Corbyn’s reshuffle shows how he wants to imprint his ideology on the party

by Frazer Loveman

It’s quite hard to write anything original about the Night, then day, then night again, of Corbyn’s Knives, given that most topics were covered during the interminable, day and a half long re-organisation of the Labour top team.

In the longest re-shuffle since the emancipation of women (thanks to the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush for that gem) Corbyn made the grand total of two sackings, both of ministers with limited name recognition among the general population, while appointing one who is most notable for a Twitter gaffe.

It does make you wonder quite what the point of this reshuffle was. It was previewed two weeks ago as a ‘revenge’ reshuffle, with Corbyn planning to purge those who had disagreed with him over Syria.

This, actually, made a fair deal of sense. Corbyn, to his credit, had attempted to create as broad a tent as possible in the shadow cabinet in order to appease party moderates, but the idea of allowing dissent within his top team unravelled the moment Hilary Benn took the dispatch box during the Syrian airstrikes debate.

It stood to reason then, that Corbyn would want to bring his own people into the shadow cabinet, to bolster his position as leader. Again, fair enough, at least then the Labour Party could finally resemble a united front, whether the moderate sections of the party liked it or not. Corbyn is leader with, as we’re constantly reminded, a large mandate and he’s quite at liberty to mould the party in his image.

But, in the cold light of day, the new shadow cabinet doesn’t seem overly different to the old version.

The big headline is Maria Eagle moving from Defence to Culture, Media and Sport, with her old post being filled by the former shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry.

Thornberry backed Corbyn for the leadership, and it was odd that she wasn’t offered a position in the original formation of the shadow cabinet. The main reason she’s been moved to defence is her opposition to Trident, meaning that Corbyn won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of being upstaged from the dispatch box by his own, supposed, allies.

Though Eagle’s move to DCMS will be touted as a sideways move, with the Trident debate looming it’s obviously a demotion for one of the high profile Syria rebels.

The two sackings were also members of “The 66”.

Michael Dugher had gained notoriety in the days preceding the reshuffle by slamming Corbyn in the New Statesman and paid for it with his job, subsequently being branded as incompetent by Team Corbyn.

Dugher is an ally of Andy Burnham and Tom Watson, so to see Corbyn cut ties with him is something of a surprise, given that he’s relying on Labour’s soft-left to prop him up in the PLP, as his own list of supporters mostly consists of members of the 2015 intake and Labour’s dinosaurs.

The Pat McFadden sacking, however, represents a more important move. The charge of “disloyalty” is what is most notable, with the reason cited being that McFadden called for Corbyn to reject the notion that the Paris terrorist attacks were somehow caused by Western actions in the debate that followed the atrocities.

This sacking of McFadden, along with the move of Thornberry to defence demonstrates that Corbyn is determined to at least shape the Labour party’s foreign policy in his own image (or should that be in the image of Stop The War?).

The idea that it is now a disloyalty to the Labour party to suggest that we should hold terrorists responsible for terrorism rather than blame the West is facetious in the extreme, but this appears to be what Corbyn actually believes.

McFadden highlighted this obvious lack of profundity in some of those who now lead the Labour party and it was decided that he had to go; this is the beginning of the end for dissent in the Labour party.

Similarly, it seems clear that the Labour party will now be of the position that we should scrap Trident, given that Thornberry will lead the defence review alongside fellow unilateralist Ken Livingstone.

This is likely a policy that will sit well with the membership, certainly those who voted for Corbyn, but given the overwhelming support for Trident among the British population it’s hard to see it as anything but a vote loser come 2020.

The final step in bringing in Corbyn-politik would have been to move Hilary Benn, but it appears that Benn has built such a following in Parliament that any sacking would have led to mass resignations. A deal has been agreed to that Benn will not dissent from the Party Line as a frontbencher, but it’ll be interesting to see if that lasts if it really is the case that a Benn sacking would lead to mass exodus: does Corbyn have enough real allies to fill 11 shadow cabinet briefs? (Also, imagine how long that reshuffle would last)

This reshuffle is not likely to be perceived as badly by the public as it has been among the Westminster politicos, to be honest it will hardly have made an impression and will have been forgotten about within two months.

However, it does have major implications for how the country will perceive the Labour Party in coming months. David Cameron will no doubt run out the greatest hits on “Labour is a threat to national security” and it seems unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn is going to be the man to make a coherent argument in favour of scrapping Trident, given that he’s been unable to land a blow on the PM in his time as leader so far.

