Keir Starmer’s approach to party discipline is being favourably contrasted with Boris Johnson’s after the Labour leader sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet for sharing an article that included an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. The argument goes that Starmer has shown quick, clear and decisive action by letting Long-Bailey go whereas the Prime Minister has failed to do so by sticking with his Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
Starmer’s decisive action on Thursday has seen him win praise from unlikely places. However, within his own party it has led to a backlash from those on the left. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among a group of socialist MPs who met Starmer this morning to express their concerns and call for Long-Bailey to be reinstated. The question is whether they can do anything in response to make Starmer’s life difficult. The fact that former shadow chancellor John McDonnell resorted to sharing an online petition calling for Long-Bailey to get her job back suggests that they have limited levers to pull.
The metric that will be of most encouragement to the Leader’s Office is public opinion. A YouGov poll has found that 47 per cent of the public believe the Labour leader was right to fire Long-Bailey, compared with just 12 per cent who say he was wrong to do so. Starmer made the calculation that it is worth isolating a section of his party – on the far left – if it means sending a clear message on how seriously he takes the issue of anti-Semitism. This poll suggests he has succeeded.
It’s a different story with Jenrick. That same poll found that 39 per cent of the public said the Housing Secretary should resign in light of a series of allegations over his relationship with the billionaire property developer Richard Desmond and the granting of planning permission that was later deemed unlawful. Only 11 per cent say he should not. But unless substantial new information comes to light in the coming days, Jenrick looks safe in his role. This is for two reasons. Firstly, sacking him wouldn’t make the issue go away. If anything it would do the opposite, with questions already being asked about Johnson’s own contact with Desmond. Secondly, No. 10’s support for Jenrick is being taken as a sign by senior Tories that this is an operation that will look after MPs – and can hold firm when it needs to.