointed Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary in April

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to speak to MPs concerned about the sacking of former shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Mrs Long-Bailey was asked to stand down on Thursday after retweeting an article which Sir Keir said contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

She later said she had not meant to endorse all aspects of the article.

Jewish groups and some MPs welcomed the decision but her allies on the party’s left said it was an overreaction.

The row began when the Salford and Eccles MP tweeted “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond” with a link to an interview with the actor and Labour supporter on the Independent website.

In the article, Ms Peake discussed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, saying: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The Independent article quoted the Israeli police denying Ms Peake’s claim. She later acknowledged it was “inaccurate”, adding that she found racism and anti-Semitism “abhorrent”.

Three hours after Mrs Long Bailey’s retweet, a Labour spokesperson confirmed Sir Keir had asked her to stand down, saying he “has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority”.

Labour has struggled with allegations of anti-Semitism since 2016.

It became a constant backdrop to the tenure of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir stood as his successor on a platform of being tough on anti-Semitism in the party.

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Media captionStarmer: “I’ve made it my first priority to tackle anti-Semitism”

The Jewish Labour Movement – which has led calls for a crackdown on anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks – welcomed the Labour leader’s decision to sack Mrs Long-Bailey, while the Board of Deputies of British Jews thanked him for his “swift action”.

However, John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn, was critical of the decision, saying: “Throughout discussion of anti-Semitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not anti-Semitic.

“I don’t believe therefore that this article is or Rebecca Long-Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her.”

Also backing her, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, whose union supported Mrs Long-Bailey when she ran against Sir Keir to become Labour leader, said her sacking was “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

“Unity is too important to be risked like this,” he said.

A reopening of divisions?

On becoming leader, Sir Keir said he wanted to bring unity to the party where previously there have been factional fighting.

His decision may reopen divisions, with one former shadow minister on the party’s left telling me that this was “a dangerous moment for the party” – with the new leader ‘purging’ those with whom he disagreed.

Others in the party note that Sir Keir has done quite a lot in a short space of time to install people close to him in key positions.

Leadership sources, though, insist the sacking was not part of some grand plan.

They say Mrs Long-Bailey had to go because she repeatedly refused to remove her retweet of Maxine Peake’s article when asked to do so.

And for Sir Keir, this is all about tackling the toxic perception of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party ahead of a potentially damning report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

His allies say he promised actions not words to the Jewish community and he is following through.

Those formerly close to Jeremy Corbyn say that the next shadow education secretary must come from the left of the party if Labour’s leader is concerned about maintaining unity.

Who is Rebecca Long-Bailey?

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Mrs Long-Bailey was born in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, in 1979 and before politics, she worked in a pawn shop and call centres.

At university, she studied politics and sociology and later studied law via part-time courses.

She joined the Labour Party in 2010 and was selected as Labour candidate for Salford and Eccles in the 2015 election.

She was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Mr Corbyn for the party’s leadership in 2015 and subsequently joined his shadow cabinet.

When he stood down, she ran to replace him, saying the party needed a “socialist leader who can work with our movement, rebuild our communities and fight for the policies we believe in”.

After Sir Keir won the contest in April, she joined his top team as shadow education secretary.

Read more here.

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