The shadow cabinet isn’t performing. But Jeremy Corbyn won’t sack them

Rumours of a reshuffle reflect on wishful thinking within the leader’s office, rather than any real chance of change.


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A change is gonna come? Rumours abound that a shadow cabinet reshuffle is due, with both Politico and the Times reporting that underperforming frontbenchers are facing the chop.

Causing a stink in Labour-land is an analysis by the Times showing that just five members of its 28-strong body generate two-thirds of all print coverage of the shadow cabinet: John McDonnell, Tom Watson, Diane Abbott, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

The analysis is fairly similar to the party’s own private examination of where it is falling short, but seeing the figures in public has brought home, in the words of one shadow minister, who is not “putting their shoulder to the wheel”.

Of particular irritation: the performances of Margaret Greenwood, the shadow secretary for state for work and pensions, and Richard Burgon, the shadow secretary for justice.

No one expects Jon Trickett, who is tasked with managing the party’s internal reforms and preparing the party’s policy programme for government, to make headlines on a regular basis, but with prisons feeling the brunt of the public spending cuts and Universal Credit continuing to cause misery and confusion, there is little excuse for Labour’s failure to make hay in these areas. (Both Burgon and Greenwood have generated fewer column inches than Trickett. Greenwood has produced fewer column inches than Kate Osamor, whose international development brief is not well-suited to breaking news, particularly as the Conservatives are also committed to the global target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid.)

But the chances of an extensive refresh of the top team are unlikely in the extreme. Corbyn dislikes firing people and has a strong sense of loyalty to those who have “stuck with him”. Don’t forget that it took allegations of bullying and a wholesale attack on him and his staff for Debbie Abrahams, who like Greenwood struggled to make an impact at the welfare brief, to lose her job, and Corbyn opted to replace her with her deputy rather than remodel his top team.

Instead, the party will hope that beefing up its spin operation will allow it to get more out of the current personnel. James Mills, McDonnell’s former press chief, has moved into the leader’s office to bolster their communications, while the party is hiring more press officers to do the same for the shadow cabinet.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.