Who flourished, and who foundered, in Jeremy Corbyn’s fourth shadow cabinet reshuffle?
As so often, the 2015 intake were the big winners, with all of the new appointments coming from the new batch. Peter Dowd, MP for Bootle, comes in as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Christina Rees is made shadow secretary of state for Wales, and the biggest winner is Rebecca Long-Bailey, who replaces Clive Lewis at business, energy and industrial strategy.
The surprise loser is Jon Trickett, who loses his post as campaign coordinator. Trickett had been one of the trio of Corbyn supporters – the other two being Diane Abbott and John McDonnell – who attends the 4pm strategy meetings, and a vital cog in that machine.
While he will remain a key ally, I’m told that he found working with Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s office manager, a strain. Things had degenerated to the point that he had stopped attending meetings to avoid her, including the vital 30 January summit on that three-line whip. While he will continue to work in the shadow cabinet, and the NEC, this parting of the ways suits both sides.
Lewis’ resignation, coupled with a rumour that Corbyn has revealed his departure date to his close ally, has everyone speculating about the Labour leadership again. Like Christmas, it comes earlier every year, but I wouldn’t get the tinsel out of the cupboard just yet and nor would I bet on Lewis to be top of the tree when all is said and done.
Any candidate other than the leader has to get the support of 15 per cent of their colleagues in the Westminster and European Parliament – that’s 38 in total. Labour does tend to work to a longer learning curve than other parties but the one thing you can be certain of is that no-one is going to be lending nominations to rival candidates this time.
There will be an attempt to lower that threshold to five per cent at Labour party conference, which would mean that just 13 MPs would be needed to get a candidate on the ballot. But the path from proposing that motion to passing it on the conference floor is long.
If the Corbynsceptics can keep control of the Conference Arrangements Committee, which is likely, they won’t even let it escape onto the conference floor unless they are completely certain they can kill it there. And as far as the battle for control in local parties is concerned, the battle between Corbynites and Corbynsceptics is far more even than Corbyn’s two landslides would suggest, not least because many of those who voted for Corbyn in 2016 did so because they disliked the attempt to remove him and the candidate offered, not because they wanted to reshape the Labour party from top to bottom.
For the Corbynites, it is Catch-22: if they had the organisational strength in local parties for a rule change they wouldn’t need one, as the threat of deselection would be enough to rustle up the signatures. But, at the moment, they have neither. Corbyn would never voluntarily hand back control of the party to his opponents, so until there is a rule change, any talk that he has planned his retirement should be treated with extreme scepticism.
A lot can change between now and the autumn. Even so, while there are more than 13 Corbynite MPs, they can only sign a candidate’s ballot paper once. (Just think back to 2015: there were more than 35 Blairite MPs, but of Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh, only Kendall made it to the ballot paper.)
As I wrote back in November, Long-Bailey is now seen as the best hope for the succession as far as the party’s Corbynite wing is concerned. Lewis’ second home is on the soft left aka the parliamentary Labour party’s revived Tribune group (now with a WhatsApp group, the essential ingredient of factional plotting in the PLP these days). But they have their own wide pool of candidates, with Keir Starmer currently top of the pack as far as that group is concerned. There is a lot of potential talent in that group, from Lisa Nandy to Emily Thornberry before any of those MPs will be signing up to the Clive Lewis leadership campaign.
Certainly there is a semi-plausible path to a leadership election this year. But anyone betting on it has to first plot a path to Corbynite victory at Labour party conference and anyone expecting Clive Lewis to leverage his undoubted popularity in the membership to victory thereafter has to come up with the names of 13 Labour MPs without a more congenial candidate on offer.