Word reaches me from several sources that Jeremy Corbyn is indeed going to clear the shadow frontbenches of those who have shown disloyalty thus far, most prominent amongst the casualties being Angela Eagle and Hilary Benn – however, Angela’s sister, Maria, looks to be in the firing line as well. And it could apparently happen as soon as January 4th, the next proper working day in Westminster. All of this has been in the rumour mill for some time now, but it looks closer to becoming reality than ever before.
Whatever else it would be, such a move would be ballsy on Corbyn’s part. There was huge criticism directed towards him regarding Angela Eagle not getting the shadow chancellor job over McDonnell when Corbyn first announced his team, partly on the gender equality issue; to sack her less than four months later altogether would make some people extremely upset (while at the same time also sacking some other very bright female shadow ministers). Getting rid of Hilary Benn is another one. Having offered a free vote on Syria, partly to appease Benn himself, what did Corbyn expect? To punish Hilary for “that speech” is a little rich considering Jeremy could have watched him step down before it ever happened.
However, this is what I will say: Corbyn should indeed sack those who don’t agree with his leadership. He’s the Labour leader and thus he should pick people who share his viewpoints or at least those whose viewpoints he respects to man the shadow cabinet posts. This is the way things work in a parliamentary democracy. In fact, one of Corbyn’s failings is that he has outwardly been too willing to compromise with his MPs, while behind the scenes denying the plots against them (“What, Momentum? They exist to create car boot and cake sales!”). Better that he should start doing the thing people supposedly liked about him in the first place, i.e. be a straight talking man of principle.
The question, of course, is will he? At every showdown so far with this old guard of the Labour Party, who have disliked his viewpoints on most things, he has most definitely backed down. Now we are led to believe that he will sack them all in one fell swoop? Given what we’ve seen so far, it seems unlikely. And yet if he backs down again he will seem weaker than ever. So I have no idea what will happen. I await the 4th with interest.
So the next question is, provided Jeremy doesn’t bottle it, who comes in to replace the “rebels”? Livingstone can’t at present due to not being a parliamentarian, but he’ll act like he’s in the shadow cabinet regardless via being given “leadership” roles on various policy areas. Shed the PLP of the existing shadow ministers who look likely to step down, rule out those who have ruled themselves out, and you end up with….not much. I would expect a lot of appointments from the Lords. It’s a good thing Jeremy isn’t a big fan of electoral and constitutional reform or he’d be having to carry that can as well. Anyhow, I suppose the real thing is: does any of this matter now that all policy is supposedly going to be via the membership? Interesting times ahead.
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