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Jeremy Corbyn's first reshuffle: the changes are small but important

Jeremy Corbyn has put himself in a good position for the battles to come.

“The truth is that these events are always very bad and perhaps the worst of all the duties of a PM," Harold Macmillan wrote in his diary before he prepared for the reshuffle that came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives.

Having sacked his Chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd, and fearing resignations by Lloyd’s allies, Macmillan decided to drown out their protests with a bigger purge, and sacked a third of his Cabinet in total.

Macmillan’s massacre – which started at six o’clock in the evening on 12 July 1962 and ended shortly before seven in the evening on 13 July 1962 – held the dubious distinction of being the longest reshuffle since universal suffrage at 25 hours and the longest since 1851, which lasted for a month.

But Macmillan’s record was smashed by Jeremy Corbyn in his second reshuffle as leader, who took 33 hours to reconfigure his frontbench.

But there the similarities end. Macmillan’s government never recovered its balance after his reshuffle – Corbyn is in a better position for the struggles to come.

That’s despite the fact that Jon Ashworth and Maria Eagle, from the party’s centre, remains as one of Corbyn’s NEC picks and the Whips’ Office remains populated by MPs who are, for the most part, Corbyn-sceptics.

Surprisingly, it appears that not only has Rosie Winterton kept her job as Chief Whip, but that Alan Simpson and Mark Tami will remain in post as her deputies, too. But that is probably good news for Corbynism if not Corbyn in the medium term. Putting more sympathetic MPs in backroom roles in the Whips’ Office means that the next generation of the Labour left would have remained out of the public eye – Team Corbyn’s big media problem at present is that Diane Abbott remains the only politician who is both impeccably pro-Corbyn and knows her way around a television studio. 

Elsewhere, not everything when as well as some of Corbyn’s allies might have hoped. Hilary Benn remains in place after lobbying by his colleagues, many of whom would have walked out if Benn had been fired. That ensured an all-male top four – Andy Burnham at Home is considered immovable, while John McDonnell is essential to the project just as Gordon Brown and George Osborne were and are essential to Tony Blair and David Cameron.

But Corbyn ended up with a bigger prize in the end, in the shape of the Defence brief. Maria Eagle remains in the shadow cabinet but at Culture, while, for the first time since 1988, the Defence brief is held by a unilateralist in the shape of Emily Thornberry.

It is important to understand that while the era of New Labour might be the crucial period as far as younger supporters of Corbyn and his supportive commentators are concerned, for the major players both around the leadership in Westminster and in the country, it is Neil Kinnock’s leadership of the party that is marks Labour’s fall from grace, not the Blair-Brown years.

“It was emblematic of Neil Kinnock’s turn to the right,” Diane Abbott told me recently, “that he abandoned his lifelong commitment to nuclear disarmament.” Corbyn and his allies now have a golden opportunity to undo Kinnock’s apostasy over the next year – with a policy change at party conference next year and with more full-throated opposition to the deterrent now that Eagle, who favours retaining Trident, is no longer in the Defence brief. While "revenge" for the battle gone over Syria may have been delayed, Corbyn is a better place for the one to come over Trident.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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