Keir Starmer calculating Rebecca Long-Bailey sacking praise will outweigh revolt

Thursday 25th June 2020 22:45 BST

Boris Johnson stood resolutely behind Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, just as he had stood decisively behind Dominic Cummings when he too was in trouble earlier this month.

For Downing Street, sacking someone important is often a sign of weakness, a sign they are being forced to buckle in the face of media criticism or opposition pressure. For that reason, it is to be avoided.

Meanwhile Labour leader Keir Starmer decided to abruptly dismiss Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet without even speaking to her, with no right of appeal.

Her crime: to retweet an interview in the Independent newspaper with actress Maxine Peake in which she claimed that the US police who murdered George Floyd were trained by Israeli secret services - which both Labour and the British Board of Deputies labelled an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Maxine Peake later rescinded her claim about Israeli involvement in US police training, while Sir Keir rescinded Mrs Long-Bailey's job in the shadow cabinet.

Both leaders are trying to project strength, so it is interesting today they are doing so by adopting diametrically opposed means.

Maybe this will work to both of their advantage, maybe neither, although some Labour figures claim that they relish the contrast between Sir Keir who acts and Mr Johnson who does not. Equally, however, maybe this just reminds voters of Labour's antisemitism problem.

What will be fascinating is the impact on Labour's internal politics.

Firstly Sir Keir was starting to have a schools problem, and Mrs Long-Bailey who is close to the unions, occupied the education brief.

Tories believed the flip-flop attack on Labour's schools position was starting to get traction, and Sir Keir may choose this moment to reset the tone on this sensitive issue.

Will he go further in his criticism of the teaching unions? His relationship with the behemoth, the National Education Union, will be worthy of close attention.

Then there is the fight with Labour's left.

Sir Keir won by getting the backing of much of the left - runner-up Ms Long Bailey got just 27% of the vote and didn't even get above 30% of the general membership block.

There nevertheless remains a caucus of left-wingers who appear to be signalling an attack over today's sacking, and they often have an outsized influence on social media meaning they cannot be easily be ignored.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, former party chair Ian Lavery, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, former shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon, activist Owen Jones and even Jeremy Corbyn's wife Laura Alvarez all expressed solidarity with Mrs Long-Bailey tonight. There is already a Momentum petition.

Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell's policy chief Andrew Fisher, told Sky News: "I do think it's a mistake.

"It's unfortunate because it will create division within the party. A lot of the left see Rebecca as the most high-profile left winger in the shadow cabinet now. Or formerly. I think most fair minded people will think it's a harsh decision."

In other words, he says people will see this as a sacking over what she represents - a strand of continuity Corbynism in Sir Keir's shadow cabinet, rather than over the actual tweet, which Labour has ruled an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Mike Katz from the Jewish Labour Movement told me: "The decision he made to ask Rebecca Long Bailey to stand down should be welcomed. We have for too long called for actions, not just words, more words. All we got under Jeremy Corbyn was words. No activity.

"Starmer has taken some firm action. This is to be welcomed."

Sir Keir is judging the revolt is less significant than the praise from the Jewish community.

Now On Air
More Music on Coast FM
More music on Coast FM