Jeremy Corbyn launches drive to repair relations with Labour MPs

The Labour leader is to hold regular surgeries for the PLP in a bid to ease simmering tensions.

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Jeremy Corbyn is to launch regular surgeries for Labour MPs as part of a drive to mend relations with his increasingly restive parliamentary party. In an email to the PLP this evening, Corbyn invited MPs to sign up for appointments at new monthly drop-in sessions at which he and his team will field concerns directly. 

He explicitly framed the sessions as a bid to reopen regular and constructive dialogue with MPs who feel increasingly alienated from the leadership over its handling of anti-Semitism cases, as well as the party’s Brexit policy. Many perceive both issues to be the fiefdom of Corbyn's senior advisers, who MPs frequently complain are unaccountable to them.

“In politically challenging times such as these, the opportunity for debate and having the space for the broadest range of views to be heard are integral to achieving our aims,” Corbyn wrote. “We represent constituencies of differing demographics holding many different opinions, but we are all united in achieving a Labour government.”

He added: “Following the summer recess, I want to further our engagement with the PLP building on the many meetings that have taken place so far this year.”

The surgeries will begin in earnest in September — when MP reselection ballots are expected to take place — with a one-off session to be held later this month. Given their overlap with the reselection process, the timing is significant — as is that of the announcement itself, which comes a week after more than 100 Labour MPs, including many frontbenchers, put their names to an overtly hostile statement demanding action from Corbyn over the readmission of MP Chris Williamson to the party. 

It is striking that the Labour leader has offered much warmer words in return, thanking MPs for their hard work and stressing that he looked forward to working with them. Significantly, Corbyn also chose to highlight that MPs could “be part of a policy consultation” and have greater input into discussions with the shadow cabinet — a key demand of deputy leader Tom Watson in the aftermath of the resignation of the eight Labour MPs who quit to join the Independent Group in February.

That Corbyn has chosen to reach out, rather than react in kind, shows that the leadership's mind has already turned to what promises to be a fractious autumn. What the Williamson episode illustrated was that much of the PLP is already in an insurrectionary mood. Once the selection process is over, others will feel empowered to break cover; Brexit makes for an even more volatile mix. For the leadership, reasserting control will be difficult — which is why they have chosen to start now.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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