Keir Starmer sacked his hard-Left former leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey today after she praised an interview in which actress Maxine Peake peddled an ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theory’.
The shadow education secretary posted a link to an interview in which Peake – one of her constituents – claimed that US police learned ‘neck-kneeling’ restrain techniques used on George Floyd from Israeli spies. The remark was described as ‘textbook casual anti-Semitism’ by Labour MPs.
But Ms Long-Bailey, who was the Corbynite candidate for the top job, sparked fury by describing the ex-Communist star of TV programmes including Shameless as an ‘absolute diamond’. She later tried to excuse the message by claiming she had not been endorsing all the content of the article.
However, within hours Sir Keir – who has been desperately trying to rebuild trust with the Jewish community after the Jeremy Corbyn era – ejected her from the shadow cabinet.
‘The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory,’ a spokesman said.
‘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 all are vigilant against it.’
Jewish groups and MPs welcomed the tough stance, with ex-minister Dame Margaret Hodge saying: ‘This is what zero tolerance looks like.’ There were also some calls for Peake to be boycotted by TV chiefs.
But as Labour’s factional war threatened to boil over again, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell weighed in to insist that Peake’s comment was legitimate criticism of Israel. Momentum founder Jon Lansman accused the more centrist new leader of ‘reckless overreaction’, suggesting he was trying to purge Corbynites.
Ms Long-Bailey was Sir Keir’s closest rival in the leadership contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn this spring following Labour’s election disaster.
She was seen as the continuity Hard Left candidate, and there was speculation Sir Keir might not keep her on – but he offered her the education brief in what was seen as an effort to hold the party together.
Ms Long-Bailey described the left-wing star as a ‘diamond’, before later trying to clarify that she had not been endorsing all the content of the article
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell weighed in to insist that Peake’s comment was legitimate criticism of Israel
Labour leader Keir Starmer (pictured left with ms Long-Bailey in April) has been trying to rebuild trust with the Jewish community after the Corbyn era
Criticising Israelis and abusing ex-Labour voters – Maxine Peake’s outbursts that led to Long-Bailey sacking
Rebecca Long-Bailey was fired after praising an interview by the actress Maxine Peake in the Independent.
In the piece the 45-year-old Shameless and Dinnerladies star made a serious of claims which raised eyebrows.
But Ms Long-Bailey retweeted it, saying that Ms Peake, a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, was ‘an absolute diamond’.
The quote which one which prompted her sacking was when she discussed Black Lives Matter with journalist Alexandra Pollard.
‘Systemic racism is a global issue,’ the actress said.
‘The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.’
This has been denied by the Israeli authorities and the comments were criticised as appearing to be a variation on the ‘blood libel’, where Jews are held responsible for the death of others.
Elsewhere in the interview Ms Peake suggested that racism could be solved by the over-throw of capitalism, saying: ‘I don’t know how we escape that cycle that’s indoctrinated into us all.
‘Well, we get rid of it when we get rid of capitalism as far as I’m concerned. That’s what it’s all about. The establishment has got to go. We’ve got to change it.’
She also turned her fire on traditional Labour voters who felt unable to back the party under Jeremy Corbyn at the December election.
‘Those people who were normally Labour supporters who felt they couldn’t vote Labour? Well I’m sorry, they voted Tory as far as I’m concerned,’ she told the newspaper:
‘And it breaks my heart, because you know what? I didn’t like Tony Blair, but I still voted Labour because anything’s better than the Tories.
‘ There’s a lot of people who should hang their heads in shame. People going, ”Oh, I can join the Labour Party again because Keir Starmer’s there,” well shame on you.’
She also managed to throw in a backhanded jibe at Sir Keir himself, saying: ‘I think people will get behind Starmer, won’t they? He’s a more acceptable face of the Labour Party for a lot of people who are not really left wing.
‘But that’s fine. Whatever. As long as the Tories get out, I don’t care anymore.’
Ms Peake also found time to praise the role of actors in the world, adding: ‘I’m not saying we are the saviours of the human race, but a lot of people have a television.’
In the article, Dinnerladies star Peake claimed that police tactics that resulted in the death of Mr Floyd, sparking protests around the world, were taught by Israeli spies.
Peake, a long-time Labour supporter, told the Independent: ‘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 led to a backlash, with Israeli Police issuing a statement denying Ms Peake’s claims saying: ‘There is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway’.
Amid a storm of protest at her initial tweet, Ms Long-Bailey then added: ‘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.’
But it was not enough to avoid being removed from her frontbench role, sparking uproar from her supporters.
After her sacking, Ms Long-Bailey said she had merely ‘retweeted an interview that my constituent and stalwart Labour Party supporter Maxine Peake gave’.
‘Its main thrust was anger with the Conservative government’s handling of the current emergency and a call for Labour Party unity,’ she said.
‘These are sentiments are shared by everyone in our movement and millions of people in our country.’
She said she posted a further tweet to clarify after learning ‘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,’ she said,
She said after she agree the clarification with Labour leader’s office she was ordered to take both tweets down.
‘I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification,’ she said. ‘I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.’
Mr McDonnell, who endorsed her for leader, later weighed in, saying: ‘Throughout discussion of antisemitism 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.’
Momentum founder Jon Lansmann, who is Jewish, branded the sacking ‘reckless’.
‘Rebecca is every bit as committed to ending antisemitism in the Labour Party as I am,’ he tweeted.
‘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.’
But Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, who had called for Ms Long-Bailey to delete her tweet and apologise, hailed the swift action from Sir Keir.
‘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.’
Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: ‘We have been critical of Sir Keir Starmer’s early handling of incidents within the Labour Party and the fact that he has not yet announced a timetable for reforming the Party’s broken disciplinary process.
Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish and was a leading critic of Jeremy Corbyn, said: ‘This is what zero tolerance looks like.’ Jewish groups also lined up behind the move
In the article, Dinnerladies star Peake claimed that police tactics that resulted in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police were taught by Israeli spies
‘His swift and firm action in this case appears to indicate that he is taking our comments on board and has shifted up a gear. Sir Keir’s decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey for retweeting an antisemitic conspiracy theory sends a clear message to those in the Labour Party’s ranks who still think that antisemitism is a grey area.’
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.’
Corbynite who flirted with Communism and became ambassador for hard-Left Morning Star
Maxine Peake first rose to national attention while playing Twinkle in Dinnerladies, a BBC sitcom that ran from 1998 to 2000.
Since then, she is best known for playing Veronica Ball in the hit comedy Shameless, and barrister Martha Costello in legal drama Silk.
Earlier this week she appeared in a revival of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, a role the actress said she accepted ‘straight away’ before ‘spending the next few weeks in a state of high anxiety’.
Peake is well-known for her strident socialist views and last year became an ambassador for the hard-left Morning Star, which she called ‘the only paper I can trust’.
She was a member of the Communist Party of Britain in her youth and in 2015 backed Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership election, describing him as a ‘beacon of hope’.
The actress has frequently railed against the ‘crippling austerity measures’ and in 2017 called for a ‘coup’ to install Mr Corbyn as Prime Minister.
In 2019, she co-signed a letter backing him in the General Election, lauding the former Labour leader for his stance against ‘far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism’.
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.
Fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy said: ‘Maxine Peake interview textbook ”casual antisemitism”- Even organisation that first made link she repeats as if matter of record or motivation for heinous crime has withdrawn it as a piece of libellous conspiracism. Being anti racist means countering, not indulging, such tropes.’
‘In the same interview, Peake, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain in Salford, Ms Long-Bailey’s seat in Manchester, took aim at anyone who refused to vote for Jeremy Corbyn – branding them all Conservative supporters.
She said: ‘Those people who were normally Labour supporters who felt they couldn’t vote Labour? Well I’m sorry, they voted Tory as far as I’m concerned. And it breaks my heart, because you know what? I didn’t like Tony Blair, but I still voted Labour because anything’s better than the Tories. There’s a lot of people who should hang their heads in shame. People going, ‘Oh, I can join the Labour Party again because Keir Starmer’s there,’ well shame on you.’
In 2018 the passionate Labour supporter, an outspoken critic of Tory spending on the NHS, was accused of hypocrisy after pocketing taxpayers’ money to appear in an NHS recruitment advert.
The star of hit TV series including Shameless and Silk was paid to do a voice over on a film as part of the health service’s £8 million ‘We Are The NHS’ campaign.
Funded by NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, the campaign was launched to coincide with the NHS’s 70th anniversary and features real health workers and patients.
Ms Peake reportedly received a four-figure sum for her contribution. In contrast, in the past celebrities including Nick Hewer and Barbara Windsor have donated their time for free when appearing in publicly-funded health campaigns.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism said it welcome the decision to sack her. In a statement released on Twitter, co-chairs Catherine McKinnell (Labour) and Andrew Percy (Conservative) 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.’
The hard-Left candidate for leader who rated Jeremy Corbyn ’10 out of 10′ after he led Labour to general election humiliation
Rebecca Long-Bailey was the highest ranking remnant of the Jeremy Corbyn era still remaining on Labour’s front bench.
The 40-year-old ran against Sir Keir Starmer in the protracted leadership election that followed the party’s election humiliation in December and Mr Corbyn’s subsequent resignation.
But despite the backing of the then senior hierarchy, she trailed in a distant second to Sir Keir, who ran on a platform of healing a divided party.
She was then made shadow education secretary in his new-look shadow cabinet as an olive branch to the old regime.
During her leadership election campaign Ms Long-Bailey said Mr Corbyn has been a ‘prefect 10’ as Labour leader
But today’s gaffe, which praised an interview with actress Maxine Peak in which she shared an ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theory’ about Israel and the death of George Floyd, was a step too far.
Mr Starmer has been at pains rebuild bridges with British Jews after five years in which Labour was rocked by a series of anti-Semitism scandals.
Ms Long-Bailey, is the hard-Left daughter of a Salford docker, groomed to take the helm of the Corbynite project by self-declared Marxist John McDonnell.
He and older Corbynistas like Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon threw their weight behind her campaign, during which she described Mr Corbyn as ’10 out of 10′ as leader.
The remark came weeks after he led Labour to its worst election defeat since the 1930s, handing Boris Johnson an 80-seat Tory majority.
She grew up in Old Trafford, Manchester, where she was exposed to left-wing politics from a young age.
The 40-year-old ran against Sir Keir Starmer in the protracted leadership election that followed the party’s election humiliation in December
Her father Jimmy worked as a docker at Salford Quays and trade union representative at Shell at a time when workers’ collectives wielded enormous power and threats of staff walkouts struck fear into ministers.
On graduating from a Catholic high school, she worked in a pawn shop – an eye-opening experience which she says taught her ‘more about the struggles of life than any degree or qualification ever could’.
After holding down other jobs such as a call-centre operator, a furniture factory worker and a postwoman, she eventually studied to become a solicitor.
She became Labour MP for Salford in 2015 on the retirement of Hazel Blears and quickly held a series of roles as Mr McDonnell’s political protegee. She was made shadow business secretary in February 2017, a role she held until Mr Starmer took over in April.