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On the much heralded shadow cabinet reshuffle

shadow cabinetI wanted to hold off commenting about “real” events until after the New Year. Even monomaniacal bloggers deserve a break. But there’s just been so much nonsense and idiocy swilling around Jeremy Corbyn’s will-he/won’t-he reshuffle that I feel compelled to say a few words myself. I mean it’s not as if the government have totally screwed up on the northern floods and Labour ought to be seizing this moment to knock lumps out of them for their mismanagement or anything.

First thing first, I’ve suggested previously that MPs would do better not to whine and moan about their predicament because they will find scant sympathy in the party. So what happens? We have a (unnamed, of course) shadow minister accusing Jeremy of ruining Christmas with all this talk of demoting and reshuffling. Diddums. Then we have people saying that Jeremy can’t possibly demote people on the basis of the Syria free vote because it was free, innit. Then we have people saying they will resign if so-and-so goes.

Let’s strip out the political divisions and look at how the world appears from inside the leader’s office.

Jeremy won a huge majority among the membership, and it is one that is still growing as new people sign up and a much lower number of (mainly card-carrying) centre and right members flounce out. Those who’ve damned sitting MPs for failing to depose Jeremy yesterday are blind to this most obvious of facts. Jez won under rules (favoured by some on the right) that were designed to dilute the influence of a membership they mistrusted before the surge took place. Jeremy romped home under those rules and, presently, from his perspective, he has good reason to accept a basic congruence between his policies and priorities and those of the members.

Second, not unreasonably, this is interpreted as a mandate to carry through his programme regardless of what the shadow cabinet and the bulk of the PLP thinks. Third, it doesn’t matter how it is dressed up, direct criticisms of him in the media by his shadow appointees and the various proxy attacks via Andrew Fisher, or via Stop the War, or via Momentum, are seen as challenges to his authority as well as attempts to undermine him.

When you have the shadow foreign secretary banging the drum of war, or shadow ministers repeatedly refusing to back the leader when asked, or shadow ministers openly attacking proxies for Jeremy, or worst criticising him directly, how else can that be interpreted? One should not be surprised if their places around the leadership table is not as secure as they thought. It’s also worth remembering that Ed Miliband was more ruthless in rooting out shadow ministers who were less than enthusiastic with his leadership, so Jez has precedence on his side. Jeremy is well within his rights to axe who he wants, and b;eating about it just looks like, well, bleating.

By the rules of the game, what Jeremy decides is law. His position is unassailable, and no amount of front bench resignations will tip him over into retirement. Especially now Jeremy reportedly has around 30 MPs that are considered loyal – a number that has grown since assuming office. In these circumstances, I think it’s probably for the best if oppositionists are neither seen nor heard. From the standpoint of winning the party “back” to the centre or the right, it would do their cause a world of good if

  1. they shut up,
  2. cared more about attacking the Tories than Jeremy, and
  3. confined their opposition activities to out-recruiting their opponents, rebuilding the labour movement, and/or making constructive criticisms.

Shadow ministers and backbench MPs moaning down the phone to the Telegraph newsroom weakens their position among the membership, and finds no echo whatsoever among a largely indifferent public. Yet they won’t pack it in, even though it would be good for them. With a few dozen exceptions, they don’t know how to organise and so they’re locked into this pattern of self-destructive behaviour.

To reiterate, the majority of members voted for the left-led Labour Party experiment and would like to see it to be allowed to work itself out on its own terms. You might be sceptical. I might be sceptical, but it does deserve that. If assorted shadow ministers, MPs, or factions are seen to be sabotaging it, the members aren’t going to revert back to the old ways. If anything, they will be outraged. So that is it, that is the situation. If front benchers don’t like it, they should make way for others who are prepared to do the job. And if they persist in attacking in making much of the motes in Jeremy’s eyes while ignoring the beams sticking in the Tories’, well, reselection after the boundary review is going to be interesting


  1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    We have real problems with the Neo-Liberal right in the party that clearly do not support public services. They are privateers, and still try peddling the Myths that the NHS is inefficient and that staff are not pulling their weight, even to the point of using their tired worn out expression, “that we should face the facts, and accept that the NHS has problems of it’s own making.” all of this without one shred of evidence when I have offered them sound factual and corroborative evidence.

    Having heard this worn out cliché from several sources up and down the country, I am left with the impression that these people are not worth giving the time of day to, and that like all Neo-Liberals never admit to it, just as the Tories never admit to their failings.

    So they are simply just the same.

  2. Nestor says:

    A superb piece which gets directly to the heart of the matter, which is that the activities of the right of the party are entirely self-defeating.

    Not only is their continued undermining of the leadership working directly against a Labour victory, it’s ensuring that they will become completely marginalised as far as the party membership is concerned, and it is the membership that elects leaders.