The more important issue within the Labour party, however, is that it is now Corbyn’s way or the highway on foreign policy and defence. If the party line is really now going to be that we are blaming Western imperialism for terrorism, as opposed to nutters with guns and suicide vests and evil, warped, ideologies then surely all hope is lost.

What appeared to many on the outside to be Corbyn moving a group of people who are never going to be in government around a bunch of imaginary jobs was in fact a tactical power grab by the leader in the area of debate that he is most engaged with.

Corbyn now expects the shadow cabinet to fall in behind him on foreign policy, with dissent now a crime punishable by sacking. How long this lasts remains to be seen with the debate on Trident looming and so many advocates (Watson, Burnham and Benn being the major three) so close to Corbyn but it seems that the Corbyn project has now entered its second stage as he begins to imprint his own ideology on those in the party leadership.

Frazer Loveman is a history and politics student at the University of Southampton

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9 Responses to “Corbyn’s reshuffle shows how he wants to imprint his ideology on the party”

  1. John R says:

    One aspect about Trident renewal is that the Trade Unions who backed Jeremy Corbyn disagree with his stance on this. They, after all, have many thousands of members reliant on jobs based on it.

    Their views will, no doubt, be vocal in the months to come.

  2. Tafia says:

    to bolster his position as leader.

    Any time the PLP wish to pick a candidate to challenge Corbyn they are free to do soprovided they can find enough people wishing to commit suicide and sign the nomination papaers – bearing in mind that Corbyn will almost certainly win by quite a margin and the candidate and nominees will face expulsion possibly for life if they lose and if not expelled will almost certainly be deselected.

    High stakes game. Put up (if you aren’t cowards) or shut up but for Christ’s sake stop whining like little girls. You’re actually viewed as rather pathetic by the public at large.

  3. Corbyn’s reshuffle shows how he wants to imprint his ideology on the party

    Unlike Tony Blair’s reshuffles which were all on the basis of merit?

    Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Blair’s priority was to have all shades of Labour Party opinion freely expressed as freely from the front benches?


  4. Touchstone says:

    As if further proof were needed that Labour is now the Westminster branch of Stop the War. This “reshuffle” betrays Corbyns monomaniacal obsession with foreign policy, but the voters know it’s just a bunch of lefty nobodies shuffling between their imaginary jobs. Irrelevant to the real needs, as someone once said.

  5. James Martin says:

    “…the reason cited being that McFadden called for Corbyn to reject the notion that the Paris terrorist attacks were somehow caused by Western actions in the debate that followed the atrocities.” Oh dear Frazer, given that you then go on to hang the rest of your article and its conclusions on this one mistaken claim anyone would think you were still in the lower sixth rather than in your second year of a degree, what your professors think of your essay technique heaven knows! McFadden was *not* sacked for those unremarkable views, he was sacked – rightly in my view – because of the manner in which he used them along with a handful of backbenchers to give a patsy question to Cameron on the floor of the Commons with the deliberate aim of then allowing Cameron to attack Corbyn. It also had the effect of boosting Cameron of course, and for any Labour MP to do this is unacceptable but for a shadow cabinet minister who has been around long enough to know the score it was unforgivable. I can only assume that McFadden was deliberately testing how far he and others could go in publicly undermining Corbyn, and thankfully they now have their answer.

  6. Anne says:

    The unions will be supporting their members regarding Trident – many jobs depend on ship building – Corbyn will not get their backing over the trident issue. I find it strange that unions support Corbyn anyway – working people are not voting for him.

  7. Tony says:

    “and it seems unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn is going to be the man to make a coherent argument in favour of scrapping Trident,”

    Here’s one:

    “Our independent nuclear deterrent is not independent and doesn’t constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as an enemy. It is a waste of money and it is a diversion of funds. But some people have not caught up with this reality.”

    Michael Portillo, former Conservative Defence

    I also think that leaders do seek to imprint their ideology on the party. How come this is only wrong if Corbyn does it?

  8. Tafia says:

    How come this is only wrong if Corbyn does it?

    Because the Labour right in it’s denial and refusal to accept the reality of the position iyt is in, is pinning the blame on him instead of themselves.

    They just simply cannot accept that the membership have rejected them convincingly so they spend all their time trying to tell people what Corbyn is (and exagerating) without realising that they already know what he is and still prefer him to them.

  9. @Tafia,

    Well said.

    The focus, for all sections of Labour Party opinion, has to now be on opposing the Tories.

    We’ve had the election according to rules agreed by nearly everyone in the Party. Not me incidentally! I preferred the old system but just as I accepted the majority vote on the method of the election so those who didn’t vote for JC have to accept the majority verdict on that too.

    Accept it or leave. That’s the choice.

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