One of the most notable lines in John McDonnell’s speech was his appeal to former shadow cabinet members to “come back and help us succeed”. To many on the outside, it sounded “like a threat”, as one MP told me. They fear that the shadow chancellor is creating the conditions for moderates to blamed if the new leadership fails. In response to McDonnell, John Woodcock tweeted: “There are many ways to fight for Labour values and serve constituents. Bit arrogant and divisive to say you have to be in a frontbench role.”
Others point out that McDonnell’s offer to them was contradicted by Jeremy Corbyn. As one former shadow cabinet member told me: “I was not asked to join the frontbench or offered a job. Jeremy agreed it was better I did not go and contributed in other ways.”
Indeed, when I interviewed Corbyn last week and asked whether he hoped to persuade former shadow cabinet members to return, he told me: “All Labour MPs have got a role to play, all Labour MPs have got a contribution to make … Some didn’t wish to serve but we didn’t we part on bad terms. We had a good conversation with them.” That is notably different to the line taken by McDonnell. And should former shadow cabinet minsters “come back”, others would, of course, have to make way.