Rebecca Long-Bailey sacked from shadow cabinet over 'antisemitic conspiracy theory'

25 June 2020, 15:26 | Updated: 25 June 2020, 16:56

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet after she shared an article containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, the party has said.

Sir Keir said this afternoon: "The sharing of that article was wrong because the article contained anti-semitic conspiracy theories and I have therefore stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet.

"I made it my first priority to tackle anti semitism and rebuild trust with the Jewish community."

Rebecca Long-Bailey shared an article on her Twitter which claimed the tactic used by US police to kill George Floyd was "taught by the Israeli army".

Sir Keir continued: "I asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet for sharing the article.

"I didn't do that because she is anti-semitic, I did it because she shared the article which has got, in my view, anti-semitic conspiracy theories in it.

"My primary focus is on rebuilding trust with Jewish communities and I didn't think that that article was in-keeping with that primary objective.

"I'm not going to go into the various ins and outs of the conversations I may have had, interesting though it may be.

"I'm just very clear about my focus, and that is rebuilding trust with the Jewish community. I do not consider that article to be furthering the course of rebuilding this trust.

Rebecca Long-Bailey has been asked to leave the shadow cabinet.
Rebecca Long-Bailey has been asked to leave the shadow cabinet. Picture: PA

In a statement, the Labour party said: "This afternoon Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long Bailey to step down from the Shadow Cabinet.

"The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

"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 are all vigilant against it."

Rebecca Long-Bailey has served as Shadow Secretary for Education since April, when Sir Keir became leader.

Labour said the appointment of a new Shadow Education Secretary will take place in the days ahead.

Ms Long-Bailey also stood in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

The article was an interview with actress Maxine Peake published in the Independent.

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

The article also quoted her as saying: "A spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, stating that 'there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway'."

Following backlash over the tweet, in which Ms Long-Bailey described Ms Peake as "an absolute diamond", the Salford and Eccles MP was forced to clarify her comments.

She said in a second tweet: "I retweeted Maxine Peake’s article because of her significant achievements and because the thrust of her argument is to stay in the Labour Party.

"It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article."

Ms Long-Bailey has since responded on her Twitter, clarifying her actions. She did not apologise for the original tweet.

In a series of tweets, she said: "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."

Sir Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down
Sir Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down. Picture: PA

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has thanked Keir Starmer for his "swift action".

She 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 can be 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."

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."

The All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism has said they welcome the response from Labour leader Keir Starmer.

In a statement released on Twitter, APPG Against Anti-Semitism co-chairs Catherine McKinnell and Andrew Percy said: "We welcome Sir Keir Starmer's zero tolerance approach and decisive action. Members of Parliament have a duty to challenge anti-Semitic conspiracy theories not share them.

"We will work with all political parties to ensure anti-Semitism plays no part in public life, and our group will always work to educate colleagues about it."

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish, tweeted: "This is what a change in culture looks like. This is what zero tolerance looks like. This is what rebuilding trust with the Jewish community looks like."

Dame Margaret previously described Sir Keir Starmer's predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as racist following claims he had failed to take strong enough action on anti-Semitism within the party.

However, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has tweeted his support for Rebecca Long-Bailey.

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 ??@RLong_Bailey? should've been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her."

Jon Lansman, chair of the activist movement Momentum, tweeted his support for Rebecca Long-Bailey.

He said: "I retweeted this 5 hours ago without comment in a break in a Labour Party anti-Semitism panel - my 4th in the last month. In my view there is nothing in what Maxine Peake said that a Labour panel would view as anti-Semitic.

"Rebecca is every bit as committed to ending anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as I am. Her sacking is a reckless over-reaction from someone who promised to end factionalism in the party and political interference in disciplinary matters. Keir has now made these tasks harder."