    I’m beginning to think that their sense of self-regard and entitlement has led them to throw caution to the wind and work directly for the destruction of the party.

    They’re like a selfish 3 year old who would rather smash their favourite toy rather than have to share it with other kids.

  3. John Penney says:

    An interesting article , Phil – alongside your referred to and linked-to article on your “All that is Solid” Blog – in which you once again reiterate that you don’t think a Corbyn-led Labour party can win in 2020.

    You provide some apparently solid , “current-state of play” arguments and evidence for your gloomy prediction for 2020, regardless of the massive “Corbyn surge”into labour. At root you see (on very limited , almost personal/anecdotal “evidence I have to say) the huge Left-oriented LP membership surge as entirely based on individual decisions by a rootless cohort of socially disconnected Lefties.

    I think this is entirely wrong. The gathering social consequences of the 30 year neoliberal privatisation/Welfare state destroying and wealth concentrating offensive, concentrated now in a very tight timescale by the post 2008 continuing UK and world capitalist stagnation crisis, has suddenly produced a wave of Left (and of course Far Right) radicalisation across Europe and even the US (Bernie Sanders). For Spain, Portugal, Greece, even Germany, this mass Left radical wave of protest and political action has been expressed through new radical Left party formation. In the UK , amazingly, but partly because of FPTP(apart from the petty nationalist pseudo radicalism around the SNP in Scotland of course) the European radicalisation wave has expressed itself through Labours “Corbyn surge”.

    The “Corbyn surge” is NOT therefore your claimed “disparate conglomeration of disconnected Leftie individuals” but is the ealy stage political expression of a genuine mass radicalisation process emerging from a rapid shift within the ever more impoverished Working Class (“Working class”in a Marxist class sense – not the “lifestyle self indentification” nonsense that bourgeois analysts reduce class to) .

    The European-wide Left Surge (and its dangerous Far Right Surge counterpart) isn’t going to lose momentum ant time soon. The capitalist crisis in the UK and EU generally isn’t going to let up before 2020. In fact the reckless newly returned Tory government imposed deregulation/”light touch” regime for the banking sector, and all the unresolved systemic problems within capitalism remain untouched from the 2008 Crash. Another credit crunch/house bubble crash is almost guaranteed before 2020. This is predicted by large numbers of major economists from both Left and Right. George Osborne’s current generally favourable reputation for competence , arising from his from constant short termist economic tactical feints, which by reinflating the UK’s credit bubble and house price bubble have created an illusion of UK economic “recovery ” , will by 2020 be generally seen as the actions of a reckless , economically ignorant gambler .

    Critics on the Right accuse us on the Left of cynically longing for a coming economic crisis , and collapse of the NHS , for electoral advantage. However, cynical or not, the simple fact is that because of externally generated (world capitalist crisis) and internally imposed (Osborne’s self-imposed, economically suicidal, Austerity strategy ) conditions, by the 2020 General Election the UK will almost certainly be locked in a new profound economic crisis, with a failing NHS, and with the mass of working people really hurting.

    In this febrile environment, all post war established voting patterns will be up for grabs, as has been seen in recent years across Europe. It is only a Labour Party steering firmly towards radical Left “Corbynite” policies that will be able to ride, and focus, this growing radicalisation on a mass scale.

    Past political assumptions based (I think also in your particular case – and supporting essays, Phil) on the pretty turgid, decades long, even generational, voting behaviours of most of the post war period, will not be an adequate guide to the rapid, politically ” social techtonic plate class attitude shift” politics of the near future.

    We are in a new, dangerous, but exhilarating political ballgame now Phil. Get with the new programme comrade. In the emerging new reality the unreformable neoliberal hard core Blairites are political toast in the LP and will have to be dispensed with ASAP .

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      I have read Phil’s linked article, and believe that he is right and you (John P) are wrong, simply on the grounds of factual evidence.There hasn’t been a ‘European Left wide surge’ except, because of extreme conditions there, in Greece, Spain and Portugal.In most of Europe there has been some movement, but it has been limited, as here. A’surge’would have seen a large increase in membership of Left Unity or even the SWP. It hasn’t happened.Half of those joining Labour are older rejoiners.
      Left parties have held their own, and will hopefully increase their support – they need to to combat the right – but let us not exaggerate what has actually happened.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Peter, I am not clear about your reasons for rejecting the idea of a surge of support for left policies. Can this be dismissed on the grounds that it is predicated on the extreme conditions of Greece, Spain and Portugal?

        I also don’t see why you want a surge in the UK to mean an increase in support for Left Unity and the SWP. Instead it expressed itself in support for Jeremy Corbyn and those close to him. And why should re-joiners not be included as part of a surge?

        I agree we should not exaggerate support for the left but it is also a mistake to underestimate it.

