Keir Starmer has made a big deal, publicly, of creating a “broad church” within the Labour Party. But privately, many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party feel it is anything but. The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, his rival in the recent leadership election, and shadow education secretary, will do nothing to convince the left of the party that Starmer sees them as anything but a hindrance that he would rather see forced out, at worst, and sidelined at best.
Long-Bailey’s crime was sharing an interview with the actress Maxine Peake; the working-class left-wing activist spent many hours campaigning for Labour during both the 2017 and 2019 elections. In a wide-ranging discussion, Peake calls for the dismantling of capitalism, decries the privileging of capital over human lives during the pandemic, and — this is Starmer’s issue — links the death of George Floyd to the fact that Israeli intelligence is involved in the training of some US police forces. That, Starmer argued in the press release announcing Long-Bailey’s swift and unceremonious sacking, was an “antisemitic conspiracy theory.”
In a 2016 report, Amnesty International USA expressed concern that “Baltimore police received training on crowd control, use of force and surveillance [from] Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services.”
Baltimore law enforcement officials, along with hundreds of others from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state as well as the DC Capitol police have all traveled to Israel for training. Thousands of others have received training from Israeli officials here in the U.S.
Amnesty pointed out that the use of force by US police departments often mirrors techniques used by Israeli forces: “Many of the abuses documented, parallel violations by Israeli military, security and police officials.” This is clearly what Peake was referring to, and is a fact, not a conspiracy theory. Rather than simply express his personal disagreement on the issue, Starmer was happy to instrumentalize antisemitism as an excuse to get rid of Long-Bailey.
Long-Bailey had already been sidelined by Starmer and the right of the party. Although education is one of the central issues affected by the coronavirus, she has been given little support or amplification. Starmer’s team briefed right-wing journalists that Long-Bailey was seen as “too close” to teaching unions, which “gave ammunition” to the Conservatives, they claimed. Labour should be close to unions, and should be focused on teachers’ concerns. Representing workers shouldn’t be seen as a crime, and a trumped-up antisemitism charge is too serious an accusation to be used as an excuse when the purpose is to sack someone from the left of the party, and replace them with someone from the right.
When allegations surfaced that black and Asian MPs, members, and campaigners had been victimized by staff from the right of the party, very little was done to address widespread concerns about institutional racism. For some perspective: Rachel Reeves, one of the most right-wing Labour MPs, lobbied for and praised the construction of a statue of Nancy Astor, a virulently racist, antisemitic, and anti-Catholic MP who praised Hitler. This attracted no comment or criticism from Starmer, even after the statue was recently defaced with graffiti calling Astor a Nazi.
Starmer shows little seriousness in his approach to various forms of racism. He’s more concerned with winning back right-wing voters, briefing right-wing journalists, hand-wringing about excessive closeness to unions, and sacking left-wing MPs at the first opportunity. The problem is that in trying to win over right wingers, he risks completely alienating the many young left wingers who joined the party. And at the next election the party will find very few campaigners to knock on doors.