Keir Starmer sacks Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing article amid anti-Semitism row

Yahoo News UK

Labour's shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has been sacked by Sir Keir Starmer who said she shared an article containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Long-Bailey tweeted an Independent interview with actor Maxine Peake, in which Peake made an unsubstantiated claim that US police officers learned the technique of kneeling on suspects' necks from the Israeli secret service.

The technique has been thrown into the spotlight after the death of George Floyd, who died after an officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes.

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Long-Bailey tweeted a link to the interview – which was headlined “Maxine Peake: ‘People who couldn’t vote Labour because of Corbyn? They voted Tory as far as I’m concerned’” – alongside the comment: “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond.”

Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey during a hustings event during the Labour leadership. (Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey during a hustings event during the Labour leadership. (Getty Images)

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

A spokesman for Starmer said: “This afternoon Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet. The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

“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.”

In a statement, Long-Bailey said “in no way was my retweet an intention to endorse every part of that article”.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, centre, finished second behind Sir Keir Starmer, left, in this year's Labour leadership contest. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Rebecca Long-Bailey, centre, finished second behind Sir Keir Starmer, left, in this year's Labour leadership contest. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

However, Long-Bailey admitted she chose not to remove her Twitter post after being instructed to do so by the leader’s office, prompting Starmer’s decision to sack her.

The party has been hit by numerous anti-Semitism allegations in recent years.

Starmer, after being elected as Jeremy Corbyn’s successor in April, promised to root out anti-Semitism.

Responding to his sacking of Long-Bailey on Thursday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews thanked Starmer for his “swift action”.

President Marie van der Zyl said: “I would like to thank Keir Starmer for backing his words with actions on anti-Semitism.

“After Rebecca Long-Bailey shared a conspiracy theory, we and others gave her the opportunity to retract and apologise. To our surprise and dismay, her response was pathetic.

“Her position as shadow education secretary was therefore untenable. There is no space for this sort of action in any party and it is right that after so many challenging years, Labour is now making this clear under its new leader.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey is the MP for Salford and Eccles. (PA via AP)
Rebecca Long-Bailey is the MP for Salford and Eccles. (PA via AP)

Long-Bailey’s full statement read:

“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. I learned that many people were concerned by references to international sharing of training and restraint techniques between police and security forces.

“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.

“I am proud of the policies we have developed within the party from our green industrial revolution to a national education service and I will never stop working for the change our communities need to see.

“I am clear that I shall continue to support the Labour Party in Parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership, to represent the people of Salford and Eccles and work towards a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.”

John McDonnell, Corbyn’s former shadow chancellor who backed Long-Bailey over Starmer in this year’s Labour leadership contest, tweeted in support of her following the sacking.

He said: “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 ⁦⁦[Long-Bailey]⁩ should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her.”

However, Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “Today we saw significant action from Sir Keir Starmer in ensuring there is zero tolerance for anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

“His actions show he understands the severity and harm that anti-Semitic conspiracies do to our politics. We welcome this decisive leadership and firm action.”

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