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5 November 2015

Labour right triumphs in PLP elections

Corbyn critics inclulding Tristram Hunt, Chris Leslie, John Woodcock and Mike Gapes elected as backbench committee chairs. 

By George Eaton

In the era of Jeremy Corbyn, previously overlooked Labour institutions have taken on a new significance. For the 91 per cent of MPs who did not vote for him, internal elections offer a chance to exert influence on the party’s direction.

The contests for the PLP departmental committees are one such example. Before his election, Corbyn wrote in a piece for the New Statesman: “A more participatory Parliamentary Labour Party is vital to our unity and strength, so I believe there should be 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.” 

The committees have in fact long existed but divisions over issues such as Trident have given them greater prominence. Labour last night concluded the elections, with the party’s right sweeping the board (“the shadow shadow cabinet” is how one MP described them to me). Of the 17 commitee chairs, 11 supported Liz Kendall’s leadership campaign, including Tristram Hunt (Communities and Local Government), Ivan Lewis (International Development), Emma Reynolds (Health), Mike Gapes (Foreign Affairs), John Woodcock (Defence) and Peter Kyle (Business).

The Treasury chair is former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, one of the sharpest critics of Corbyn’s economic policies. The Education chair is Ian Austin, who told Corbyn to stop acting like a “student union president” at a recent PLP meeting. At Communities and Local Government is Hunt, who warned in a recent speech at Cambridge University that Labour was “in the shit”. 

Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness, the home of the Trident shipyard, will be a champion of nuclear renewal at Defence. At Foreign Affairs, Gapes, who told me in August: “I’ll show him [Corbyn] as much loyalty as he showed previous leaders”, will push for an interventionist approach. 

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Labour MPs are clear about why the right performed so well: they were the best organised. The decision of many prominent former shadow cabinet members to return to the backbenches, rather than serve under Corbyn, also gave them an advantage. But one left-winger warned: “This is kamikaze politics from the right. If they think the way to win over the thousands of members who voted against them is to behave in this way they are profoundly mistaken.” 

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Below is the email Labour MPs received with the full results.