Last week, Keir Starmer abruptly sacked former leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey from her position as Shadow Education Secretary, on the ludicrous charge of “sharing antisemitic conspiracy theories”. This incendiary move rightly provoked outrage amongst grassroots members.
The emboldened Labour right have the entire establishment behind them, and they’re flexing their muscles. A wider attack on the left is impending. Activists must mobilise and fight back.
The furore began after Long-Bailey retweeted an Independent interview with Corbyn-supporting actor Maxine Peake.
In it, Peake discussed (among other things) the on-going Black Lives Matter protests. These originated in the USA after police officer Derek Chauvin choked George Floyd – an unarmed black man – to death by kneeling on his neck.
Peake stated: “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 originally corroborated Peake’s comments, citing claims by Amnesty International that US police routinely receive training in crowd control and restraint procedures from “Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services”.
Later, the piece was amended to include a statement by a spokesperson for the Israeli police, claiming that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”. Amnesty clarified that it had seen no evidence of this particular move being taught to American police, and Peake stated she’d been “inaccurate”.
In a Kafkaesque twist, the Independent released an article the same day describing Peake’s statements – which it previously had seen fit to publish without comment – as an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”!
In fact, there is plenty of photographic and video evidence of both American and Israeli forces of law-and-order using similar manoeuvres to the one that killed George Floyd – along with every other police force on the planet. None can claim to have invented it.
However, it is well-documented that the US and Israeli states regularly exchange training, resources and arms to better terrorise and oppress defenceless individuals, as do other capitalist states. The particulars of who taught what to whom is a case of splitting hairs.
Left commentators like Owen Jones have described Long-Bailey’s sacking as an “overreaction”. Similar remarks have been echoed by Len McCluskey, the Unite the Union general secretary, and other leading left-wing figures.
Sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an interview in *the Independent* with one of Britain's most celebrated actors because of a sentence uttered by Maxine Peake which the Independent initially justified with a link to an Amnesty International report is an absurd overreaction— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) June 25, 2020
But let us be clear: Starmer and his backers know exactly what they are doing. This is a deliberate, transparent attack on a prominent left-winger by an increasingly audacious Labour right wing.
The Blairites are continuing to weaponise false charges of anti-semitism. And they enjoy the full-throated support of the capitalist press in their aim of bringing the party back under their control.
In a statement on social media, Long-Bailey said that she tried to clarify in a follow-up tweet that she “did not endorse every part of that article”, before being told to take both her original tweet and the clarification down. When she refused, she was let go.
The double standards here are stunning. Long-Bailey was removed from her position within a matter of hours of her post on social media. Meanwhile, there have been zero consequences for the right-wing saboteurs and bullying bureaucrats identified months ago in the Labour leaked report.
Similarly, whilst dumping RLB without hesitation, Starmer did not call for Johnson’s puppet-master (and professed eugenicist) Dominic Cummings to get the sack over breaking lockdown rules last month.
And if fighting racism is such a concern for Starmer, why did he join the Tories in condemning anti-racist protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement? Why has he added his voice to the chorus calling for draconian prison sentences for activists involved in toppling statues of slave traders?
Siding with teachers
Some have claimed that Long-Bailey’s firing might have been retribution for siding with the National Education Union (NEU). As Shadow Education Secretary, RLB had been vocal recently in supporting teachers resisting attempts to re-open schools during the continuing pandemic.
Starmer, by contrast, was talking about reopening schools before even the Tories. This was seen as a necessary first step towards ending the lockdown (which he now “cautiously” supports) and getting the economy going again. Blairite grandees like Alan Johnson and Lord David Blunket also weighed in against the teaching union and backed an early return for pupils.
This reflects pressure from the establishment on the Labour leadership to support the government in restoring production and getting the profits flowing again. ‘Sir’ Starmer – as ever – has been only-too-eager to oblige.
To her credit, Long-Bailey agreed with the NEU that schools should not re-open until teacher and student safety could be guaranteed. She even suggested that Labour members defy their councils by refusing to send their children back to school in June.
Right wing emboldened
In all likelihood, however, Long-Bailey’s days were numbered, even had she toed the line. She was always seen as being too close to Corbyn and the old leadership. From the outset, she had been sidelined within Starmer’s right-wing Shadow Cabinet.
It is clear that RLB was only given her position in the Shadow Cabinet as an empty gesture, designed to demonstrate Starmer’s shallow commitment to ‘unity’. This hollow promise was trumpeted ad nauseum by the former barrister during the leadership election.
Solidarity with @RLong_Bailey who has more integrity and socialist principles than the leadership could even imagine. The mask of unity has been exposed. I’m in @Keir_Starmer’s constituency and a lifelong Labour voter. I will not vote for him, I will not campaign for him.— Naomi Waltham-Smith (@auralflaneur) June 25, 2020
But now things have changed. The balance of power is firmly in favour of the right wing, which currently has the leadership, the bulk of the PLP and an NEC majority. And the lockdown means that rank-and-file party members are unable to organise locally to hold their MPs and leaders to account.
Starmer’s ‘forensic’ style of leadership (i.e. failing to provide any discernible opposition), meanwhile, has won him gushing plaudits from the capitalist press, who have turned considerably on Johnson and his hapless clique.
