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A "revenge reshuffle" would not be very new politics

The sacking of shadow cabinet ministers who voted for intervention in Syria would betray the original promise of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

When George Lucas was making Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, the working title for the film was actually "Revenge of the Jedi" (indeed this appeared on many of the early posters). In the end, Lucas rejected the word “revenge” as he felt it simply wasn’t the Jedi way.

In recent weeks we’ve seen repeated media stories that Jeremy Corbyn is planning a "revenge reshuffle". A variety of sources, some of whom have been attributed as being "aides" to Jeremy or those "close" to the leader have apparently stood up speculation that Hilary Benn, Rosie Winterton, Maria Eagle and me (amongst others) are all for the chop for not voting against extending military action from Iraq into Syria during the recent free vote in the Commons.

My sympathies have particularly been with Hilary Benn. He must have felt like Man Utd boss Louis van Gaal over Christmas, constantly reading in the newspapers that he is about to be sacked.

Depressingly, whilst Hilary was hard at work in his Leeds constituency talking to residents who had been hit by awful flooding, he had a tweet from those good comrades at the Huddersfield branch of Momentum (apparently tweeted from Gravesend) saying: "Shadow Cabinet reshuffle soon lad. So you’ll have more time to spend with your constituents".

As someone who used to have his Christmases ruined dealing with political journalists, I know how difficult it is attempting to manage the media during the holidays, so I also have a little sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn’s press handlers. The festive season is also the silly season. Mischievous hacks bombard aides with relentless and leading questions in the hunt for a new line to keep an old, bad story for Labour running.  It takes time for any spin doctor to learn that it requires as much ability and skill to kill a story as it does to get one going.

The sad thing for Labour is that stories like the "revenge reshuffle" – about who might hear the words (Alan Sugar-style) "you’re fired" – tend to drown out our attacks on the Conservative government, or they can overshadow announcements about the positive things Labour would do differently in government.

Over Christmas, we have had more powerful attacks on the government’s record on the NHS by Heidi Alexander, Lilian Greenwood on the Tory hypocrisy over Boxing Day rail shutdown, Jonathan Ashworth on Conservative asset-stripping, Maria Eagle on waste at the MoD, Kerry McCarthy, John McDonnell and Jon Trickett on flooding, Luciana Berger on broken promises on children’s mental health, John Healey on spiralling rent costs. The list goes on.

My team, shadowing the DCMS, have used the Christmas period to highlight everything from sexism in sports retail and problems in art exports, to allegations of corruption at the International Association of Athletics Federation. Yet all of these good stories about important issues have been regrettably eclipsed by talk about a "revenge reshuffle".

As John McDonnell rightly made clear on the media this week, any decisions about who is in Labour’s top team are of course entirely a matter for the leader. But the idea that Jeremy Corbyn is a person motivated by "revenge" is something that I don’t recognise for a single second.

I indicated to Jeremy ahead of his first reshuffle that I would be willing to remain in the Shadow Cabinet, if that was his wish. I did so because I genuinely believed in what he said after the leadership election, that he wanted to unite the party and bring together people from different traditions and people who had backed different candidates. With the help of his experienced and skilful Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton, he was true to his word and performed a difficult task well.

I was also attracted by Jeremy’s call for a new, kinder politics. This would be one where there would be room for a little dissent and where the party, including the Shadow Cabinet, would have the confidence to have proper debates and discussions. What greater evidence of this than his decision that, despite his strong opposition to military action, there should be a free vote on Syria?  And his insistence that all sides of the debate should respect one another’s different but sincerely held points of view.

Next week, when the Commons returns from recess, all Labour’s energy should be focussed on getting after the Tories. This is a lousy Tory government and we need to keep exposing the fact. We also know we all face a big test in the May elections: defending the Welsh Government, showing Labour can turn things around in Scotland with Jeremy’s anti-austerity message, winning in London and gaining council seats in England.

In the end, George Lucas did use the "revenge" word in one of his Star Wars films but it was about the baddies in Revenge of the Sith. He was right. Revenge is not very Jedi. It’s also not very new politics.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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Donald Tusk is merely calling out Tory hypocrisy on Brexit

And the President of the European Council has the upper hand. 

The pair of numbers that have driven the discussion about our future relationship with the EU since the referendum have been 48 to 52. 

"The majority have spoken", cry the Leavers. "It’s time to tell the EU what we want and get out." However, even as they push for triggering the process early next year, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk’s reply to a letter from Tory MPs, where he blamed British voters for the uncertain futures of expats, is a long overdue reminder that another pair of numbers will, from now on, dominate proceedings.

27 to 1.

For all the media speculation around Brexit in the past few months, over what kind of deal the government will decide to be seek from any future relationship, it is incredible just how little time and thought has been given to the fact that once Article 50 is triggered, we will effectively be negotiating with 27 other partners, not just one.

Of course some countries hold more sway than others, due to their relative economic strength and population, but one of the great equalising achievements of the EU is that all of its member states have a voice. We need look no further than the last minute objections from just one federal entity within Belgium last month over CETA, the huge EU-Canada trade deal, to be reminded how difficult and important it is to build consensus.

Yet the Tories are failing spectacularly to understand this.

During his short trip to Strasbourg last week, David Davis at best ignored, and at worse angered, many of the people he will have to get on-side to secure a deal. Although he did meet Michel Barnier, the senior negotiator for the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative at the future talks, he did not meet any representatives from the key Socialist Group in the European Parliament, nor the Parliament’s President, nor the Chair of its Constitutional Committee which will advise the Parliament on whether to ratify any future Brexit deal.

In parallel, Boris Johnson, to nobody’s surprise any more, continues to blunder from one debacle to the next, the most recent of which was to insult the Italians with glib remarks about prosecco sales.

On his side, Liam Fox caused astonishment by claiming that the EU would have to pay compensation to third countries across the world with which it has trade deals, to compensate them for Britain no longer being part of the EU with which they had signed their agreements!

And now, Theresa May has been embarrassingly rebuffed in her clumsy attempt to strike an early deal directly with Angela Merkel over the future residential status of EU citizens living and working in Britain and UK citizens in Europe. 

When May was campaigning to be Conservative party leader and thus PM, to appeal to the anti-european Tories, she argued that the future status of EU citizens would have to be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Why then, four months later, are Tory MPs so quick to complain and call foul when Merkel and Tusk take the same position as May held in July? 

Because Theresa May has reversed her position. Our EU partners’ position remains the same - no negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and Britain sets out its stall. Merkel has said she can’t and won’t strike a pre-emptive deal.  In any case, she cannot make agreements on behalf of France,Netherlands and Austria, all of who have their own imminent elections to consider, let alone any other EU member. 

The hypocrisy of Tory MPs calling on the European Commission and national governments to end "the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories", while at the same time having caused and fuelled that same anxiety and uncertainty, has been called out by Tusk. 

With such an astounding level of Tory hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency, is it any wonder that our future negotiating partners are rapidly losing any residual goodwill towards the UK?

It is beholden on Theresa May’s government to start showing some awareness of the scale of the enormous task ahead, if the UK is to have any hope of striking a Brexit deal that is anything less than disastrous for Britain. The way they are handling this relatively simple issue does not augur well for the far more complex issues, involving difficult choices for Britain, that are looming on the horizon.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber.