Starmer, Labour Party accused of purging left-wing candidates

LONDON — Jon Stewart has called it the “dumbest thing the U.K. has done since electing Boris Johnson.”

And many British progressives fear the opposition Labour Party’s decision to bar a number of left-wing candidates, including two women of color, is the latest sign that the party is lurching to the political right as it bids to return to power after 14 years.

This long-standing battle for the party’s soul has flared up to consume the early campaign of the apparent government-in-waiting, which opinion polls suggest is set to romp to victory in the country’s election July 4.

Though Labour needs a broad caucus of voters to win power, infighting and accusations that it’s selling out its liberal traditions — including being slow to back a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip — risk not just bad press, but also the possibility of hemorrhaging votes on the left.

Faiza Shaheen, an economist on the left of the party, was until Wednesday night a candidate in Chingford and Woodford Green, an area in northeast London.

While out knocking on doors, she received an email telling her that Labour had  removed her, she said, because of 14 posts on X and Twitter, as it was previously,  which she had liked over the past decade.

Faiza Shaheen speaks a during a visit to Chingford in east London on September 28, 2019.
Shaheen is now in negotiations with her legal team over the move.Tolga Akmen / AFP via Getty Images file

The post from earlier this month featured a decade-old clip from comedian Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” about the difficulty of having a measured discussion about the Middle East. Alongside the video, however, another user had written a 182-word post about how the “Israel lobby influences policy in various ways” and “hysterical people” defending Israel’s actions were often “mobilized by professional organizations.”

Speaking to the BBC, Shaheen, 41, said she did not remember liking the tweet but had probably only seen the “Daily Show” sketch, rather than the accompanying text. She added that she had probably read the post in haste while breastfeeding her 6-week-old baby.

“I know what’s wrong with it: The line that’s there about ‘professional organizations’ plays into a trope,” said Shaheen, a Muslim whose parents are from Pakistan and Fiji. “I absolutely don’t agree with that and I’m sorry about that.”

But, she added,  this “one tweet” should be seen in the context of her other actions, including organizing an interfaith vigil with a local rabbi after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

“As you can imagine, I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” she said in a statement Thursday, adding that she was meeting with her campaign and legal teams. “I’m in such shock.”

James Schneider, former head of strategic communications for the party’s previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, told NBC News that those on the left of the party were being “purged” by the current leader, Keir Starmer.

“In their place, he has stacked his party machine and future parliamentary caucus with corporate lobbyists and war apologists.”

Labour party leader Keir Starmer speaks at campaign event in Abergavenny, while on the General Election campaign trail, in Abergavenny, Wales, on May 30, 2024.
Starmer, who campaigned in Abergavenny, Wales, on Thursday, is the favorite to be the next British prime minister.Stefan Rousseau / AP

Shaheen’s story was quickly seized on by prominent liberal and former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan.

“Hey @jonstewart, not sure if you’re following the Jon-Stewart-related news out of the U.K.,” he wrote, “but Labour parliamentary candidate and Muslim woman @faizashaheen has just been suspended tonight from the Labour Party for liking on Twitter this old Israel video sketch of yours.”

Stewart responded with his message Wednesday night saying it was the dumbest thing Britain had done since electing Johnson, the former prime minister, in 2019, adding, “What the actual f—…”

The pair did not reference the accompanying text, which appears to have formed the basis of the complaint against Shaheen. NBC News has contacted the Labour Party for comment.


Many observers see Shaheen’s case as just the latest outbreak of a factional war drawn along ideological lines.

All polls suggest that Starmer is set to win handsomely in the election, bringing an end to 14 years of Conservative rule during which many Britons feel like their nation has declined.

His allies say his transformation of the party has been a necessary one after a hefty 2019 loss under lifelong socialist Corbyn, whose tenure was clouded by accusations of antisemitism that he denied.

“This Labour Party is a changed Labour Party,” Starmer has repeated in speeches.

But Starmer’s critics on the left say that he has not only made the party more bland and centrist, but has also veered into the territory of the right, aping Conservative policies and moving too slowly on the Israel-Hamas war.

It’s through this lens that Labour has been seen as jettisoning progressive candidates in favor of those more ideologically loyal.

Diane Abbott, Britain’s first Black woman lawmaker, said Wednesday that she had been banned from standing in the election following a monthslong investigation into her conduct after she suggested that groups including Irish and Jewish people had not experienced “racism” in the same way as Black people had.

There was some confusion over her future as Starmer later said no decision had been made.

Diane Abbott joins pro-Palestine protestors in Trafalgar Square calling for a ceasefire in Gaza
Abbott is seen by many on the left as a trailblazer, and may yet run as a Labour candidate in July. Phil Lewis / Sipa USA via AP file

And Lloyd Russell-Moyle, another lawmaker, said he had been suspended over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint about my behavior eight years ago” — without providing details.

Starmer’s allies say these moves are about standards and ethics.

Asked if left-wing candidates were being blocked from standing, Starmer told Sky News on Thursday, “No. I’ve said repeatedly over the last two years” that “I want the highest quality candidates. That’s been the position for a very long time.”

But critics on the left of the party see something more nefarious.

“It couldn’t be more obvious which side he’s on,” said Schneider, the former Corbyn aide.

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