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12 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn begins his shadow cabinet reshuffle: who will serve?

Labour leader starts forming team by reappointing Rosie Winterton as opposition chief whip. 

By George Eaton

The first major task facing Jeremy Corbyn after his landslide victory is to assemble a shadow cabinet. Corbyn has pulled out of a scheduled appearance on The Andrew Marr Show tomorrow morning, citing this duty (new deputy leader Tom Watson will appear instead). The government has tabled significant legislation for next week, including the second reading of the trade union bill on Monday, and Corbyn will need a frontbench team in place to respond. Meetings will be held with MPs tomorrow at Labour’s Brewers Green HQ. 

Corbyn has tonight begun his reshuffle by reappointing Rosie Winterton as opposition chief whip. Allies hope that former minister will act as a stabilising force in a transformed party. But Winterton faces the formidable task of enforcing discipline on behalf of a man who has rebelled against the Labour whip 534 times since 1997. Corbyn said: “We are a movement and a party renewed. After the overwhelming mandate we achieved today, we are bringing together a new parliamentary team to take our message to the country. We go forward united and determined, and I am delighted to have appointed Rosie Winterton to continue to serve as Chief Whip. Rosie has served our party under consecutive administrations and will be a valuable part of our new team.”

Other current shadow cabinet ministers prepared to serve under Corbyn include Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle, Mary Creagh, Chris Bryant, Caroline Flint, Owen Smith, Ian Murray, Lucy Powell and Maria Eagle. Andy Burnham is said by sources to be undecided after finishing a poor second in the leadership election. As I wrote on Thursday, Angela Eagle, who finished fourth in the deputy leadership contest, is a good bet for the shadow chancellorship. John McDonnell, Corbyn’s greatest parliamentary ally and campaign manager, has long been the favourite for the job. But many in the party are advising Corbyn that the appointment of the Socialist Campaign Group chair would undermine his promise to build a broad-based team and avoid factionalism. It would also mean an all-male top team after Tom Watson’s election as deputy leader and Sadiq Khan’s selection as London mayoral candidate. The appointment of Eagle, who served for two years as exchequer secretary to the Treasury in the Brown government and was shadow chief secretary to the Treasury under Ed Miliband, would ensure some female representation.

A source tipped Emily Thornberry, Corbyn’s Islington neighbour, who resigned from the shadow cabinet last year, to return as shadow justice secretary. Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions and newly-elected MP, was said to be in line to become shadow attorney general. Diane Abbott, who tonight attended a celebratory dinner for Corbyn supporters, is also expected to accept a post. 

Much attention today has focused on those who have ruled out serving under Corbyn, including Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt, Chris Leslie, Liz Kendall, Rachel Reeves and Emma Reynolds. Chuka Umunna has shrewdly avoided stating that he will not serve. The shadow business secretary recognises the danger of being seen to undermine Corbyn on the day of his triumph. But sources have said that he is highly unlikely to join the frontbench in view of his profound policy differences with the new leader. An aide told me: “He has categorically not resigned. He remains shadow business secretary and if the reshuffle hasn’t been done by Monday he will take the BIS business in the Commons that day … He doesn’t want to leave the party in the lurch in terms of parliamentary scrutiny.” 

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