27th June 2020
Better Days? Starmer and Long Bailey pre sacking
It was only ever going to be a question of time before Kier Starmer found a pretext to remove Rebecca Long Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet. While Long Bailey’s leadership campaign lacked spark, she nevertheless found herself in the somewhat unlikely role of standard bearer for the Left and, as a member of the Shadow Cabinet, at least provided some link with the progressive policies Labour developed under Jeremy Corbyn.
The excuse for Long Bailey’s sacking gives significant cause for concern and is an indicator of the likely direction of both domestic and international policy under Kier Starmer. Long Bailey re-tweeted an article from The Independent, an interview with the actor, Maxine Peake, in which Peake makes clear her view on a range of political issues, including a trenchant defence of Jeremy Corbyn and the policies developed under his leadership.
That is not why Long Bailey was sacked, apparently. In the interview Peake also asserts that,
“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 goes on to add the caveat that the Israeli police deny this stating that, “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway.”
In some circles this may be regarded as journalistic ‘balance’.
Long Bailey’s initial re-tweet simply carried the endorsement,
“Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond”
and she has subsequently clarified her position by stating,
“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.”
Starmer’s justification for Long Bailey’s sacking is given as retweeting an article which contains an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”.
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the self styled leading voice of Jewish opinion but actually the voice of Jewish conservatism, welcomed Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, stating,
“Keir Starmer has made a very good start, we said, on tackling anti-Semitism in the party. We had a meeting with him only last Friday and we have made it clear that we judge what he does, what his actions are. And in this case, he’s absolutely acted decisively and has taken very swift action and it’s very reassuring to the Jewish community.”
The article, in fact an interview with Peake, does not contain an anti-Semitic reference, quote or trope. It is clearly critical of the Israeli Secret Services and makes a specific allegation relating to the exchange of tactics and methods between the Israelis and the United States, whom no one is denying are very close allies.
Whether Peake’s observation is accurate or not, it is clearly a political point, not a racist one. She has, in any event, apologised for making an “assumption” in relation to the links between the US and Israel but this still does not make her statement anti-Semitic. The policies and practices of any state are surely open to comment or criticism. The anti-Semitism witchhunt within the Labour Party is designed precisely to stifle any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, which has been illegally occupying Palestinian land since 1967, and to justify not acting decisively enough to enforce Israeli compliance with United Nations resolutions.
At present the Israeli state is engaged in plans to annexe more of the West Bank in order to further squeeze out the scope for Palestinians to create and develop an independent state. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has suggested that the annexation will write another “glorious chapter in the history of Zionism.”
The Israeli move stems from US Donald Trump’s so-called peace plan, which would see 30% of the West Bank come under Israeli sovereignty, giving recognition to all of the illegally established settlements on Palestinian land and Israeli control of the strategically vital Jordan Valley, even before the Palestinians get to the negotiating table.
The Israelis are already engaged in the biggest boom in infrastructure projects in the West Bank for twenty years, laying the basis for a significant growth in settler numbers.
Kier Starmer has made much noise about zero tolerance of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, a position he inherited from his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. However, unlike Corbyn, Starmer has not been so decisive in making clear his opposition to the flaunting of UN resolutions by the Israelis or the trampling of the rights of Palestinians.
The prospect of Starmer going back to the pre-Corbyn days of Labour simply kowtowing to the establishment agenda, rather than taking a principled stand for the rights of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, is a very real danger.
Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian, under the byline, “At last, Labour is getting serious about antisemitism” applauds Starmer’s response and goes on to suggest that the Conservatives will be worried because,
“…after five years believing themselves essentially unopposed, and therefore able to get away with anything, now recognise they are up against someone serious about power.”
As is so often the case, Freedland spectacularly misses the point. Corbyn was serious about power, Starmer is only serious about being in office. The two are not the same. Real zero tolerance means zero tolerance of inequality, privilege, prejudice, systematic exploitation and oppression, whether it is in the UK, US, Israel or elsewhere in the world.
Starmer needs to get his priorities in order. Sacking Rebecca Long Bailey is a victory for intolerance, not a stand for zero tolerance in any way, shape or form.