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20 January 2016

Neale Coleman walks out of Team Corbyn – and Simon Fletcher could be next

Neale Coleman, a former aide to Ken Livingstone has quit the Labour leader's office - and Jeremy Corbyn's chief of staff could be next.

By Stephen Bush

Neale Coleman, Labour’s head of policy and rebuttal, has quit the Labour leader’s office, and Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff, Simon Fletcher, is believed to be at risk of losing his job.

The Times reported that Coleman, who served as an aide to both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, had quit following a row with Seumas Milne, Labour’s head of strategy and communications. Senior Labour sources confirmed the departure, with an official statement saying that Coleman was quitting for personal reasons. One senior source described Coleman as “not suited” for the role of policy chief, but others mourned the departure of a man responsible for overseeing the Olympics who was widely respected as a policy thinker. Graham Jones, the MP for Hyndburn and a Corbyn critic, described Coleman as a “asset” to the party.

Coleman is believed to have clashed over Saturday’s speech to the Fabian Society in which Corbyn unveiled a raft of policies, bypassing Coleman and his team. Other staff at Labour’s headquarters described Coleman as “increasingly disconsolate” in recent weeks, with one suggesting that as well as facing friction from within the leader’s office, he took brickbats from party staffers. “He was willing to work with existing structures and didn’t give the impression of hating or feeling superior to people who’d been here longer than him,” reflected one, “[but] had to take a lot of shit on behalf of leader’s office from advisers, etc for things that weren’t really his fault”. A shadow cabinet source said that the the news “will send a shiver up the spine of every moderate on the frontbench. He’s one of the few in the leader’s office that people actually respect and believe is trying to di a decent job”.

The departure of Coleman has heightened rumours that Fletcher, like Coleman a former aide to Livingstone during his time as Mayor, could be forced out as Corbyn’s chief of staff. Fletcher has been subject to a whispering campaign from his internal opponents, and was surprised to read reports late last year that he was taking time off to recuperate. Staffers at Labour HQ believe that John McDonnell is at the heart of attempts to displace Fletcher as chief of staff. Livingstone and McDonnell clashed during Livingstone’s time as head of the GLC and while the two are on better terms now, the wounds have never fully healed according to acquaintances of both men.

In addition, Fletcher and Milne are believed to have disagreed over staffing on several occasions. Milne is said to be close to Carmel Nolan, Corbyn’s press chief during the leadership campaign. Nolan was well-liked by journalists but allies of Fletcher’s described the Wirral-based activist as “useless”. Fletcher favoured Coleman as de facto policy chief, while Milne favoured Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s political adviser. 

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