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7 October 2016

Why Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle shows he will remain on the up

While the Labour leader is sharpening up his act, his opponents are regressing.

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn kicked off his reshuffle yesterday, beginning to reshape his top team, including his closest ally, Diane Abbott, who moves to Shadow Home Secretary. The move will mean that Corbyn and his home affairs lead will be attuned on immigration, which will be a growing faultline in British politics. It may well indicate a more general liberal turn in home affairs policy, for example on the snoopers’ charter. 

Back in from the cold are Keir Starmer, now Shadow Brexit Secretary, and Nia Griffith, now Shadow Defence. Clive Lewis has moved to shadow BEIS in what you can interpret as a demotion or a promotion depending on your perspective. (My money is on a bit of both: it’s unquestionably a rebuff of his attempts to park the Trident issue – Griffith is a firm unilateralist. But it’s no bad thing for an ambitious young Labour politician for being given the role of shadow minister in charge of telling business to behave itself and for the government to spend more money).

The biggest move in terms of the mood of Labour MPs is undoubtedly the sacking of Rosie Winterton as chief whip. Winterton had believed she was arriving to attend further discussions over the proposal to restore shadow cabinet elections before being informed that she was being dismissed instead.

However, her replacement, Nick Brown, who was Tony Blair’s first Chief Whip and Gordon Brown’s last, is politically a much of muchness (indeed, Winterton’s respected aide, Luke Sullivan, had worked for Brown before and is tipped to do so again).

There are two crucial differences, however. The first is that Brown has experience seeing off coups from the dark days of Gordon Brown’s government, and the second is that Brown is said to be privately critical of Trident. He and Corbyn also built up a rapport while Brown was Chief Whip, with Corbyn writing him little notes every time he rebelled. 

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There are also some striking changes back-of-house. First, the renewed confidence at the heart of the Corbyn operation. So far, this is, in many ways, the frontbench that many of Corbyn’s allies thought he should have from the beginning. The second story is their much-improved media management – getting the good news out before print deadlines and hiding the juicier news of Lewis’ promotion/demotion until later on. Gender and regional balance are both still likely to be flashpoints, because for a variety of reasons, male Corbynsceptic MPs are more likely to be up for a frontbench return, as are Londoners. But Corbyn’s team have moved quickly to rebut charges of insularity, highlighting the presence of women in top posts and the 10 members of the frontbench from the North.

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His opponents, meanwhile, have regressed. Put bluntly, there is no way back for Corbynsceptics among the party membership which involves erecting constitutional roadblocks to the smooth functioning of the Corbyn operation in Parliament, such as the restoration of shadow cabinet elections. Nor will they win a hearing by complaining about representation issues, when those issues are caused by MPs from outside London choosing not to serve.

All of which means that, in the struggle for power within Labour, Corbyn is likely to remain on the up for the foreseeable future.

This – along with highlights from today’s news – appeared in my Morning Call newsletter, which tells you what you need to know about British politics, Monday through Friday, to which you can subscribe here.