Rebecca Long-Bailey was yesterday sacked from her Shadow Cabinet role as Labour’s Education frontbencher. I have for some time viewed Ms Long-Bailey as an inappropriate standard-bearer for the Left (see earlier blogs). She never impressed as a gifted, or even likeable leader. She had displayed none of the qualities a successful leader needed. I regret the blame lies with Jeremy Corbyn who should have used his five years of leadership to bring forward a younger generation of potential leadership candidates, women ideally.
And Long-Bailey had hardly sparkled in her new role. After all her opposite number was the hapless Gavin Williamson, floundering at Education, once even sacked as a security risk by Theresa May. The government made an utter mess of its attempt to re-open schools this term. Why wasn’t Long-Bailey on our screens nightly during that fiasco putting the Labour case? I must be fair. The Waugh Zone (25 June) reports ‘an insider’ claiming Long-Bailey had impressed the leader with her behind the scenes work on summer free school meals, a campaign picked up by footballer Marcus Rashford to force a memorable government U-turn. Admirably, she also worked closely with the teacher unions but she fluffed a golden opportunity to reach a wider public at a time of raised awareness.
Her offence was to retweet a tweet from actor Maxine Peake which allegedly contained an anti-Semitic trope. This is not the place to discuss anti-Semitism. I yield to no-one in my admiration of Maxine Peake, who combines great talent with fierce political commitment. But surely a prominent Shadow Cabinet member should have checked the claims were accurate? Labour List (26 June) reports Peake retracting her earlier comments, saying in a statement: “I was inaccurate in my assumption of American police training and its sources. I find racism and antisemitism abhorrent and I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary.” Long-Bailey was signalling support for Peake’s Corbynista position. She was sloppy.
Now there is great danger. Keir Starmer has already made a strategic blunder by supporting the government over easing the lockdown – even though this has been marked by the usual Johnsonian incoherence and lack of thoroughness. Yes, his careful preparation and examination of the prime minister is gaining him ground at PMQs. But he displays little fire or magic, nor any awareness they might be needed: it’s like watching a snail chasing a butterfly.
This sacking, the first from his Shadow Cabinet, has had a predictably polarising effect. The Left is pouring energy into a ‘reinstate Rebecca’ campaign; the Right is dancing on her grave in glee. I don’t believe Starmer is a Blairite-in-Disguise, waiting his moment to gain power by scotching the Left. I admire his thoroughness. Like many on the Left I acknowledge his leadership victory and want to give him a fair wind: who but Labour can lift Johnsonian fog from the land? But he is now thrust into a position where his next moves will be overinterpreted. And all because of someone who should not have had the job in the first place.