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Thangam Debbonaire MP: Why I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

He appointed me as a shadow culture minister without my knowledge or consent while I was in the middle of cancer treatment, only to sack me shortly afterwards.

Many people have asked me for specific examples of my problems are with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Here is my experience.

On 14 January 2016, Jeremy announced that he had appointed me as a shadow minister for arts and culture without my knowledge or consent while I was in the middle of cancer treatment.

He then sacked me the next day when he realised he had given away part of someone else’s role.

But didn’t bother to tell me that either.

By the time I had sought and received confirmation from the Labour Whips’ Office that I was indeed shadow arts and culture minister, to serve under shadow culture secretary Maria Eagle MP, my office had been besieged by the press and the story was out.

I decided to make the best of it and to serve. I worked on his arts policy while I was still having treatment but in Bristol. Bristol West constituents said they were delighted – a good fit for the constituency, and a good decision to ask someone who has an arts background, which I have.

Six weeks later, after being asked every week to do so by Maria Eagle when she met him at shadow cabinet meetings (I wasn't a member of the shadow cabinet, only the shadow secretaries of state sit in that meeting), Jeremy finally phoned me.

I discovered then that he had made a mistake back at the start and having given me part of someone else’s role, gave it back the next day. I said that I was not happy about this, as I had spent six weeks working on his arts policy, getting in touch with arts organisations and so on. He invited me to come and have a chat with him the following week.

Contrary to what he frequently says, Jeremy is not easy to “have a chat with”. My parliamentary assistant could not get an appointment with him until she went to his office and explained over and over again that I had been promised one.

When my assistant and I met him, I asked how I was supposed to explain the confusion to Bristol West members or constituents. I was faced with the choice of telling the truth that he had made a series of errors, or say I had changed my mind about accepting the role. Either way, I would inevitably face a pile of criticism from his supporters.

Corbyn supporters had already piled onto me for disloyalty when I had had to miss votes for cancer treatment. I had no confidence that he would explain the situation to his supporters, or ask them to trust him that it wasn't my fault. I knew he wouldn't do anything to stop the criticism – I had seen from my own experience that he didn’t directly call on his own supporters to follow his slogan of “kinder, gentler politics”.

At this meeting, despite the fact he had had six weeks to come up with some idea for how to deal with this, he had nothing to say. No idea what to do. It took my boss Maria Eagle to explain to him that, as he was leader, he could reappoint me if that was what he wanted.

I then worked hard for him on his arts policy, loyally didn’t go to the press about the above, got stuck in and worked. And yes, I enjoyed the role; it is one of my dream jobs in parliament and I worked hard for Jeremy and the Labour party. Millions of people work in the arts and culture sectors and they valued being involved in policy-making. So it was never my intention to resign.

However, I kept hearing from other colleagues on the front bench just how difficult or impossible it was to get a decision out of him on important policy issues – the very thing Jeremy is supposed to be good on. I also noticed that the policy-making process through the National Policy Forum was being slowed down by lack of decisions from the Corbyn office.

But then he was missing in action during the EU referendum, including going on a week’s holiday three weeks before the day of the vote. I found that unforgivable. I was doing all I could for the campaign, phone-canvassing to conserve my energy, and kept hearing Labour voters saying “but your leader wants out, doesn’t he?” His team didn’t send anyone to the EU campaign meetings in Westminster and his lack of enthusiasm showed.

On the day after the referendum he asked for an early Brexit. My constituents want exactly the opposite and were telling me so in their hundreds, and voted strongly to remain.

That was the tipping point for me – you cannot remain on the front bench while taking an opposing view to the leader on something so important.

I therefore had to resign.

The reason I then voted “no confidence” in him as leader is because I have no confidence in him as leader. See above. Plus I had found out from other front bench women how unwilling and unable Jeremy is to communicate with, listen to or work with anyone outside his narrow group.

Since then he has stated publicly that he isn’t prioritising winning elections. How can I support a Labour leader who doesn’t want to form a Labour government when working people, the old, the young, the poor, the country, need a Labour government above everything?

I want a Labour government more than anything, because that is how we change the world and how we help millions of people, just as the 1997-2010 Labour government helped millions of people – my own family included.

I profoundly wish I never had to say all this publicly, but people keep asking, and I believe they have a right to know the truth about what Corbyn’s leadership is like.

We cannot win general elections with a leader who is unable and unwilling to learn how to communicate with, listen to and persuade people with whom he doesn’t already agree – we need to convince swing voters who voted Tory last year in southern seats to vote Labour next time, and we need Labour voters in Wales and the North to continue to vote Labour. Without this we can’t win a general election.

That is what’s at stake. Not having a Labour government again is unbearable. I will do anything I can to help to ensure this. It’s the constitutional duty of all Labour MPs, especially the leader, to try to secure a better life for working-class people through parliamentary means. And that’s what I will continue to do.

I hope that’s clear.

Thangam Debbonaire is the Labour MP for Bristol West. This article was originally posted on Thangam Debbonaire’s Facebook page. It has since been published on her blog. It is republished here with her permission.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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