Keir Starmer faces down Left over sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from Labour front bench

Sir Keir Starmer today faced down Labour’s Left-wingers in a tense confrontation over his sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey .

Ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn joined Diane Abbott and John McDonnell at a showdown to call for her reinstatement as shadow education secretary.

Sir Keir’s allies called it a “constructive and businesslike” meeting, code for a standoff. They refused to comment further on the private talks but sources said Ms Long-Bailey would not get her job back.

A petition promoted by Ms Abbott and Mr McDonnell calling for Sir Keir to reverse her sacking notched up 9,090 names during the meeting and looked set to hit its target of 10,000 by lunchtime. Former shadow home secretary Ms Abbott told the Standard: “The petition speaks for itself.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey (AFP via Getty Images)

Jon Lansman, the veteran Left-winger and Momentum founder who sits on the National Executive, said Sir Keir had risked party unity and should “rebuild trust” by taking her back.

“I think the decision he took yesterday was a mistake and won’t help him. I am disappointed by it,” he said.

“Keir has got to respond to that. He has got to work to rebuild the trust and confidence of the Left so we can help him get to No 10 when the time comes.” He added: “He’s made it much harder for himself.”

Sir Keir fired Ms Long-Bailey, the defeated standard-bearer of the Corbynite Left in the leadership contest, yesterday following a four-hour standoff after he ordered her to delete a tweet. She had shared an article in which the actress Maxine Peake claimed the police involved in the death of George Floyd learned their “kneeling on the neck” restraint tactics from the Israeli secret services.

Jewish groups complained to Sir Keir’s office that a member of his own shadow cabinet was spreading an untruth about Israel that had probably been invented by anti-Semites. Last night Ms Peake withdrew the claim and admitted she had been wrong to make the allegation.

But this morning, Ms Long-Bailey’s original tweet drawing attention to the article was still undeleted. Dame Margaret Beckett, Labour’s former deputy leader and ex-foreign secretary, said she felt “a little sorry” for Ms Long-Bailey but Sir Keir had been left with no choice.

Rebecca Long-Bailey sacked by Sir Keir Starmer in anti-Semitism row

Had she not gone “we would have been in that muddled area where the Labour Party is being accused of anti-Semitism”. She said Sir Keir had been “crystal clear” about his petition and was doing “very well” in terms of making Labour electable again.

President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl told TalkRadio the comments by Ms Peake were “absolutely anti-Semitic” and praised Sir Keir’s action as “very reassuring”. She told the BBC: “Rebecca Long-Bailey’s response was pathetic … Keir Starmer has made a very good start on tackling anti-Semitism in the party.”

“And in this case, he’s absolutely acted decisively and has taken very swift action and it’s very reassuring to the Jewish community.” John Mann, who left the party over anti-Semitism, said: “At last we’ve seen some leadership from the Labour Party. We’ve waited quite a number of years for leadership on this terrible problem on anti-Semitism.”

In her only public comments, Ms Long-Bailey told the Mirror that she had decided “not to be critical about the way I might have been treated” because she did not wish to divide the party further.

“Whilst we don’t agree on everything, we agree on the need for a Labour government and I’ll still do everything I possibly can to make sure that happens,” she said.

But Ms Long-Bailey admitted she was “incredibly upset” and added Sir Keir would have to work “very hard” to reassure Corbynites he was not turning his back on their ideals.


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