Jonathan Eida | Opinion
As the dust begins to settle after the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from her role as Shadow Education Secretary, one cannot help but feel as though the consequences of this decision have not yet been fully understood.
The divisions in Labour Party are well-documented. There were no deceptions surrounding the fact that there were large swathes of the party who opposed Corbyn’s leadership. With the dismantling of the Labour Party at the last election, this gave Labour’s centrist wing the opportunity to remove the leadership and replace it with their man. This was why we saw the appointment of Sir Keir.
Sir Keir Starmer may have been the victor of the Labour leadership contest by a healthy margin over Rebecca Long-Bailey, but this is only half the story. There were no illusions in the race Long-Bailey was running. She was commonly cited as Corbyn’s continuity candidate, and for good reason. That was the mantle she held then, and she continued to be viewed in this light ever since.
The inclusion of Rebecca Long-Bailey in the Shadow Cabinet seemingly kept the Corbynite wing of the party appeased for a little while – after all, they now had a woman on the inside.
However, there have been signs of Starmer slowly increasing his grip on the party, squeezing out its Corbynite wing. The uprooting of the Shadow Cabinet at the start of his tenure was perhaps a portent of his intentions going forward. The Corbyn faithful, including Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell, are no longer present in the PLP’s higher echelons.
There was also the replacement of Labour’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby – an ardent Corbynite – with David Evans, a Blairite. Evans was known to be the leadership’s first choice and his appointment angered many on the hard Left. The decision of Formby to cede control to the centrist side of the party was in itself strange; one might have expected her to stay and act as a thorn in the leadership’s side. It would not be a shock if there had been some manner of behind-the-scenes coercion that led to her leaving the position.
This set the backdrop to Long-Bailey’s sacking. Starmer’s decision to remove her from her position has caused uproar from the Momentum wing of the party. They will have felt, given the direction Starmer seems to be taking the party in, that this decision was more of a political hit job than a reasonable response to her sharing of a questionable article. This was also coupled with Long-Bailey’s defence that the main thrust of this article was not concerning the Israel/Floyd connection at all, but rather a nugget of anti-Semitism buried deep within the piece. Whether or not Starmer was right to sack Long-Bailey is almost irrelevant – the anger mounting in some Labour factions from people who were already discontented with his leadership may cause problems down the line.
Herein lies Starmer’s issue. As the saying goes, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Starmer has unleashed an opponent who has already stated her desire to lead the party, who is no longer restrained by Shadow Cabinet responsibility and is now in a position where she can assume leadership of the resistance. Now she is out of her cage, it is perhaps only a matter of time before the political niceties fade away and Long-Bailey become a menace to the current leadership.
However, putting rights or wrongs aside, I think in the long term Starmer has made a very wise political decision. For reasons of unity and inclusivity, it was incumbent on Starmer to include Long-Bailey in his Shadow Cabinet to begin with. Removing her now will help him to mould the party in his own image, with a more streamlined Shadow Cabinet all striving towards the same goal.
Beyond this, though, is the fact that Starmer has tarnished his opponent, thereby handicapping her for the future. Say Long-Bailey were to mount a leadership challenge against Starmer… all he would have to do in response is point to her ineligibility due to her previous anti-Semitism affiliation. The main trouble with Corbyn as a leader was that, during his time as a backbencher, he had racked up an unsavoury list of misdemeanours. Long-Bailey, however, didn’t have that image problem until now. From now on, she will be known as the Shadow Cabinet Minister removed for anti-Semitism – a label not easily shaken.
In removing Long-Bailey, Starmer is also ridding himself of some of the marks that have tarnished the Labour Party over the past five years. He can use Long-Bailey as an example of how seriously he is taking the removal of anti-Semitism in the party. Certainly, the reaction from the Jewish Labour movement indicates that they have started to regain trust in the Labour Party as a result. Starmer’s image will also improve in the eyes of the rest of the electorate as a result. There is widespread agreement around the country that the Labour Party has an anti-Semitism issue. This move will help dissipate those concerns.
The decision from Starmer may also be seen as a message to the other candidate who ran against him in the leadership race, showing his authority over the party. Lisa Nandy, who now finds herself in the Shadow Cabinet, may take Long-Bailey’s sacking as a warning to “stay in line”. That would only increase Starmer’s control over the party further.
All things being considered for the time being, from Starmer’s point of view, the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet is a good move. However, the longer-term impacts of the decision are still up in the air. As the Momentum clouds begin to gather against Starmer in response to his decision, it will be interesting to see how these events play out.