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John McTernan: Reshuffle Proves Corbyn’s In A Stand-Off With Labour

By John McTernan | 4:50 am, October 10, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet shows that he intends to bring not peace but a sword to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

First, actually holding a reshuffle showed that he had no intention of listening to Labour MPs who had voted overwhelmingly for a return to the traditional PLP practice of electing the Shadow Cabinet. That issue hung over Labour’s party conference – and was deferred by the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) after no agreement was possible.

In theory, the matter was going to come back to a special NEC away-day in November when the PLP demand to take back control could be considered in conjunction with Corbyn’s own reform package. In practice, this was really about the shifting balance of power on the NEC.

Corbyn supporters swept the constituency section and shifted it more towards Jeremy – but the new committee only came into office after Labour conference had ended. In reality, the reshuffle didn’t just ignore the PLP – Corbyn also deselected a moderate MP from the NEC and replaced him with a Corbynite MP.

This leads to the second point – the warfare with Labour MPs will continue. In the reshuffle, the widely respected Chief Whip Rosie Winterton was sacked and replaced by Brownite bruiser Nick Brown. This has led to resignations – in solidarity – from the Whips’ office. But more importantly, it provoked a stinging rebuke from John Cryer, the Chair of the PLP.

Cryer, a left-winger who was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group until his election as PLP chair, is a highly respected figure – with his own mandate. His email to MPs is worth quoting in full:

Dear Colleague,

As you will be very much aware, at the beginning of September the PLP voted overwhelmingly for the return of elections to the Shadow Cabinet.

This has never implied that the entire Shadow Cabinet should be elected; neither the PLP or the Parliamentary Committee were prescriptive in that regard.

This led to negotiations involving myself and the then chief whip, Rosie Winterton, and people from the leadership team.

As far as Rosie and I were concerned the talks were held in good faith with the aim of striking an agreement which would allow some places to be filled through elections while the leader would retain the right to appoint others.

We held a number of meetings, most recently during Labour conference, and were genuinely hopeful that we could get to an agreement which would have the chance of drawing the PLP together so that we could go forward in a more unified manner than has hitherto been the case. Rosie and I were keen to continue these negotiations this week and tried to arrange meetings with the leader’s office to come to an agreement as soon as possible.

However, it became clear on Wednesday that a reshuffle was under way, which had not been discussed or mentioned.

It now seems to me that the party’s leadership did not engage in the talks in any constructive way.

Obviously, I deeply regret this turn of events. As ever, if colleagues wish to raise any issues with me feel free to get in touch.

Best wishes,

John Cryer

Third, this stand-off between Corbyn and the PLP – exemplified by Cryer’s letter – reflects where the bulk of Labour MPs still are. They have shown immense solidarity throughout the onslaught on Jeremy. MPs resigned en masse, voted together to show no confidence in Corbyn and nominated one challenger to him.

Now they still mostly stand together outside the Shadow Cabinet. The highest profile refusenik is Ian Murray, Labour’s sole MP in Scotland, who refuses to return to the post of Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. But there are so many others. The handful of returners are celebrated by Corbynites in much the same way that Margaret Thatcher boasted of the “drift back to work” during the miners’ strike – but the truth is that Labour MPs are still sticking together.

So, it’s a stand-off – but with a twist.

Corbyn has taken his re-election as a mandate to be the same as he was before the leadership election – except worse. When the Tory conference was being held Corbyn was on a rambling holiday. He failed to respond to major announcements by Tory ministers – announcements that were so controversial, anti-business and unworkable that they have now been abandoned – because he was missing in action.

The first major political event that Corbyn attended after Labour conference was a “Stand Up To Racism” conference organised by a front for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). The SWP are widely condemned on the left for the way that they handled an internal scandal about alleged rape and sexual assault. Corbyn’s words at their meeting were revealing: “I consider it an honour to be amongst people I have known for many years”.

His appearance at this rally met wide protest, but the most interesting objections were from his supporters on the left. Writers who support Corbyn such as the thoughtful Owen Jones and the new media pioneer Aaron Bastani both condemned him.

Off the back of his leadership election, Corbyn is still master of all he surveys within the Labour Party. But this is a toxic combination – a failure to fight the Tory government, a trench warfare with the PLP and vocal criticism from the left. Not the end of the beginning, let alone the beginning of the end, but the start of something.