This, combined with a general backlash against the Tories’ incompetent and callous response to the coronavirus crisis, has resulted in Starmer and Labour enjoying a polling boost. Seeing their star rising has further increased the confidence of the new leadership.
The Blairites are also licking their lips at the prospect of a full-scale purge following the imminent publication of the EHRC report into anti-semitism in the Labour Party. This high-profile sacking is a harbinger of things to come.
The fact that this manoeuvre coincides with Israeli imperialism pushing to annex even more Palestinian territory – correctly condemned by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs – adds another dash of cynicism to this whole affair.
Weakness invites aggression
Left-wingers like John McDonnell have come out in support of Long-Bailey. But the fact that Starmer feels he can get away with such a bold provocation is the result of years of dithering and failed conciliation with the right wing on the part of the left leaders.
Throughout discussion of antisemitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic. I don’t believe therefore that this article is or @RLong_Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her https://t.co/rhxuKGfFEG— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) June 25, 2020
Remember that RLB herself foolishly endorsed the reactionary Board of Deputies’ ‘10 pledges’ on anti-semitism. This amounted to a total capitulation to the Blairite-led slanders about Labour’s ‘institutional anti-semitism’. But that clearly hasn’t helped her now, when push comes to shove.
The Momentum leadership around Jon Lansman (who ran Long-Bailey’s leadership campaign) also bent over backwards on this issue. Yet now their candidate has become the latest victim of a false narrative they helped spin.
Long-Bailey showed her own timidity by distancing herself from Peake’s comments, rather than calling out the slanders and cynicism of the right. Worse still, she went on to say that she would not be “critical about the way I have might have been treated", because “[t]he only way that we’ll win a general election is by being unified as a party."
So rather than standing up for herself, she rolls over and lets Starmer kick her in the teeth! This weakness on the part of the left leaders is in marked contrast to the right, who are resolute and ruthless in pursuing their agenda.
Foresight and astonishment
Prominent lefts such as Len McCluskey, as well as Corbyn-supporting commentators such as the editors of Novara Media, have expressed “shock” at Starmer’s move. The Unite chief echoed Long-Bailey’s warning that Labour’s leader should reconsider, in order to preserve “party unity”.
Keir Starmer’s USP was unity, that’s what he won the leadership on. He was polling well with labour with that approach.— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) June 25, 2020
Now he’s decided to unnecessarily alienate vast swathes of the membership who had good will towards him.
All of this is completely inexplicable.
Such naive calls for ‘unity’ with the right wing are not new. This is a continuation of the attitude adopted by many important figures on the Labour left after the leadership election, when they called on members to “give Starmer a chance to prove his commitment to unity”.
But the ‘unity’ mantra was always a ruse. Starmer and his right-wing backers only ever wanted unity on their terms – terms set by the establishment. As far as the Blairites are concerned, the left can either shape up, or ship out.
Furthermore, Long-Bailey’s ‘socialist sister’ and now Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was also informed of Starmer’s decision to give RLB the sack, prior to the Salford and Eccles MP finding out herself. And yet Rayner – a so-called ‘left’ – did nothing to intervene.
During the leadership elections, Rayner and Long-Bailey made up the Momentum-endorsed slate, as cooked up by Lansman. Yet now we can see what was already evident at the time: that Rayner, in reality, was running on a joint-ticket with Starmer on the right.
Then as now, the Momentum leaders sowed confusion in the name of ‘compromise’. Instead, they should have been calling for an open struggle against the Blairites.
Fight for a socialist Labour Party!
Momentum are now publicly calling for activists to show solidarity with RLB by signing an open letter of support for the left-wing MP. John McDonnell, meanwhile, has shared a separate petition calling for Long-Bailey to be reinstated. Both have already been signed by thousands of members, who are rightly outraged at this aggressive manoeuvre.
It is clear, however, that organising in the viper’s nest of Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet will be of no use. Starmer has jettisoned his pretense of ‘unity’ and is turning openly against the left. Long-Bailey’s Shadow Cabinet position was always tokenistic. Now she has been used and discarded.
Appeals to Starmer are a waste of breath. The Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) discovered this at a meeting with the Labour leader, in which he refused to reconsider his decision. The left-wing MPs described this meeting as “a business-like exchange of views which took place in a mutually respectful manner” – hardly fighting talk.
Rather than pleading with Starmer to reinstate Long-Bailey, left Labour MPs must mount a bold internal opposition. The SCG should spearhead a campaign amongst the membership to mobilise against further attacks, suspensions, and expulsions, and prepare to go on the offensive to win back the party.
It is fruitless to seek unity with the Labour right wing. They represent the interests of big business, who are determined to reclaim the party from the Corbyn movement. The left leaders’ strategy of appeasement has been a proven failure over the past years, and is the reason we are in this position to begin with.
The unity we need is not one of concessions to the Blairites. We need genuine unity, based on organising Labour’s mass membership around bold socialist policies. This is the only way to avoid demoralisation and defeat.
We must not take this latest outrage lying down. The left still has a majority amongst rank-and-file members. We need a coordinated grassroots struggle against the ruthless right wing, who are hellbent on turning Labour into a toothless puppet of the ruling class.
No more compromises! Resist Blairite aggression! Unite and fight for a socialist Labour Party!