Keir Starmer sacks shadow education secretary

New Labour leader clear that restoring trust with Jewish community is a 'number one priority.'

Keir Starmer sacks shadow education secretary

LONDON — U.K. Labour Leader Keir Starmer sacked one of his top team for sharing an article which he said contained an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.”

Starmer took the decision Thursday afternoon, hours after Rebecca Long-Bailey approvingly retweeted an article published by the Independent in which actress Maxine Peake was quoted as saying: “Systemic racism is a global issue … The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The article initially suggested Amnesty International supported the claim but was subsequently updated to clarify that there was no suggestion by the charity that this training including neck-kneeling tactics. Israel also disputes the allegation.

The move is a clear indication that Starmer intends to break with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who was frequently accused of failing to deal with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

Long-Bailey shared the piece this morning saying Peake “is an absolute diamond.” Two hours later, she added that she retweeted the article because of Peake’s “significant achievements and because the thrust of her argument is to stay in the Labour Party” and stressed the retweet “wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article.”

But a spokesperson for Starmer said in a statement that the article “contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.”

“As leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority,” the spokesperson said. “Anti-Semitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.”

Long-Bailey later added that the wording of her tweet was “agreed in advance by the Labour Party Leader’s Office, but after posting I was subsequently instructed to take both this agreed clarification and my original retweet down. I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.”

Earlier this year, Starmer defeated Long-Bailey in the party’s leadership contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

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Former UK health secretary: ‘Groupthink’ slowed coronavirus response

Jeremy Hunt ruled out a return to the Cabinet this summer.

Former UK health secretary: ‘Groupthink’ slowed coronavirus response

The U.K.’s former health secretary claimed the country’s slow response to coronavirus is partly down to “groupthink” among top scientists and civil servants that led to a focus on preparing for pandemic flu rather than learning from previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS in Asia.

Jeremy Hunt, who now chairs the House of Commons health committee, told POLITICO that if scientific advice presented to ministers was more “transparent,” the U.K. may have taken different decisions in the earlier stages of the coronavirus crisis.

The U.K. currently has the third highest death toll in the world, behind the U.S. and Brazil. Neil Ferguson, a former top scientific adviser to the U.K. government, told a Commons committee on June 10 that the death toll could have been halved if the U.K. had locked down earlier.

Speaking at a POLITICO event, Jeremy Hunt said there have been issues in the way scientists have advised the government. “I do come back to the idea of transparency of scientific advice,” he said.

“That would widen the gene pool of scientists giving advice to ministers. We need to avoid the groupthink that clearly exists, we need to challenge the groupthink that meant we thought we were all fine because we’d prepared for pandemic flu, when actually we needed to be thinking about pandemic SARS.”

“We didn’t learn the lessons of SARS and MERS … So I think that is the kind of structural change we need to try and address.”

Hunt, who ran against Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the Conservative party leadership last year, also said he would not seek a front-line ministerial post if Johnson reshuffles his Cabinet this summer, as has been reported.

“I wasn’t expecting to be leaving the Cabinet last July but when I did, I experienced something that [former Conservative Leader] William Hague described to me recently as the difference between your life being in black and white and then suddenly being in color when you leave [front-line politics].”

“I’ve got three young kids and they’re just at an age when I want to spend more time with them. I don’t rule it out at some time in the reasonably distant future if anyone will have me, but right now this is the right place for me,” he said.

For the latest information and analysis on COVID-19 and its global implications sign up for POLITICO’s Daily Coronavirus Update or update your preferences.

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