Left-wing Labour MPs remain “blind to the problem of institutional antisemitism”, a former party chairman has said after Rebecca Long Bailey was sacked from the frontbench.
Ms Long-Bailey, who was branded the “continuity Corbyn” candidate in the recent leadership battle, was fired after she shared an article on social media which Sir Keir Starmer claimed expressed an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
In the article, actor Maxine Peake said police linked to the death of George Floyd in the US had learned their tactics from the Israeli secret services.
The claim has been denied by Israel, and Ms Peake later said it was wrong.
Following her sacking, senior figures on the left – including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – have signed a petition calling for Sir Keir to reverse his decision.
Clive Soley, who was party chairman during the 1997-2001 New Labour heyday, said the reaction demonstrated that many in the party were still “blind” to the issue of antisemitism.
Lord Soley told us: “One of the problems for John is that he, like Jeremy, is blind to the problem of institutional antisemitism.
“The reason I feel so strongly about this issue is because I was frontbench home affairs spokesman during the period of the MacPherson report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
“MacPherson pointed out that the police had become institutionally racist. I had perfectly good, decent police officers saying to me ‘I can’t be racist, I’ve got a friend or brother in law who is black’.
“They felt that very strongly, just as John and Jeremy I’m sure would feel that they were not being anti-Jewish.
“But what the police and John and Jeremy were both blind to is that they were presiding over an organisation that had become, in Labour’s case, antisemitic.”
The peer said he was sorry to see Ms Long-Bailey go, but added: “I’m not happy about her having to go, but the point is we have got this appalling record hanging over from the period when antisemitism was clearly a problem in the party and therefore he can’t afford to be seen to be soft on it.
“What is very, very clear now is that the Labour Party has put the antisemitic issue behind us. We are now very clear that people can’t be antisemitic in the party.”
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. https://t.co/3k6P3hcCgJ
— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) June 25, 2020
Ms Long-Bailey said she was “incredibly upset” by Sir Keir’s decision to remove her from her shadow cabinet role, while Jewish groups praised Sir Keir for his swift action.
Sir Keir said his “primary objective” was to rebuild trust with the Jewish community after years in which Labour has been embroiled in allegations of antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn.
“I do not consider sharing that article furthered the cause of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community and that’s why I stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down,” he said.
“I didn’t do that because she is antisemitic, I did it because she shared the article which has got – in my view – antisemitic conspiracy theories in it.”