Why Keir Starmer’s new labour is a delicate balancing act

Keir Starmer promised zero tolerance against anti-Semitism. His sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary shows he undoubtedly meant it. Long-Bailey tweeted her approval of a lengthy press interview with Maxine Peake. In it the actress made incorrect claims. Specifically, the police tactic of kneeling on the neck [which killed George Floyd in Minnesota] was from the Israeli secret services.

Anti-Semitic theories

Peake’s remark undoubtedly reflects that, regardless of established facts, the world’s only majority-Jewish nation is at the heart of whatever global horrors are unfolding. The root of such ideas are in age-old anti-Semitic theories of a Jewish plot to cause global ruin. But once again, it has been necessary to explain this to many in the Labour Party. This includes the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell. McDonnell typically expressed his solidarity with Long-Bailey, saying the unfounded claim represented legitimate criticism of Israel.

The Last Stand

For me, the Corbyn believers have picked the wrong issue on which to make their last stand. Long-Bailey praised Peake’s interview, calling her an absolute diamond. She equally failed to condemn the claim about Israel. This was even after Peake herself admitted it was inaccurate. If Long-Bailey had sincerely apologised and deleted the tweet, as Starmer asked, he wouldn’t have dismissed her. But she didn’t. The decision could work out well for Starmer. While Boris Johnson clings tenaciously to ministers accused of underhand dealings, Starmer acts against unethical behaviour in his party. And this is before the forthcoming official report into Labour Party anti-Semitism.

A Balancing Act

Yet the move may also have reignited Labour’s civil war. Members of the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group had been biding their time. Until now they’ve been loyal to Starmer in public. But now Starmer has expelled one of their own. The Labour Party remains divided, factional and bitter. Many left-wingers are concerned by Starmer’s message of unity during his leadership campaign only to see a clear-out of the Corbynite left. The removal of Long-Bailey will now bolster the hard-left within the party. All this leaves Starmer to doing a delicate balancing act. Good luck to him.

Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

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Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson

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Big ideas and important articles. Writing to help you make sense of the world. And cope with being human.