If, as expected, Jeremy Corbyn reshuffles his shadow cabinet next week, the theme could well be “revenge”. Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle are both vulnerable after clashing with the Labour leader over Syria and Trident. Following Benn’s dramatic speech in favour of air strikes, Corbyn allies are keen to avoid another situation in which divisions are so clearly exposed. The removal of Eagle ahead of next year’s vote on Trident renewal would prevent a similar despatch box split.
But for Corbyn, who has previously supported a “broad church”, revenge would not be a good look. This has led to increasing speculation in Labour circles that he could make a move that would trump all others: bringing back Ed Miliband. As one frontbencher told me, the return of the former leader would be a coup for Corbyn and would “draw the attention away from the losers”. But he also warned that the appointment would antagonise the party’s right. “They’d say he’s lost us one election and now he’s complicit in us losing another.” In an interview with the Sunday Times on 20 December, Corbyn said: “I talk to Ed. I think he’s a great guy and a great friend. I want to work with Ed in any way he wants.”
Miliband chose not join Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in September and has focused on interventions over inequality and climate change. Allies have spoken of the possibility that he could emulate former Tory leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith by returning to the frontline at a later date. But several sources suggested that he may be “interested” in an earlier return. Miliband has avoided criticising Corbyn since he became leader due to his own experience of the strains of the job and his belief that unity against the Conservatives is essential.
Shadow foreign secretary and shadow energy secretary are among the roles that have been floated for him. There is speculation that Corbyn ally Diane Abbott could take on the former position but one source told me that she “didn’t want or expect” the job and was “far more likely to want to do the Home Office”. A spokesperson for Miliband had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.
Earlier today, Labour whip and Corbyn support Grahame Morris tweeted an Independent piece calling for Corbyn to remove “mutineers” such as Benn from the shadow cabinet. The tweet was deleted after a backlash from MPs. “To publicly call for the sacking of people like Hilary Benn for not voting the same way as Jeremy on a free vote is extraordinary,” one told me.