        1. David Ellis says:

          It is bad enough that the leftward surge of the working class is headed off by the left opportunists and reformists but that is kind of inevitable and can be through patient work countered and overcome but imagine if the professional centrists, sectarians, confusionists and self-servers of Left Unity or the SWP were the beneficiaries. That would signal that it was time to despair.

  4. Syzygy says:

    Implicit in David Osland’s post is that the behaviour of the LP right is ‘enough of a spoiler to make victory all but impossible, without having even a remote chance of success itself. Cynics could be forgiven for thinking that might actually be the Big Idea here.’

  5. Bazza says:

    Read an interesting comment today by the new director of the CBI who pointed out that there are 45m voters in the UK and I realised that only 11m or so voted Tory!
    The biggest group is non-voters and surely we can appeal to these disillusioned fellow human beings as Left Wing Democratic socialists and I want a Leader/Facilitator who reflects this (which we have) and a PLP (which we don’t) but let ideas rule so let’s get organised.
    We should really be hammering the Tories re cutting the flood defence budget!
    I had an interesting debate with a friend in the pub who agreed we needed to spend more on flood defence but felt we should rely more on flood barriers like London – a defensive strategy.
    But while I agreed on the need for more funding I felt attack was the best form of defence.
    I felt we should build more reservoirs upstream to capture the fresh & clean water – which I think many are starting to realise is probably humanity’s most important commodity.
    George Monbiot was good in today’s Guardian saying how farmers were draining land because it was more profitable as were grouse moor owners thus passing the water downstream (apparently the Tories increased subsidies to grouse moors to 84%) and he was arguing that tax payers were subsiding the floods being passed to towns & cities and apparently Water Control Boards (I had never heard of these) are dominated by landowners!
    Yes we need defences too and as well as attack I would build huge holes/quarries near commnitities that are vulnerable where any access water can be diverted (and perhaps we can learn from counties like Holland).
    We need democratic socialist ideas and facilitation that puts people as always ahead of profits!

    1. Richard Tiffin says:

      Agree with you here Bazza.

      I received a Facebook post from the Corbyn camp outlining how land owners drain and protect what have always been flood meadows which, naturally enough, forces the water downstream and into valleys where towns and cities have developed.

      This has been happening for donkeys years and the Dutch, whose problem is worse as you might imagine, worked out that they cannot build ever higher dykes, so water is allowed once again to flood the plains. Not rocket science.

      So they are on the case, or at least Corbyn is, pity parliament is in recess right now. However, I think Phil (who seems to be moving position on the nature of the Bitterites) will be whistling in the wind for the Great Game of the day in the PLP is get Corbyn, not get Tories.

      I think you were correct in your previous post in terms of CLP resolutions for the 2016 conference. The bitterites need the feeling of our boots up their careerist backsides, this is how to defend Corbyn. My fear is that their next goal will be a push to undermine Labour prior to the various elections come May in the hope we fare badly and the have a pretext for a coup.

  6. Sean Connor says:

    A good article. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn is being betrayed by scab MPS who support Tory welfare and foreign policies. I was a great supporter of Wedgwood Benn, what a shame that his son betrayed everything he believed in. Jeremy Corbyn should throw him out of the Shadow Cabinet.

  7. James Martin says:

    In a sense though the story is not about the reshuffle if there is one – we know that Jeremy is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, and in any case has very few cards to play when it comes to PLP replacements – but more about the story of it. Because either the two national newspapers that have allegedly been briefed about it by a ‘Corbyn insider’ are not telling the truth (entirely possible), or there has been such a briefing action. If it is the latter what are we to make of it? Is it someone who is not a particularly close ‘insider’ talking out of their backside for perhaps a bit of an Xmas bonus? Or a genuine insider – and if so, what was a briefing like this meant to achieve when it comes across so cheaply and underhand? I have no problem at all with getting rid of someone like Bomber Benn , he is entitled to those views but despite the free vote as a shadow cabinet minister he should not have been allowed – or allowed himself – to make that speech from the dispatch box when it so clearly undermined Jeremy more than it supported a continuation of the NATO murder machine (as the cheering Tories and Blairites showed very well). So while a reshuffle is necessary, I am uneasy for now about how it is being played out (badly) in the hostile press.

    1. Sean Connor says:

      Labour will never get a good hearing from the right wing lying Press. In that sense Jeremy is going to be dammed if he does, or he does not. We get reports on the BBC about bent, crooked, Russian oligarchs, no doubt some working class tenants will be de-housed to allow this crook live in London.

  8. John Cooper says:

    We are watching our country drift Away led by the Fifth column Blairites who care nothing but their self foreseen importance and the Tories who seem hell bent on taking the country back to the 19th Centuary.
    The solution is simple the Labour Party should pull together for the sake of our country and the up and coming problems forecast for the worlds economy and the Arrogance of the Tory Party that will self implode given the right push from the citizens of this country!

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