For the past 10 years, the Labour Party has seen itself collapse into what I can only describe as an unelectable, toxic mess in the eyes of the general public, allowing the Tories to maintain their grip on power. Scandal after scandal has dogged them, but the spreading of antisemitism within its ranks has by far been the worst. Keir Starmer’s swift sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey may well be our first indicator that he is capable of the firm and authoritative management Labour has been lacking for so long. A potentially defining moment for his leadership, this could signal that Labour is, at last, leaving its shameful history behind.
In sharing an article which shifted the blame for the use of “neck kneeling” tactics, in instances such as George Floyd’s murder, from the US police force to Israeli security services, Long-Bailey’s actions were undoubtedly wrong. Whether intentional or not, they encouraged antisemitic conspiratorial thinking more than they promoted a nuanced discussion concerning Israel. In a party which seems to me already rife with a rotten, discriminatory atmosphere, such actions can in no way be seen as a simple mistake. Starmer was right to dismiss her, despite her apology – there should be no room for any antisemitic interpretations or anything even remotely similar in the Labour Party. It should never again be a place where such toxicity is able to thrive.
The move has sparked outrage amongst many of Corbyn’s supporters. Branding it an overreaction, they argue that Starmer has abused the gravity of antisemitism for his own political gains. Sacking Long-Bailey, a standard-bearer of the Corbynite regime in the shadow cabinet, indicates a significant departure from the previous discredited era. While many other instances of antisemitism go unchecked within the party, decisiveness suddenly seems easy when it involves removing political threats. Starmer’s behaviour may therefore be representative of a wider current trend in the Labour Party. It appears that antisemitism is selectively cared about, only doing so when it can be used for electoral advantages, prompting disproportionate and inconsistent responses such as this.
But after years filled with apathetic neutrality towards, dismissal of, and even active endorsement of antisemitism, is overreacting necessarily so inappropriate?
Under Corbyn, admirable though some of his policy aims may have been, the party ultimately crumbled. The general public became alienated from the hard left which quickly seemed to represent the party, and ugly intra-party factionalism tore it apart from the inside out. A bitter and antagonistic culture festered. Where Corbyn was reluctant to take initiative and therefore failed to quash the crippling issues posed by antisemitism, Starmer is acting decisively on the matter. The dismissal of Long-Bailey was a loud and bold declaration of his authority, unwilling to tolerate any antisemitism whatsoever, instilling fear into all opponents, lawyer become ruthless leader.
If Starmer wants to have any hopes of transforming the Labour Party into one that could feasibly form a government sometime this decade, he must purge them of all malicious remnants from Corbyn’s Labour Party. It has to be clear that under Starmer’s control, they will become a new party, one which isn’t so easily defined by its antisemitism, one which truly is for the many, not the few. The only way to do this is to set a precedent that cannot be challenged or defeated, as Long-Bailey’s dismissal does.
Yes, the choice may temporarily reignite factionalist wars within the party, having enraged Corbyn supporters, but it shows that Starmer has what it takes to be a strong leader in the long run. He can reunite Labour and control internal opposition, the very thing which persistently undermined Corbyn. With fresh direction and resolve, their future may once again be filled with hope. Firing Long-Bailey immediately should neither be criticised nor excessively praised – it was simply a minimal requirement for Starmer. Without it, the dark shadow of antisemitism would have no chance of ever leaving the party. This was the only clean start possible for Labour.
Future success now relies on Starmer’s dedication to this approach. On its own, I hold that the decision to sack Long-Bailey is mere virtue-signalling. It must be accompanied by an equally hard-line stance everywhere else. The actions of MPs such as Rachel Reeves, who have very recently and publicly celebrated anti-Semites, must be condemned and punished. When the EHRC report on Labour’s antisemitism is published, rapid action must be taken. The poison of antisemitism must be pulled out by its roots everywhere within the party.
Eradicating antisemitism in the Labour Party is important because it is just, not because it would improve their image. While Starmer’s dismissal of Long-Bailey is a step in the right direction, it is by no means the be-all and end-all – these are but baby-steps. If this really is a sign of progress, these new sentiments should be reflected against all other forms of injustice. The Labour leader’s recent downplaying of the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘moment’ suggests this is a pipe dream. By devaluing the historical significance of the UK’s own protests, Starmer’s Labour Party continues to excel in its ability to disenchant, leaving many politically homeless. It reinforces the fact that the fight against discrimination is far from over. Sacking one shadow minister was right but nowhere near sufficient, and Labour’s struggle to finally shed its skin of prejudice will persist as long as people think it was.