Jeremy Corbyn has rewarded loyalists and brought Owen Smith, his opponent in the 2016 Labour leadership contest, back from the wilderness to serve as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a demonstration of Labour’s newfound unity following the party’s surprise advance in the election on 8 June.
Smith, who worked as a special adviser to Paul Murphy when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, knows the politics of Northern Ireland well and is respected across all five of Northern Ireland’s major politics, making him well-placed to manage a tricky role. The portfolio’s importance has increased as the devolved government in Northern Ireland has collapsed and the DUP is negotiating with the Conservatives to prop up the latter party in Westminster following the loss of their majority.
The move, which signals that Labour’s divisions have been forgiven and forgotten, also is an astute internal move. The return of Smith has been welcomed across the parliamentary Labour party.
Elsewhere, in a reshuffle low on drama, Corbyn has moved to replace retiring MPs or those seeking a voluntary return to the backbenches. Lesley Laird, who won her seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath back from the SNP on Thursday, is promoted straight the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, replacing David Anderson, who retired when Parliament dissolved for the early election.
Andrew Gwynne, who won praise from the leader’s office and from Corbynsceptic MPs for his management of the election campaign, remains as election coordinator and is rewarded with a departmental brief, that of Communities and Local Government, taking over from Teresa Pearce.
The low-key reshuffle, which left the bulk of the Shadow Cabinet unchanged, is intended to reward loyalty while signalling that Labour is now united and that its internal conflict is behind it.