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The Great Shuffle Kerfuffle

Corbyn's shadow cabinet reshuffle ruffled a few feathers last week. But was it really that big of a deal?

Zoe Fletcher

Naked Politics Blogger 

Last week’s Labour reshuffle caused a media frenzy, with on-air resignations and internal wars being played out in public. Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, warned Corbyn against enacting a “revenge reshuffle” and was subsequently sacked for a string of comments attacking just about every aspect of the leadership. Comments such as “inept”, “a distraction” and “incompetent” abounded in the press with political commentators and Labour moderates alike lambasting Jeremy for carrying out a reshuffle at all. It is true that the will-he-won’t-he speculation of the Christmas period detracted from real coverage and debate on the Tories’ damaging social policies. Corbyn might have been better off quietly sacking the few individuals he deemed should go, rather than naming the exercise a ‘reshuffle’ and dragging it out over three days, whilst making only minimal changes.

Following the sacking of Dugher, a raft of shadow cabinet ministers rallied behind him and when shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden was sacked the following day, three junior ministers resigned in protest. After the reshuffle concluded, others lined up to resign, presumably with the intention of causing maximum political harm. Alice McGovern resigned, going on BBC’s Sunday Politics to complain that shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had called her economic review group “hard-right”, and that working with the Labour leadership was impossible. Shadow attorney general Catherine McKinnell is the latest to resign, also citing concerns over the leadership. It is hard to see these responses as anything other than “revenge resignations”, with the sole aim of causing a headache for Corbyn.

Badly executed the reshuffle may have been, but Labour moderates seeking a media platform to air their grievances against their leader, caused more distraction from the Government’s democracy-trashing policies, and stoked reports of a Labour “civil war”. Jeremy is right when he says we shouldn’t be talking about the reshuffle; we should be focusing on opposing the Government. When will Corbyn’s critics realise he isn’t going anywhere? The parliamentary Labour party should respect his mandate and support the kind of “new politics” swathes of the public clearly want. Debate is healthy, but undermining Corbyn is making forming a strong, coherent opposition near impossible.

When Jeremy Corbyn smashed the leadership election, he won a huge mandate for left-wing politics. With scores of MPs opposing his views, he declared differing opinions could share the front bench. However, following open dissent and public attacks on his leadership, his message was in danger of being lost amongst Labour infighting. Who can blame him for choosing to sack those who openly mock his ideals, and replacing them with allies? After all, he was voted leader based on those ideals; such as opposing the renewal of Trident. Corbyn has shown he is serious about having a debate about the party’s position on Trident, after shunting Maria Eagle sideways to replace Dugher as culture secretary, and replacing her with anti-Trident ally, Emily Thornberry.

By keeping Hilary Benn in post as shadow foreign secretary on the condition he desists from actively opposing the leadership’s views on foreign policy, Corbyn avoided a mass revolt from MPs. If the front bench can unite and form a consensus on key policies, this could spell trouble for the Conservatives, who already have warring factions over Europe. Tory complacency could be swiftly eroded, if Labour forms one voice and begins to offer real opposition to the Government’s destructive agenda.

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