New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
20 August 2015

Corbyn’s decision not to bring back shadow cabinet elections is the right call

The Labour leadership candidate would maintain the vital power of patronage, rather than bringing back the system abolished by Ed Miliband. 

By George Eaton

Shadow cabinet elections have been reported to be among the policies that Jeremy Corbyn intends to resurrect from Labour’s past. But as I report in my cover story in this week’s magazine, that’s not the case. The Labour leadership candidate has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). 

In his own column in this week’s NS, Corbyn writes: “Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one.” Labour MPs had warned that there would be no time for Corbyn to change the procedure in time for him to appoint a new team by 13 September (the day after the result is announced). 

Corbyn’s decision is undoubtedly the right one. He has maintained the power of patronage, one of the most crucial for any leader. In troubled times, reshuffles are a vital means of reasserting authority. The return of shadow cabinet elections would also have led to figures from other wings of the party gaining mass support (assuming they stood), weakening Corbyn’s hand against them. There are just 14 MPs who explicitly back him.

For this reason, many have suggested that Corbyn would struggle to form a shadow frontbench team. But when I put this to one senior Labour MP, he told me: “That won’t be the case. The party comes first.” Corbyn’s shadow cabinet will likely feature long-standing left-wing MPs such as Jon Trickett, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, and newcomers such as Richard Burgon, Clive Lewis and Louise Haigh. But what of the other places? Lewis told me: “A number of MPs I’ve spoken to who supported both Yvette and Andy are quietly very excited at this turn of events.” He added that “many others, sensing an opportunity to move from virtual political obscurity to frontline politics, an option that wasn’t there three months ago, will do so with guarded enthusiasm.”

Those senior figures who have publicly pledged not to serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet, such as Cooper, Kendall, Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie, intend to keep their word. The view is that he deserves “maximum room for manoeuvre to implement his prospectus”. Shadow cabinet members are alive to the danger of a backlash if they appear to obstruct him. In time, they hope, not merely Corbyn, but his policies, will be discredited.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Andy Burnham, the most senior figure to have said he would serve under Corbyn (and have Corbyn serve under him), is now being tipped by MPs to become shadow chancellor if his rival wins. In his column, after signalling that he would not bring back elections, Corbyn pledges to introduce “backbench committees of Labour MPs for each department to ensure a dialogue between all Labour MPs and the shadow cabinet, and to drive policy development.” 

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change