SIR KEIR STARMER has swiftly sacked one of his frontbenchers after she was accused of encouraging anti-Semitism.
The Labour leader dismissed Rebecca Long-Bailey, a beaten rival in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn, for sharing unfounded claims that Israel was to blame for George Floyd’s killing in the US.
Political heavyweights said the decisive action — in contrast to Boris Johnson’s reluctance to sack under-fire colleagues — showed he possessed the ruthlessness needed to take Labour to power.
And Jewish leaders said it showed he was serious about ending the anti-Semitism in the party ranks that blighted his predecessor’s time at the helm.
But Corbyn ally Ms Long-Bailey was defended by supporters including the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said she did not deserve to be dismissed.
The row blew up over remarks made by the actress Maxine Peake in an interview. The Dinnerladies star told The Independent: ‘The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.’
The pro-Corbyn actress was accused of endorsing anti-Semitic tropes by blaming the killing that ignited global Black Lives Matter protests on the world’s only Jewish state. Last night she issued a clarification — accepting the claims were untrue and saying she found anti-Semitism ‘abhorrent’.
After the article appeared yesterday morning, Ms Long-Bailey tweeted it, calling Peake an ‘absolute diamond’.
When she was met with criticism, she said she had been praising Peake’s ‘significant achievements’, rather than ‘all aspects of the article’. But Sir Keir revealed at about 3pm that she had been axed as shadow education secretary. He said: ‘The sharing of that article was wrong, because the article contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.’
Conservative former chancellor George Osborne tweeted in response: ‘This guy is very serious about getting into Downing Street.’
And former Labour PM Tony Blair said Sir Keir ‘looks as if he could be prime minister’.
Mr McDonnell tweeted: ‘Throughout discussion of anti-Semitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not anti-Semitic.
‘I don’t believe therefore that this article is or @RLong_Bailey should’ve been sacked.’
But the Board of Deputies of British Jews thanked Sir Keir for ‘backing his words with actions over anti-Semitism’.
And the Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: ‘This is what zero tolerance looks like.’