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Long reshuffle highlights titanic struggle for supremacy in Labour’s civil war

Long reshuffle highlights titanic struggle for supremacy in Labour’s civil war

🕔06.Jan 2016

Jeremy Corbyn’s 30-hour shadow cabinet reshuffle underlined the gulf that exists between Labour’s hard-left leader and the vast majority of the Parliamentary party, writes Paul Dale.

It took a very long time for Mr Corbyn to rearrange his top team and we will never know exactly what went on behind closed doors during the longest reshuffle in hsitory, but it is clear that even the few changes finally announced will pour oil on to the troubled waters of Labour’s simmering civil war at Westminster.

The important thing to understand about Mr Corbyn is this: he was not elected by Labour MPs.

In fact, he only scraped on to the ballot paper for the election to replace Ed Miliband because a number of MPs, for reasons not necessarily in the best interests of the party, felt Labour members should have an opportunity to vote for a hard-left candidate and that the poll should not be a run-off between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

How these people must now wish they could turn the clock back.

Most MPs did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn to lead Labour. He was elected thanks to overwhelming support from grassroots party members in constituency parties across the country. It is clear therefore that the story of his leadership, however long it lasts, will be of titanic conflict between the very small number of MPs that believe in Corbyn’s pure socialism and the very large number that regard Labour more as a mainstream European social democratic movement.

While the shadow cabinet reshuffle naturally grabbed media attention, the fuse on a smouldering long game has been lit and will play out at constituency parties where MPs critical of Mr Corbyn are likely to find themselves in danger of deselection.

In Birmingham Yardley, for example, MP Jess Phillips has been dismissive of Mr Corbyn, but it is far from clear her views are shared by Labour members who ultimately will decide whether she is the candidate at the 2020 General Election.

Having said she would “stab him in the front” if he harmed the Labour party, Ms Phillips appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme before the shadow cabinet reshuffle to accuse the Labour leader of “low-level, non-violent misogyny” by not appointing enough women to his top team.

There were only two sackings in the shadow cabinet reshuffle, but both were hugely symbolic.

Michael Dugher, dismissed as shadow culture secretary, is highly regarded and respected as a bright working class moderate who under normal circumstances should be looking forward to a long career at the top of the party.

His crime was to have supported UK military action in Syria and to have urged Mr Corbyn publicly not to sack those that took such a view.

Sources close to Mr Corbyn said Mr Dugher had been sacked for “disloyalty and incompetence”.

News of his dismissal was announced somewhat laconically by Mr Dugher on Twitter: “I’ve just been sacked by Jeremy Corbyn. I wished him a happy new year”.

Speaking afterwards on Sky TV, Mr Dugher said:

I think I tried to do my best in delivering some straight talking and honest politics, and I think it was a little too much for him, which is a shame.

The truth is, I think the real casualty today has been the ‘new politics’ that we were all promised four months ago by Jeremy.

Confirmation of Dugher’s sacking at 10am on Tuesday sparked a backlash by moderates who were intent on stopping Mr Corbyn from sacking shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn over his strongly held belief that Britain is right to bomb Syria. Frontbench resignations would almost certainly have occurred had Mr Corbyn decided to dismiss Mr Benn.

Within minutes of Mr Dugher announcing he had been sacked, some nine shadow ministers and numerous other Labour MPs lined up to pour scorn on the decision and throw their support behind him.

The very public intervention of deputy Labour leader Tom Watson probably stopped the reshuffle in its tracks, and certainly delayed further announcements. Mr Watson issued a statement:

Politicians with his (Mr Dugher) ability and commitment can make a difference in any role. Labour’s loss in the Shadow Cabinet will be compensated for by Michael’s free thought on the backbenches.

The key sentence here is: “Politicians with his ability and commitment can make a difference in any role. Labour’s loss in the Shadow Cabinet will be compensated for by Michael’s free thought on the backbenches.”

Clearly, opposition to Mr Corbyn will coalesce around Mr Dugher and others on the backbenches and Mr Watson appears to have no problem with that. Indeed, the tone of Mr Watson’s statement and the timing was extraordinary even in the long history of disputes between Labour leaders and their deputies.

In an indication of troubled times ahead, Jonathan Reynolds, shadow rail minister, resigned from the front bench hours after details of the reshuffle were confirmed.

He announced on Twitter his decision and posted his resignation letter on Facebook, adding:

On reflection regarding yesterday’s Labour reshuffle, I have decided that it’s best if I serve the Party as a backbencher. I’ve written to Jeremy this morning to let him know.

Mr Reynolds was closely followed by shadow foreign affairs minister Steven Doughty who announced his decision live in a television interview, and by shadow defence minister Kevan Jones. Mr Jones said he could not continue to serve under Emily Thornberry, the new shadow defence secretary, who opposes Britain renewing the Trident nuclear missile system.

The sacking of shadow Europe minister, Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden for “disloyalty” after he publicly condemned those who blame the actions of the West for Islamist terrorism, unleashed a fresh wave of anger.

Dudley North MP Ian Austin used Twitter to call the sacking “vindictive and stupid”. Mr McFadden had been a “serious, credible and popular shadow minister, respected and liked on all sides of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr Austin added.

In a statement, Mr McFadden said:

Mr Corbyn told me he does not want me to continue to serve on his front bench, in particular because of questions I asked about terrorism and national security in the Commons statement following the Paris terrorist attacks.

It is his prerogative to decide his front bench team and I will continue to support and work for Labour in any way I can.

In moving shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle to culture and replacing her with left-winger Emily Thornbury, Mr Corbyn seems certain to have laid the groundwork for a fresh Labour battle on the future of Britain’s Trident missiles.

Unlike Maria Eagle, Ms Thornberry backs her leader’s opposition to the deterrent, telling the BBC in September:

I don’t think being against nuclear weapons is that zany.

But critics have already pointed out that she was forced to resign from Ed Miliband’s front bench over a tweet in which she appeared to sneer at the sight of a St. George’s Cross flag being flown from a house in Rochester.

Here is a full list of Labour’s shadow cabinet, following Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle.

Leader of the Opposition – Jeremy Corbyn

Deputy Leader, Party Chair and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister – Tom Watson

Shadow First Secretary of State; Shadow Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary – Angela Eagle

Shadow Chancellor – John McDonnell

Shadow Chief Treasury Secretary – Seema Malhotra

Shadow Home Secretary – Andy Burnham

Shadow Foreign Secretary – Hilary Benn

Opposition Chief Whip – Dame Rosie Winterton

Shadow Health Secretary – Heidi Alexander

Shadow Education Secretary – Lucy Powell

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary – Owen Smith

Shadow Defence Secretary – Emily Thornberry

Shadow Lord Chancellor, Shadow Justice Secretary – Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary – Jon Trickett

Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary – Lisa Nandy

Shadow Commons Leader – Chris Bryant

Shadow Transport Secretary – Lilian Greenwood

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary – Vernon Coaker

Shadow International Development Secretary – Diane Abbott

Shadow Scotland Secretary – Ian Murray

Shadow Wales Secretary – Nia Griffith

Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary – Kerry McCarthy

Shadow Women and Equalities Minister – Kate Green

Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary – Maria Eagle

Shadow Young People and Voter Registration Minister – Gloria De Piero

Shadow Mental Health Minister – Luciana Berger

Shadow Lords Leader – Baroness Smith of Basildon

Lords Chief Whip – Lord Bassam of Brighton

Shadow Attorney General – Catherine McKinnell

Shadow Minister without Portfolio – Jonathan Ashworth

Shadow Housing and Planning Minister – John Healey

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